The final of Rugby World Cup 2023 promises to be a seismic encounter on so many levels.
For the third tournament in a row the showpiece occasion will be contested by the top two teams in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings, and two of the sport’s fiercest rivals.
Two teams of contrasting styles with head coaches preparing for their final matches in charge in Jacques Nienaber and Ian Foster are just two of the many narratives surrounding this match.
And if the rating of the two teams is reflected on the pitch in Saint-Denis, it could be every bit as close as the last time these teams met to decide who lifts the Webb Ellis Cup.
Had the rankings been in place when Joel Stransky handed the Springboks a Rugby World Cup dream debut in 1995, the beaten All Blacks would have no doubt gone into the match as the world’s number one by some distance, such was their dominance up until the bitterest of ends in Johannesburg.
But this time around it is the Springboks who are at number one, on 92.79 points, having picked up 0.31 points for their nail-biting 16-15 win over England in the second of last weekend’s semi-finals.
New Zealand eased to a 44-6 victory over Argentina in the first of the semi-finals in Saint-Denis on Friday and gained 0.65 points to increase their rating to 91.56 points, meaning this will be the first Rugby World Cup final to be contested by two teams with a rating above 91 points – as well as the closest.
In six Rugby World Cup finals where the rankings have been in place, the difference of just 1.23 points between the two teams’ respective ratings is the smallest it has ever been, beating the 1.58 points that separated England (ranked first) from South Africa (ranked second) immediately before Handré Pollard got proceedings underway in Yokohama four years ago.
In winning the 2019 final, South Africa became the first team to claim the Webb Ellis Cup having gone into the deciding match as the lowest-ranked finalist, something the All Blacks will be hoping to emulate this weekend.