The South Africans broke open a tight defensive struggle late in the second half behind tries by Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe. South Africa also won the title in 1995 and 2007; it is the only country to win every Rugby World Cup final it has contested.
“This bunch of guys have been together for 19 weeks; we know one another really well,” South Africa Coach Rassie Erasmus said. “We got so much respect for England, so we really prepared well. And I think we fought hard till the end, and I’m so proud of them and I think also a little bit fortunate.”
His England counterpart, Eddie Jones, whose team entered the final as a heavy favorite, said the South Africas were “just too strong.”
The first half was a battle of attrition, with both teams delivering punishing tackles and several players leaving the game early with injuries. But it was the powerful South African forward pack that set the tone, forcing England into several penalties during scrums, which contributed to a 12-6 South Africa lead at halftime on four penalty goals from flyhalf Handré Pollard.
The England captain, Owen Farrell, converted two penalty goals for the English.
Six minutes into the second half, South Africa won another penalty at the scrum, and Pollard converted a long-range kick to make it 15-6. But England turned the tables with another kick by Farrell that made it 15-9, and for a moment the English appeared to seize momentum.
But South Africa held off the English, and then Mapimpi broke free on the left wing in the 67th minute, delivering a kick pass along the ground to a charging Lukhanyo Am, the outside center. Am scooped up the ball and immediately shoveled it back to Mapimpi, who took it over for the game’s first try.
Kolbe sealed the victory in the 74th minute, getting the ball on the right wing some 40 yards out and dancing around several defenders for the try that put the game out of reach. Pollard’s conversion produced the final 32-12 score.
South Africa became the first team to win the World Cup despite losing a match in the pool stage. The Springboks, as the team is known, were defeated by New Zealand, the two-time defending champion, in their opening game in Japan.
England came into the final a strong favorite because of its dominant 19-10 win over New Zealand in the semifinals.
South Africa’s third World Cup title had echoes of its first.
The 1995 title, famously recounted in the film “Invictus,” was a turning point not only for South African rugby, but also for the country more broadly as it emerged from sporting isolation of the apartheid era.
Racial divisions persist in the country, and in South African rugby, but Saturday’s victory was delivered by the most racially diverse Springboks team to represent the nation at a World Cup.
Siya Kolisi, the first black Springboks captain, led a 31-man team that included 11 black or mixed-race players, including six who started Saturday’s final.
Erasmus has been praised by the players on the team for his open, direct and color-blind team selections, but Kolisi’s leadership also played a role in fostering a team unity that was evident throughout the tournament.