New Zealand were the overwhelming favorites to retain their Rugby World Cup title at the start of the tournament, but they were not impressive in squeezing out South Africa in the semifinal on Saturday.
The match at Twickenham was one hard-fought and always close, with the All Blacks edging it 20-18.
On Saturday, Fidel Murphy’s Irish pub was packed with rugby fans, the majority being South African, some in national colors with flags. But it was the few Kiwis there who came away jubilant.
Onlookers watched on TV screens as New Zealand enjoyed the majority of possession and territory while the Springboks tackled bravely.
The All Blacks scored two tries, but their ill-discipline gave the Springboks six penalties.
New Zealand moved into the final this weekend against Australia – another two-time champion – who beat Argentina 29-15 on Sunday, also at Twickenham.
The All Blacks are trying to become the first team to win consecutive World Cups.
Two happy – and relieved – New Zealand fans at Fidel’s were Amber Lamb and Sam Muir, who have lived in Cayman for two years.
“I’m pretty excited, but it was pretty close,” Lamb said. “The match was pretty ugly, but South Africa have always been hard for us. They put up a good fight, that’s for sure.”
Lamb did not expect to see so little flowing play and as many penalties. She expects New Zealand to win now, whoever they face. “I think they’ll come out like they were looking against France in the quarterfinals (when they won 62-13).”
The All Blacks who have impressed her most so far are the obvious ones – Julian Savea and Sonny Bill Williams – who have been brilliant. “It’s a girl thing too, they are both good looking,” Lamb laughed.
Muir was part of the legendary rugby culture growing up in New Zealand and having played until his late teens.
“I think New Zealand are playing well although this was a messy game for both sides,” he said. “There were some crazy calls, plays and kicking, but it’s a win.”
He expects a more entertaining final, but says it will still be “very tight.” Muir is not convinced that this is the best All Blacks team ever, as many rugby pundits are claiming.
“We’ve had teams that have been as good in the World Cup and we’ve lost it in very close games which I feel we should have won,” Muir said. “Jonah Lomu’s first World Cup , that side was pretty impressive.”
Besides Savea and Williams, Muir has been impressed with Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu and the captain Richie McCaw “who has been a workhorse.”
Two friends who cheered for the Springboks were Petro Kotze, a South African, and Karen Perkins, who is English but switched her allegiance when England failed to get past the group stage.
Kotze said, “Sad to say that New Zealand are my favorite second team and I expect them to win.”
She added, “In South Africa we grew up with rugby, cricket and all kind of things and nowadays football as well. We can’t play football so we have to stay with rugby and cricket.
“We barely make the African Cup of Nations football tournament. When we had the football World Cup we were only allowed to play because we were hosting it.”
The friends were in England a couple of weeks ago and watched South Africa beat Scotland.
Perkins has shown an interest in rugby since she first watched a match in Fidel’s eight years ago, the South Africa-England World Cup final which the Springboks won.
“Unfortunately, we lost that day and I was very, very grumpy,” Perkins said. She is from Dagenham, east London, staunch football territory, but enjoys her rugby and will be watching the final avidly this Sunday.