World Rugby

2023 Rugby World Cup: A Stat Breakdown Between South Africa And New Zealand

2023 Rugby World Cup: A Stat Breakdown Between South Africa And New Zealand

The World Cup final is here, and it will feature two battle-tested titans. Where does each squad stand and stack up against one another, though?

Oct 26, 2023 by Briar Napier
2023 Rugby World Cup: A Stat Breakdown Between South Africa And New Zealand

Twenty-eight years ago, during arguably the most iconic final in the most iconic Rugby World Cup of all time, South Africa — in its first attempt since being readmitted to international rugby following the end of Apartheid — defeated New Zealand to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

It was won on a Joel Stransky extra-time drop goal, leading to the historic clip of captain Francois Pienaar being handed the Webb Ellis Cup by Nelson Mandela on home soil at Ellis Park.

For the first time since, the Springboks and All Blacks will meet in a World Cup final once again, and the winner will take home the 2023 title.

Few, if any, nations are more tied to the fabric of test rugby than the powerhouses of Oceania and Africa, with each producing some of the greatest rugby players and minds to ever live. 

This will be the sixth time South Africa and New Zealand have met at a World Cup, and it’s the most important - with the most on the line - since their world-renowned fixture in Johannesburg nearly three decades ago.

Both the Springboks (the reigning world champions, having won in Japan four years ago) and the All Blacks (who won back-to-back events before that in 2011 and 2015) are on three World Cup titles, more than any other nation. 

The victor at the Stade de France on Saturday will hold sole possession of that record, making them, until proven otherwise, the kings of test rugby.

It has been a grind for both countries to get to this point, but the road ends in Saint-Denis this weekend. 

Each squad will bring workhorses and superstars to the party, and the fireworks are sure to be spectacular in another iteration between battle-tested adversaries.

Enjoy the show.

Here’s a look at the upcoming World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand in terms of who holds advantages (and where) on the pitch — and how each team has been utilizing those strengths to their benefits across the tournament: 


It’s not as if New Zealand’s forward pack isn’t up to standard — far from it. 

The All Blacks’ starting prop combination of Ethan de Groot at loosehead and Tyrel Lomax at tighthead is young, but consistently improving, and second- and back-row names such as new all-time caps leader Sam Whitelock, captain Sam Cane and dynamic No. 8 Ardie Savea, still are among the best and most distinguished figures at their positions in the world. 

But why South Africa holds the advantage with its forwards isn’t just because of the quality alone — it’s because of the depth. 

Lock Eben Etzebeth should be one of the front-runners for World Rugby Player of the Year, and with the team recording 86 dominant tackles in the World Cup, the Springboks, well-known for their physicality, lead that category by almost 30 tackles (per RugbyPass statistics) ahead of Argentina. 

The most notable reason for why the Boks should have the edge in the pack, however, is because of the “Bomb Squad,” or forward replacements coach Jacques Nienaber often unleashes to turn the tide of the match. 

It was crucial to their 2019 World Cup triumph and has been hugely effective again, winning important scrums to help South Africa snatch the semifinal win this past weekend over England with a second-half surge.  

Advantage: South Africa


You’d almost have to give this category’s edge to New Zealand based solely on Will Jordan’s performances alone. 

With a try in the final, the Crusaders wing would break the all-time single-World Cup try-scoring record with his ninth in France, eclipsing a trio of All Black and Springbok legends who had done it previously in Jonah Lomu (1999), Bryan Habana (2007) and Julian Savea (2015). 

Jordan has been out-of-this-world good over the past several weeks, especially when he had a hat trick in the semifinal against Argentina, but he doesn’t do it alone; the fact that New Zealand has 48 tries and over 4,000 meters carried at this World Cup is clear evidence of that. 

Jordan’s former club teammate, wing Leicester Fainga’anuku (now with Toulon), has had five tries himself — making him level with fullback Damian McKenzie — while Aaron Smith and Mark Telea, among many others, have shown capable of lighting up the scoresheet in the All Blacks’ favor with wicked skill, pace and passing. 

