Preview: England v South Africa
WORLD CUP FINAL: This is it – the ninth Final and perhaps the greatest of them all.
The interest in the match is enormous and not just in South Africa and England – where it has handed off Brexit and an election in grabbing the nation’s interest.
What has gone before in Japan has been so special that it makes this a special final – a glorious climax to a glorious tournament.
The people of Japan have been the most hospitable of hosts.
They have been full of enthusiastic fun – dressed in support of countries they may never have known of before, singing the anthems in languages they may never have heard before, and doing it all with a sense of fun. Fun and yet there were organisational exactness and respect.
When there was silence for those affected by the typhoon, there really was silence.
When it was time to sing and shout, there was singing and shouting. When there were drums to sound, they sounded loudly.
And there was romance, too, as Japan, playing exciting rugby, beat Ireland and Scotland to reach the quarterfinal for the first time ever.
They certainly made their country proud.
Weather apart, it has been a wonderful World Cup, making for a wonderful final occasion, the last match, the most defining match, the one to rocket a nation into ecstasy.
Both of these countries know what it means to win the World Cup.
South Africa has done it twice, England once.
That first time for South Africa, in 1995, had a huge positive effect for the new nation with its much loved President, Nelson Mandela.
And the present President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has assured the Springboks that every one of the country’s 57 million people was fervently on the side of Siyamthanda Kolisi and his men.
For some South Africans, there may be greater hope than expectation of victory – but there is always that tantalising possibility of an upset.
No team that has lost a pool match has ever won the Rugby World Cup.
The Springboks lost to New Zealand in their first pool match.
But, as Rassie Erasmus said, history is there to be made.
There is always a first time, whether it’s getting to the top of Everest as Edmund Hilary did over 60 years ago or running a marathon in under two hours as Eliud Kipchoge did recently.
On the other hand, the Springboks are the only finalists who have not lost.
When England played New Zealand, it was an exciting, free-flowing game.
When South Africa played Wales it was a drab affair of much kicking – 81 kicks in 80 minutes.
Will England decide on a high-tempo, running game, while South Africa again employ kick and bash, content to let England run while the Springboks seek to hit ball-carriers hard?
Will England want to do the South African thing before South Africa’s does it, a disconcerting tactic?
Against New Zealand, England played the way the All Blacks do at the very start of the match, i.e. before the All Blacks had a chance to do it as they do. England’s tactics not only opened the scoring for them but seemed to leave the All Blacks bewildered for the rest of the game, resorting to much wild throwing the ball around as against England’s fast but measure passing.
Will we see on Saturday that Ben Youngs turn his first possession into a box kick and that England mauls its first line-out?
Youngs, by the way, kicked 10 box kicks against New Zealand to Francois de Klerk’s 15 against Wales. Youngs can play De Klerk at his own game and does so.
England’s most potent weapon may be its two-layered backline attack from tackle-rucks. The Springboks will want to counter it with rush defence, something more difficult if England’s tackle-ruck is in midfield and they have the option of a two-sided, double-layered attack on either side.
England’s back play is sophisticated, giving them options on attack. It is also strong on defence, as New Zealand found, leaving the All Blacks unable to construct a single try. As it is, teams at the World Cup have been able to create overlaps out wide.
But then winning a final like this is more about defence than attack, and the world knows that the Springboks can defend and do it with aggression.
South Africa’s defensive zeal has usually compensated, but maybe England will be able to take it a step further, to the goal-line.
All that said, in this World Cup the Springboks have scored 31 tries to England’s 22, 230 points to 178.
Both sides have been reluctant to concede tries.
In five matches, England has had four scored against them, South Africa’s also four.
Players to Watch
There is not one of the 46 that is not worth watching – the top players in the world’s top match.
For England, there is tough, skilled Owen Farrell in the backline and in the forwards, tall, athletic, skilled Maro Itoje who may just attract the most attention.
For South Africa, there are Cheslin Kolbe and mercurial Faf de Klerk amongst the backs and the endlessly energetic Pieter-Steph du Toit amongst the forwards.
Head to Head
Apart from the unit battles, such as the battles between the two sets of locks, the two front rows and the two sets of loose forwards, there are individual ones.
Tough Owen Farrell against tough Damien de Allende at inside centre is an interesting one, neither likely to capitulate. Scrumhalf Youngs versus scrumhalf De Klerk, where De Klerk is the better footballer, Youngs the better scrumhalf.
Direct Jonny May on the wing against clever, devious, skilled Cheslin Kolbe. Bruising Billy Vunipola versus bruising Duane Vermeulen
Line-outs are important. There were 30 of them when England played New Zealand and 21 when South Africa played Wales. Despite their limited options in the line-out, England lost just three out of 19 throw-ins while South Africa lost one out of six against Wales. The contest between England’s flanks-cum-locks, Courtney Lawes and Itoje, and South Africa’s locks Eben Etzebeth and Lodewyk de Jager could be a telling one and go some way in determining how well the flanks will do.
Goal-kicker versus goal-kicker. So much of goal-kickers’ success depends on when and where they get the kick. There is not much to choose between the goal-kickers – Farrell and George Ford for England and Handre Pollard for South Africa.
Results in 2019
Before the World Cup, England played nine matches in 2019, winning seven and losing just twice, both times to Wales. They beat Ireland twice, Italy twice, France, Scotland and Wales.
Before the World Cup South Africa played five matches, winning four and drawing one. They beat Argentina twice, Australia and Japan, and drew with New Zealand
Results at the 2019 World Cup So Far
Just two results in this year’s World Cup suggest that England will be comfortable winners. Both teams played New Zealand.
South Africa lost 13-233 to New Zealand.
England beat New Zealand 19-7 – and in fact the score could have been a lot bigger in England’s favour.
But then “could’ve” is what changes results.
Overconfidence has ever been the besetting sin of Springbok rugby. They are much better in being underdogs than favourites. They are underdogs in this Final.
In England’s five matches at the World Cup, they beat Tonga, the United States Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.
In South Africa’s five matches, they lost to New Zealand and then beat Namibia, Italy, Japan and Wales.
2019 Results against Common Opponents
Argentina: England won 39-10; South Africa won 46-13 and 24-18.
Australia: England won 40-16; South Africa won 35-17
New Zealand: England won 19-7; South Africa drew 16-all and lost 13-23
Wales: England won 33-19, while they also lost 13-21 and 6-13; South Africa won 19-16
Prediction: Head versus Heart, a contest that is seldom a draw! But in this case, we are going to give head a chance and fancy that the England backs will use opportunities to set their strong wings running in space and win by 10 points or more.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Curry, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Dan Cole, 19 George Kruis, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Jonathan Joseph.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Rudolph Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn.
Date: Saturday, November 2
Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama, capacity 72 000
Kick-off: 18.00 (11.00 SA time; 09.00 UK time; 09.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy with a high of 18°C and a low of 12°C
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)