Rugby World Cup final: Inspirational South Africa captain Siya Kolisi chases history against New Zealand

South Africa and New Zealand will meet on Saturday in a Rugby World Cup final for the first time since 1995.

On that occasion, it was tournament host South Africa which won a close-fought contest 15-12 to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time.

After the end of the apartheid era, this was a victory that saw South African President Nelson Mandela present the trophy to Springboks captain Francois Pienaar. Mandela dressed in a replica of Pienaar’s No. 6 shirt is one of the most iconic images in sporting history – a powerful, symbolic moment as a nation attempted to reconcile with its divisive past.

Twenty-four years on from that enduring moment, it was the inspiring Siya Kolisi who led his country to victory in the 2019 final against England, becoming the first Black captain to lead South Africa to World Cup glory.

Born amid desperate poverty in the township of Zwide, just outside Port Elizabeth, Kolisi is the embodiment of the impossible dream to so many in his homeland and beyond.

Indeed, his participation in this year’s World Cup is also nothing short of remarkable. In April, he suffered a serious knee injury and underwent surgery before battling back to fitness.

A devout Christian, Kolisi later acknowledged the importance his strong faith played in his recovery. He now has the chance to join All Blacks great Richie McCaw as the only captain to win consecutive tournaments.

The Springboks got the better of England in a tense semifinal in this year's tournament. - Jeanne Accorsini/Sipa/AP
The Springboks got the better of England in a tense semifinal in this year's tournament. - Jeanne Accorsini/Sipa/AP

“I don’t think that it’s stuff that you can dream about because it doesn’t happen often,” said the 32-year-old, per Reuters, ahead of a game in which both countries are seeking to win the coveted title for a record fourth time.

“I don’t think it will happen in our lifetime again, two teams like this. It will probably be the biggest game of my life,” added Kolisi.

The Springboks superstar knows his team is carrying the hopes of a nation. “People send us videos and tell us this is sometimes the only time they are happy about something. It’s when we play,” the flanker reflected.

“When we play or when you then get selected, you know it’s for something far bigger than yourself.”

Lining up alongside Kolisi on Saturday will be Bongi Mbonambi after World Rugby opted to not charge the Springboks hooker for alleged use of discriminatory language against England’s Tom Curry in the semifinal due to “insufficient evidence.”

Kolisi revealed he’d reached out to Curry following the abuse and threats the Englishman and his family have received online.

South Africa or New Zealand will become the first nation to win the Rugby World Cup four times. - Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images
South Africa or New Zealand will become the first nation to win the Rugby World Cup four times. - Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

“I have been through it too. We can take it as players. When it comes to us directly, it’s fine, but when it comes to your family, it’s totally different,” the South African captain said. “It’s the one part of the game that we really don’t enjoy.”

While New Zealand has won the last three times these two countries have faced each other at a Rugby World Cup, the Kiwis will remember all too well what happened when they met in August, as the now top-ranked South Africa inflicted a record 35-7 defeat on the All Blacks at Twickenham Stadium in London.

Unwisely written off by some after losing its tournament opener to France, New Zealand is looking to be crowned world champion for the first time since 2015.

There’s disappointment though for the most-capped All Black of them all, Sam Whitelock, who drops to the bench in his final game for New Zealand.

Whitelock is one of several Kiwi stars calling time on their international careers after the tournament, but the 35-year-old knows he has the chance to become the sport’s first three-time champion.

This will also be the last match as head coach for Ian Foster in what has become an unlikely title chance for New Zealand.

During Foster’s tenure, the All Blacks have suffered 11 defeats and two draws over the last four years, though the 58-year-old coach has guided the nation to four Rugby Championships triumphs.

“So we’ve woken up this week and we’re in a World Cup final and we’re excited and, right now, we’re trying to make sure we balance the control of the emotion of it versus dealing with all the messages from home and even people in France have been massive,” Foster told reporters.

New Zealand lock Samuel Whitelock will play his final game for the All Blacks. - Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images
New Zealand lock Samuel Whitelock will play his final game for the All Blacks. - Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

“We know it’s two great teams out there. Different styles. They’re great at their style, we want to be great at ours,” added Foster.

A trio of Barrett brothers – Scott, Jordie and Beauden – will start the game for the three-time winner, while winger Will Jordan knows he can achieve a new mark for most tries at a World Cup if he can add to the eight he already has.

After almost two months of intense, gripping action, we now have a World Cup final re-match 28 years in the making as the two top-ranked teams in the world battle it out in front of 80,000 fans at the Stade de France in Paris as they chase a special piece of history.

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