It is not often that you can write your own ‘swansong’ yet for some RWC 2023 Cup final NZL/RSA stars, it might be a picture perfect ending.
Difficult enough to reach one RWC (Rugby World Cup) final, for a few this is going to be their second men’s Cup final. And for one individual, he will create history [in the men’s game] playing in a magnificent third RWC final. With the opportunity to leave the game on his own terms, something Sam Whitelock from New Zealand can create a legacy on Saturday night.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 25, 2023
New Zealand versus South Africa will always be seen as a pinnacle occasion. History makes it so, however, as it is the second-ever time the ‘megapowers clash’ for the Webb Ellis Cup [see 1995] across 10 editions. So not only do the top tier nations meet, but so will men who performed over multiple tournaments and who now plan to place a full stop on their careers…..with a Cup win.
Perfect possible RWC 2023 Cup final swansong for NZL/RSA stars
It has occurred over multiple editions of the Rugby World Cup; in the men’s and women’s editions. Retirement can be a decision made prior to, or post the event. So the below list is for names are most certain to close their International careers – there may be more. So enjoy this look at who might want to go out as a Champion.
Sam Whitelock: with over 150 test matches against his name, Whitelock is a first pick Hall of Famer. Include over seven Super Rugby championships, the Palmerston North born player has performed in two winning Rugby World Cup finals [2011/2015] and earned a third-place Bronze medal . So, in his efforts to drive the All Blacks toward another Cup final, the senior player’s awareness that it will the last time he wears the black jersey could be overshadowed by the occasion.
Sam Whitelock 💪🏿
Highly respected Gentleman of @AllBlacks rugby. A Farmer wearing the #Black jersey was to him more than the value of money.
On Saturday he'll become the 1st Man in the World to play in 3 World Cup Finals! #RWC2023 #SamWhitelock #RWC23 #AllBlacks #copied pic.twitter.com/iMWnvFCDAg
— PJ (@Pjthara) October 23, 2023
Whitelock portrays the same characteristics as a Colin Meads, Taine Norton, or a Richie McCaw. Honest, ready to compete at any level, but with a huge respect and regard for the values of the sport. So, his career conclusion is one that will rightfully deserve a platform such as a RWC 2023 Cup final, to afford him a place in the hierarchy of World Rugby.
Brodie Retallick: the world record holding locking partner for Whitelock, Brodie Retallick will aim for his second title beside others (including many Springbok players). After his sabbatical post-RWC2019, the high energy lock regained his physical prowess and may be the starting figure, for substitute Whitelock to finish an objective this entire All Blacks group have.
Aaron Smith: after his evolution of the passing halfback established the ‘Manawatu nugget’ as the starting All Black in over 100 winning Test matches, his goal will be to open this pivotal test in the most positive attitude. Matched now by the likes of Faf de Klerk, it will take every effort by Smith to link his forwards to an expansive backline – if the opposition allow it.
Duane Vermeulen: the menacing number eight has returned to the starting line up, and would love nothing more than to put the explanation mark on his International career, than with a second crown. It will cement his place beside many current Springboks; including captain Sia Kolisi Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, and Handre Pollard [to name a few].
Gone under the radar a bit but this week's final will likely be the last time we see Duane Vermeulen play for the Boks. A stalwart of South African rugby and a great servant of the game 🇿🇦 pic.twitter.com/omKcWSesKZ
— Andre Huisamen (@andrehuisamen) October 24, 2023
Willie le Roux: another of the returning group, le Roux is one of the more adaptable outside backs in International rugby. After revitalizing his game in (first) the English Premiership competition, and now in Japanese professional rugby, this last ‘swansong’ for Willie le Roux could be to stop the All Blacks from claiming a fourth RWC title.
Back-to-back World Title will be an epic accomplishment
On top of the individuals who may wish to add a full stop to their careers, many others can underline theirs. In the manner how the current Springboks group is scattered with fresh talent, it has the foundation forged in Yokohama. The 2019 final was a strong example of self desire, after years of floundering. Rassie Erasmus returned South Africa back to it’s prime position, as they slayed England in a commanding fashion.
For a portion of that same group, to go on and repeat that feat will be Epic.
It will be a first for the Springboks, very much matching the feat accomplished by the 2015 All Blacks; including Whitelock. And that is a big motivation – on top of the social meaning that Sia Kolisi so eloquently describes.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 21, 2023
Opposing him will be a national team who have rebuilt from a period of despair in 2021, to evolve into [once again] a force to be reckoned with. Leading the ‘revenge of The Rugby Championship’ sides to three out of four semi-finalists, they find themselves in their fifth RWC Cup final. Only ever losing in one previously, to the Springboks in 1995. Now men like Whitelock, Retallick, Smith, current captain Sam Cane and others like Beauden Barrett take on the mantle of becoming World Champions.
A huge effort will be required, and would be an evidence that this RWC 2023 Cup final group are in a ‘class of their own’. Each side has the necessary tools needed, they just have to dismantle an opponent who is equally as determined. Whatever occurs, nobody can surely predict. What observers can see is how at such a momentous occasion, some will see this as an opportune time for some to make a choice that might ‘call time’ on their careers.
2019 RWC Cup triumph led to similar retirements
The five men named above, are on a pathway felt by many others before them. The pinnacle of any team or individual sport, is often the ‘right moment’ to exit the game.
Tendai Mtawarira is one notable for South Africa, after the 2019 RWC victory. As was Dan Carter in 2015. The list can go on and on; Victor Matfield , Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson [both after 2003 victory], Stephen Larkham .
Many successful and unsuccessful finalists have decided it was the perfect send off – even some after the Bronze third-place match. Kieran Read of New Zealand, one of the more recent retirees from International rugby.
Others will complete their representative days, and play their final years in domestic leagues around the world. Ma’a Nonu has continued to play, after departing the All Blacks on a winning note. It can be their ‘nest egg’ to secure their families future.
However, after the highs of reaching the RWC 2023 Cup final, every swansong will hold great memories and strong relationships between the sides that is demonstrated when Richie McCaw and Thierry Dusatoir meet at every subsequent World Cup event. It is a rugbyunited bond that will stand the test of time, and relive the pinnacle Test for every rugby union player – the Cup final itself.
2023 Rugby World Cup final: New Zealand v South Africa – Saturday, October 28. Stade de France
“Main photo credit Brayden Challice, Stade de France”