Battle of the 'big boots'
WORLD CUP FINAL BUILD-UP: The encounter between England and South Africa is likely to come down to a shoot-out between the kickers’ “golden boots” rather than “brilliant tries”.
This is the view of Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick.
South Africa reached the Final via an astute kicking game from the hand, a strong defence and a powerful set of forwards that have wrung penalties from opponents punished by accurate flyhalf Handre Pollard.
And Stick suggested Saturday’s showpiece match will be little different, noting that finals have often been won by the finest of margins – coming down to a drop-goal or pressure penalty.
“You don’t get many opportunities to score tries because you are talking about the best two teams in the world currently,” Stick said.
“I think the kicking games are going to be massive, no pressure Polly,” he quipped, pointing at Pollard next to him.
“That’s how World Cups these days are decided.”
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Stick referred to the 2003 Final – won by England’s flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson with an extra-time drop-goal – and the 1995 decider, which became a penalty kick contest between flyhalves Joel Stransky for South Africa and Andrew Mehrtens for New Zealand.
“If you look at the history of the World Cup, there are few World Cups that were won by brilliant tries. the difference might be on the golden boot between Handre and [England captain Owen] Farrell on the other side.”
Pollard said he was prepared for the pressure that potentially kicking for the trophy brings.
“That’s why you train. That’s why you put in the hours,” he said.
“From being a little boy in the back yard, thinking to yourself ‘This kick’s for the World Cup Final’. You’ve basically prepared your whole life for it,” said the flyhalf.
He said that the team that “embraced and enjoyed” the pressure and turned it into energy would probably emerge victorious in Saturday’s final in Yokohama.
Pollard was the key man in South Africa’s win over Wales in the semifinal, kicking the winning penalty goal with four minutes to spare that gave the Springboks their 19-16 victory.
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi said the last four match-ups against England had been tight “arm-wrestles” dominated by the forwards and he did not expect much different for the final.
“I’m expecting that and it’s all about who can handle that the most,” Kolisi said.
“You never know, there might be beautiful tries being scored. A lot of things have happened this World Cup so you have to be prepared for everything,” added Kolisi.