South Africa is certainly capable of turning on the jets, as well, featuring the always-dangerous Cheslin Kolbe on the wing and try leader Cobus Reinach (four tries) at scrum-half, but no one in France has racked up the points from their backs quite like the All Blacks.

Advantage: New Zealand


The leading point scorers at the World Cup, New Zealand’s array of tries certainly has helped with that, but the All Blacks — mainly through Richie Mo’unga and McKenzie throughout the tournament — frequently have been solid off of the tee, especially since NZ’s loss to host France in the World Cup opener. 

Mo’unga has 18 conversion kicks across the tournament, and with four more in the final, he would surpass France’s Thomas Ramos for the single-player lead, made even more impressive by the fact McKenzie isn’t far behind him with 14. 

But New Zealand’s comfort with the boot extends well beyond the tee, with a hefty amount of its 181 kicks in the World Cup (second in the field to England) being key pieces of a strong attacking move; one of Jordan’s tries against Argentina was a chip-and-run to the try line in a move that was nothing short of world-class, for example. 

Meanwhile, South Africa’s kicking game, especially in the pool stages, is/was its glaring weakness. 

Manie Libbok missed both a penalty and conversion in the Boks’ 13-8 loss to Ireland — both of which were very makeable — though the return of fly-half Handre Pollard later in Pool B did help, and it was his leg that kicked through the go-ahead penalty which sent South Africa back to the World Cup Final.

Advantage: New Zealand


It’s tough to call who has the upper hand from the set-piece, but the Springboks’ ability to continually dominate a scrum throughout the match by bringing on a fresh army of forwards to get the job done is a feature they’ve nailed down to near-perfection. 

The scrum doesn’t appear to be as much of a mismatch for the All Blacks as it first appeared in the World Cup warm-ups and against France in Pool A, where they frequently gave up penalties and were muscled around, as their scrum has gradually become better throughout the tournament. 

Those improvements crescendoed when NZ outplayed Ireland — tipped by many to be the World Cup winners as the No. 1-ranked side in the world — on the set-pieces in their mammoth quarterfinal clash, all while the All Blacks’ line-out (winning 69 of a possible 71 throughout the World Cup) has been consistently strong and efficient. 

It could be argued, however, that South Africa’s line-out win rate (71 of a possible 81) is more impressive considering the tougher competition that the Boks faced en route to the final, and with their already-elite scrum having disrupted four of England’s seven won in the semifinal, it makes SA an all-around menace in the set-piece game.

Advantage: South Africa


It’s two of the most storied nations in rugby union each battling for a record-breaking fourth Webb Ellis Cup in one of the sport’s greatest rivalries, with New Zealand and South Africa playing more all-time classics against each other than arguably any other pair in the world. 

With that in mind, the Springboks can take solace in the fact that the last time that they faced off against the All Blacks, they completely ran them off the park. 

During each teams’ final warm-up match, a neutral-site test against one another Aug. 25 at Twickenham, the Boks blitzed the All Blacks 35-7 for New Zealand’s largest loss (to anyone, not just South Africa) in a match where both sides fielded largely full-strength starting XVs. 

That recent knowledge of how to not only beat, but dismantle, New Zealand will be invaluable to South Africa, which additionally has the advantage of entering the final with players who know exactly what it takes to be a world champion. 

With that being said, arguably no one has played better since the World Cup’s first weekend, all-considered, than New Zealand, and it took guts to end Ireland’s 17-match winning run in the quarters — a run that extended all the way back to Ireland’s three-match series it won on New Zealand soil in the summer of 2022. 

With history on the line for New Zealand as it aims to finally shut up the many doubters it’s had during its struggles over the past two years, the All Blacks certainly can find themselves motivated by the idea that they’re merely a team of destiny in France that deserves to be a four-time world champion.

Like most Springboks-All Blacks clashes, it’s sure to be a bruising, brutal affair full of some of the best rugby you’ll find on the planet. 

And, like most of the rugby community watching across the globe this weekend, we can’t wait.

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