12-11 against the All Blacks, 16-15 against the Red Rose, 29-28 against the XV de France, the team South Africa that lifted its 4th Web Ellis Cup Saturday (Oct.28) will go down in history as a 1-point wonder-maker.
Cheslin Kolbe was hunched over on a chair on the sidelines, his head buried deep inside his green and gold jersey for the moment he and South Africa became back-to-back Rugby World Cup winners and history-makers.
The pocket-rocket wing - yellow-carded late on - couldn't bear to watch the last, excruciating minutes of the final at Stade de France against New Zealand as the Springboks clung on to win by a point, just as they did against host France in the quarterfinals, and again against England in the semifinals.
Three points over the course of three games added up to that golden moment and South Africa clinching a record fourth Rugby World Cup ahead of the All Blacks.
The Boks took close calls and heart-stopping finishes to a new level at this World Cup, though.
“I guess as a team we like drama," Springboks flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, the player of the final, said. “We have had drama for the last few years. It helped us a lot as a team to get through the drama and cope with it and it shows the resilience of the team.”
South Africa showed late fight to break French hearts 29-28 two weeks ago. Then they escaped 16-15 against England in the semis, again with a very late rally.
Nail-biter of all nail-biters
Saturday's 12-11 edging of the All Blacks for the title was the nail-biter of all those nail-biters, even if it had a different shape to it.
Fylhalf Handre Pollard, who saved the Springboks against France and England off the bench, started the final and kicked his team to a 12-3 lead in the 34th minute.
And for the last 46 minutes, the Springboks had to hold off an All Blacks fightback, instead of launching one.
The final fell on Kolbe's 30th birthday. His yellow card came in the 73rd minute for an intentional knock down of a pass and was, in the words of one of the TV commentators, “not the card he was hoping for on his birthday.”
Kolbe scored the Springboks' final try and capped their victory in the World Cup final four years ago in Japan. This time, he had to watch the last, decisive moments of a Rugby World Cup final play out from the sin-bin chair, helpless and hoping.
He decided not to watch and tucked his head inside his jersey. It popped out, smiling, at the final whistle.
“Relief is probably the first word that comes to mind," Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber said. “As a management and leadership group we always thought, we can’t mess this up.”
Nienaber was coaching South Africa for the last time, as was opposite number Ian Foster, whose valiant All Blacks team came within a whisker of winning despite being down to 14 men from the 27th minute after captain Sam Cane's yellow card was upgraded to red on review. It was only the second Rugby World Cup final to be decided by the slimmest of margins after New Zealand beat France 8-7 in 2011.
“I am happy for us but my heart breaks for him," Nienaber said of Foster's last game as All Blacks coach.