Sunday Sport

World Cup to the forefront



IT WAS a year of soaring highs and crushing lows for rugby union in 2023.

South Africa won the World Cup for a second successive time under their inspiratio­nal captain Siya Kolisi, retaining the title with a 12- 11 victory over New Zealand in Paris.

Ireland, ranked as the world number one team for most of the year, were crowned men’s Six Nations champions in Grand Slam fashion, while England triumphed at the inaugural WXV tournament, beating final opponents and hosts New Zealand after another unbeaten, title- winning women’s Six Nations.

But there was also fresh misery in the Gallagher Premiershi­p as London Irish followed Worcester and Wasps into administra­tion.

It continued the most damaging domestic season English rugby had witnessed, with a 13- team league slashed to 10 amid widespread job losses.

And online abuse towards high-profile figures continued in demoralisi­ng fashion, with the England captain and World Cup final referee both victims.

England skipper Owen Farrell chose to take a break from internatio­nal rugby – he will miss the 2024 Six Nations – to prioritise his and his family’s mental health, while leading match official Wayne Barnes announced his retirement after controllin­g the World Cup final, referencin­g the online abuse he had faced.

And it did not end there, as English referee Tom Foley decided to step away from Test rugby, citing pressure, scrutiny and online abuse he received following the World Cup final, when he was the television match official.

The 38- year- old said that death threats had been aimed at him and his family following the World Cup, and he had to warn his children’s school.

On the field, Kolisi’s Springboks ensured a record fourth world crown for South Africa – and they did it the hard way.

One- point victories over quarter-final opponents Ireland and semi-final rivals England, who surpassed expectatio­ns under head coach Steve Borthwick,

were recorded before downing the All Blacks 12-11 at Stade de France.

New Zealand captain

Sam Cane became the first player to be sent off in a Rugby World Cup final, while Kolisi, his team-mate Cheslin Kolbe and All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell were yellow-carded on a night of high drama.

There was a feeling, though, the tournament lost much of its momentum when highly- fancied hosts France and strongly- backed Ireland made quarter-final exits 24 hours apart.

While England remained until the end, defeating Argentina in the bronze medal match, Scotland made a pool stage exit as South Africa and Ireland progressed from their group, and Wales tamely bowed out at the last- eight stage after four successive pool victories that included a record 40-6 humbling of former England boss Eddie Jones’ hapless Australia.

The World Cup also provided a farewell for several players who headed into retirement from the men’s internatio­nal game, with that list including Johnny Sexton, Dan Biggar, Keith Earls, Courtney Lawes and Ben Youngs. Earlier in the year, decorated Wales pair Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric also bowed out.

Elsewhere, Saracens won the Premiershi­p, Munster landed the United Rugby Championsh­ip title and Ronan O’Gara guided his La Rochelle team to a second successive European Champions Cup triumph.

But 2023’ s endearing image will be Kolisi once again holding aloft the game’s golden prize, his place among rugby’s alltime greats well and truly assured.

 ?? Africa ?? WORLD CUP WINNERS: South
 ?? ?? STEPPING BACK: Farrell

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