Five standout matches of the Rugby World Cup finals in France

Eben Etzebeth powers towards the line for a crucial second-half try in South Africa’s thrilling 29-28 quarter-final win over hosts France (Adam Davy/PA
Eben Etzebeth powers towards the line for a crucial second-half try in South Africa’s thrilling 29-28 quarter-final win over hosts France (Adam Davy/PA

Reigning champions South Africa take on fellow three-time winners New Zealand in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final.

Here, the PA news agency picks out five of the standout matches of a memorable tournament in France.

Wales 32 Fiji 26 – Pool C, September 10

Louis Rees-Zammit celebrates Wales' late let-off against Fiji
Louis Rees-Zammit celebrates Wales’ late let-off against Fiji (David Davies/PA)

The opening weekend served up a full-bodied thriller in Bordeaux. Watched by the Prince of Wales, Warren Gatland’s side established a 32-14 lead following tries from Josh Adams, George North, Louis-Rees-Zammit and Elliot Dee. Yet ferocious Fiji roared back to leave Wales royally rattled. Late scores from Josua Tuisova and Mesake Doge, added to earlier efforts from Waisea Nayacalevu and Lekima Tagitagivalu, moved the Islanders within striking distance. Semi Radradra had the chance to grab the crowning glory but heartbreakingly knocked on with Wales’ try line at his mercy in the final act of an absorbing contest staged in stamina-sapping heat.

South Africa 8 Ireland 13 – Pool B, September 23

Ireland claimed a statement win over the reigning champions
Ireland claimed a statement win over the reigning champions (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Ireland propelled themselves to the cusp of the quarter-finals with a gripping victory over the 2019 champions on a raucous evening in Paris. Mack Hansen’s try and five points from Johnny Sexton helped settle a titanic tussle between international rugby’s top two teams at a rocking Stade de France. Cheslin Kolbe’s second-half score and a Manie Libbok penalty kept the Springboks in contention. But they ultimately fell short following a nail-biting finale as Jack Crowley’s penalty helped Ireland stretch their winning run to 16 matches to take control of the tournament’s toughest group.

Fiji 23 Portugal 24 – Pool C, October 8

Portugal made history by pulling off a dramatic shock victory. Rodrigo Marta’s try two minutes from time allowed the superb Samuel Marques to kick the winning conversion and secure his country’s first World Cup win at the eighth attempt. Amid passionate Portuguese celebrations, Fiji’s players slumped to the turf at full-time but still scraped through to a quarter-final with England courtesy of a losing bonus point which condemned Australia to a first pool-stage exit. Having already been eliminated, Os Lobos had little to lose in Toulouse. Marta’s late intervention added to efforts from Raffaele Storti and Francisco Fernandes on a landmark afternoon after heavy favourites Fiji appeared to have avoided an upset thanks to tries from Levani Botia and Mesake Doge, plus 13 points from Frank Lomani.

Ireland 24 New Zealand 28 – Quarter-final, October 14

New Zealand overcame Ireland in a tense encounter
New Zealand overcame Ireland in a tense encounter (Adam Davy/PA)

Ireland’s dream was crushed as their quarter-final curse continued with a heartbreaking defeat. Andy Farrell’s class of 2023 were bidding to become the first Irish team to reach the last four. But they trailed for most of an engrossing Paris contest and were unable to mastermind a comeback as the formidable All Blacks overcame yellow cards for Aaron Smith and Codie Taylor to send Ireland captain Johnny Sexton into retirement. Scores from native Kiwis Bundee Aki and Jamison Gibson-Park and a penalty try kept Farrell’s men within touching distance for the duration of a tense encounter. However, New Zealand underlined their rugby pedigree, with Leicester Fainga’anuku, Ardie Savea and the prolific Will Jordan crossing to pave the way for progression to a semi-final showdown with Argentina.

France 28 South Africa 29 – Quarter-final, October 15

Hosts France crashed out in agonising fashion following a quarter-final classic for the ages. Just 24 hours after New Zealand’s thrilling victory over Ireland, Stade de France staged an epic encounter which somehow eclipsed it for drama and scintillating rugby. With Les Bleus captain Antoine Dupont returning from a fractured cheekbone, the two sides shared six tries in an opening 26 minutes seemingly played in fast-forward. Hooker Peato Mauvaka crossed between tries from prop Cyril Baille for France, while Springboks trio Kurt-Lee Arendse, Damian de Allende and Kolbe were also on the scoresheet. Eben Etzebeth claimed the only try of a tighter second period to suck the life out of the partisan Paris crowd, with Kolbe’s inspired first-half charge down of a Thomas Ramos conversion proving critical.