England v South Africa: Three key match-ups
WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: England face South Africa in what promises to be a brutally compelling World Cup final in Yokohama on Saturday.
We look at three key head-to-head contests as England look to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time and South Africa a third:
Ben Youngs v Faf de Klerk
Scrumhalves set the tempo for a back division and these two are no exception.
The 30-year-old Youngs, the son of former England scrumhalf Nick Youngs, has overcome doubts about his fitness and seen off competition from the likes of Danny Care to establish himself as a first-choice No.9 during 94 Tests in Red Rose colours.
Possessed of a sound passing and kicking game, Youngs is also capable of making a sniping break as he showed during England’s semifinal win over reigning champions New Zealand where he was unlucky to have a try disallowed.
De Klerk may be a diminutive figure but that did not stop him squaring up to towering lock Jake Ball in South Africa’s 19-16 semifinal win over Wales.
His box-kicking game can be a source of frustration even to loyal Springboks fans but Leicester’s Youngs, who has played against Sale halfback de Klerk in the English Premiership, said: “He’s a busy nine. He likes confrontation in terms of getting in your face in defence.
“A huge amount goes through him in terms of his kicking game so, he’ll be pretty pivotal to how South Africa play.”
Sam Underhill v Siya Kolisi
Underhill and fellow flank Tom Curry, dubbed the “kamikaze kids” by coach Eddie Jones, have been two of the stars of England’s campaign in Japan.
The 23-year-old Underhill has been superb at the breakdown, securing vital turnover ball.
Kolisi’s influence as the Springboks’ first black captain is significant and it would be a landmark occasion in South Africa’s sporting history were the 28-year-old to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
But he has not seemed quite the same force since a knee injury in May and former England flyhalf Stuart Barnes even suggested the Springboks would be better off starting with Francois Louw, a Bath teammate of Underhill, after the replacement loose forward made a key steal late in the narrow semifinal win over Wales.
Maro Itoje v Eben Etzebeth
At the age of 25, the dynamic Itoje has already played in 33 England Tests and three more for the British and Irish Lions.
A self-confessed feminist, the politics student and poet, one of several Saracens players in the England squad and the son of Nigerian immigrants, is far removed from the stereotype of the grizzled second row.
But having been superb in the line-out against the All Blacks, he now finds himself up against the imposing 203cm Etzebeth, a South African lock seemingly straight from central casting.
While in Japan, Etzebeth, the 28-year-old veteran of 84 Tests, has been accused of assault and using racist slurs by South Africa’s rights watchdog – something he denies – but he has maintained his form despite the controversy.
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