It was the word I started uttering to myself soon after Makazole Mapimpi’s try blew open what was already an incredible Rugby World Cup final, and it just remained the best word to describe South Africa’s 32-12 win over England, even well after Siya Kolisi lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy in Yokohama.
First and foremost, it’s been an incredible tournament from the outset. Japan emerged as the perfect hosts from the opening ceremony back on September 20 in Tokyo, and that carried right through to the conclusion last night. As much as I’d love to have been over there myself, the dozens of people I know in Japan have had an incredible time.
And it’s just been a joy to watch on TV, too.
Last weekend’s semi-finals were incredible for the contrasting ways they were played; England at their clinical best, putting the world on notice that they remain the ever-present force in the international game. And South Africa beating Wales in the calculated, attritional way that didn’t win them too many new fans, but was necessary to get them through to the Final.
South Africa then went beyond incredible, turning out a performance for the ages to beat England in a way that draws so many parallels to the way England ended New Zealand’s tournament last weekend.
Rassie Erasmus has done an incredible job, formulating the game plan and overseeing the perfect preparation that has seen South Africa claim their third Rugby World Cup 12 years after they won their second in 2007, which in turn was 12 years after winning their maiden championship in such uniting circumstances at home in 1995.
The 2007 captain John Smit said during the week that a Springboks win would be even more important and more uniting for their country than in 1995, and that came through in Kolisi’s immediate reaction after fulltime.
“I was just grateful. Grateful for everything the team has been through. We’ve faced a lot of challenges, but the people of South Africa have got in behind us, and we’re so grateful to the people of South Africa,” he said.
“We have so many problems in our country, but to have a team like this…we come from different backgrounds, different races, and we came together with one goal, and we wanted to achieve it.”
“I really hope we’ve done that for South Africa, to show that we can pull together if we want to achieve something.”
As far as on-field answers to the first post-match question posed in an interview go, it might be without peer the world over.
It was a truly incredible response.
And it spoke for the incredible way this South African squad has come together over the last year and a bit.
It’s little over 12 months ago since the ‘Boks lost to all three opponents in the Rugby Championship, and the way Erasmus has managed to bring every member of the squad together since he took on the head coach role in addition to his overseeing Director of Rugby.
Yet in that time, he’s created a total squad mentality, with every member aware of their role within the squad and for the squad.
Kolisi spoke of the need for them to play the six-two forwards-backs spilt on the bench throughout the tournament and especially through the knockout stage, with the job of the finishing forwards just as important as the starters.
The performance of those finishers was indeed incredible. Superb even.
The ability to replace a world-class tight five with another equally world-class tight five is a luxury no other coach has had in this tournament, yet Erasmus had them singing, completely overpowering England upfront, and transferring that dominance into opportunities out wide.
Not many opportunities out wide, mind you, but such was the incredible performance of the Boks in this match, Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe had the confidence from within the team and the drive to perform for the team to turn those limited opportunities into a couple of the great moments of the tournament.
Last week, I wrote these two paragraphs of England’s outstanding semi-final win:
“The truth of the performance is double-edged; the All Blacks played about as well as England allowed them to. They had moments, only small moments, but just couldn’t ever covert these small moments into genuine opportunities.”
“And then to top that off, England just kept applying the scoreboard pressure that always seemed to increase as New Zealand thought they might have been edging closer.”
Substitute South Africa for England, and then England in for New Zealand, and this 64-word summary perfectly represents how the Boks did exactly the same thing to England this weekend that England did to the All Blacks last weekend.
If last weekend was Eddie Jones’ finest coaching performance, then Erasmus has not just kept up with the Jones; he has absolutely out-Eddie’d Eddie.
England knew they had to start well last week, and that was clearly the perfectly executed approach of the Springboks this week. And like England last week, South Africa never lifted the foot from the throat this week.
An incredible Rugby World Cup has had its deserved conclusion, with a final that certainly didn’t go the way so many predicted, but capped off the tournament so well because it was one last twist.