An unusually unfancied New Zealand dazzled throughout Rugby World Cup 2023, scoring a tournament-high 49 tries (19 more than any other side) and contributing to a dramatic final. The four-point quarter-final win over the then-No.1 side Ireland was a highlight, but ultimately, the image of captain Sam Cane, head in hands after his yellow card in the final was upgraded to red, showed despair his team-mates would eventually share.
Try of the tournament
He had eight to choose from, including a superb solo effort to seal his hat-trick against Argentina in the semi-final, but it was Will Jordan’s first against Uruguay during the pool stage that takes the prize. Highlighting the All Blacks at their best, live-wire utility back Damian McKenzie – a guaranteed starter for most teams – gathered his own delicate chip on the touchline before tipping it back in one-handed for the Jordan to race away and score under the posts.
Quotes of the Tournament
“It would be good to take some gas out of that bomb [squad], wouldn’t it?”
New Zealand forwards coach Jason Ryan did not quite get his wish.
Man of the moment
The all-round brilliance of inside-centre Jordie Barrett and all-action back-row play of Ardie Savea ran him close, but it can only be Jordan (pictured). In his first World Cup, the 25-year-old wing scored a RWC-record-equalling eight tries to match the feats of all-time greats Jonah Lomu (1999), Bryan Habana (2007) and Julian Savea (2015). And he did much of his best work when it really mattered too – scoring in the quarter-final against Ireland and a hat-trick in the semi-final versus Argentina.
One for the future
After a hat-trick against Uruguay and a critical try against Ireland, Leicester Fainga’anuku had to make way for the returning Mark Tele’a in the semi-final and final, but at just 24, the Toulon-bound winger could be rivalling Tele’a and Jordan for top billing in the years to come.
From the touchline
The All Blacks will always have a home in Lyon. The world’s most instantly recognisable rugby team made France’s second city their base throughout the pool stage, with players visiting hospitals and schools, donating a specially carved bench to the city and much to the delight of locals, zooming around the streets (and in and out of the world-famous restaurants) on team e-scooters.
Despite remaining stuck on three Rugby World Cup wins, New Zealand’s fans should take some solace from the team’s attacking excellence in their run to the final. Ahead of the deciding match, the All Blacks boasted the best red-zone efficiency (an average of 3.89 points per entry into the opposition 22) the most line-breaks (13.5 per game) and the most carries over the gain-line (84.5 per game at a tournament-leading 61%). In the end it was not enough to stop the relentlessly efficient Springboks but it was great to watch.
A record fifth final appearance was testament to a squad that peaked at just the right time. The quarter-final win against the Irish will go down as one of the greatest World Cup knockout matches and the effort by 14 men in the second half of the final to drag their team to within touching distance of the Webb Ellis Cup was close to miraculous. In the end, 100-plus cap veterans Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith did not get the send off they wanted but with the likes of Jordan, Fainga’anuku and prop Ethan de Groot around, the future remains bright.