England and South Africa will meet again for their second matchup in a World Cup final in Yokohama this Saturday. It will be the sides fifth meeting in the tournament’s history.
Eddie Jones’s side went into their game against New Zealand as firm underdogs, given the All Blacks eight-year reign as world champions and fantastic form going into their last four encounters.
After their superb win – England now become favourites to win their second Webb Ellis Cup against a South African side that have steadily grown in confidence in the last six weeks.
Highlights of England vs New Zealand
It would be a colossal achievement for Jones’s team to win the World Cup having faced ‘the big three’ southern hemisphere sides in the knockout rounds.
Erasmus’s team were billed by many as dark horses to win the trophy in the pre-tournament debates. Their opening weekend loss to the All Blacks put the Springboks out of the spotlight of the world’s media – but perhaps it was a blessing in disguise with a more favourable route to the final, avoiding a second meeting with Steve Hansen’s New Zealand.
Saturday’s game will be a replay of the 2007 World Cup final in Paris where Jake White’s Springboks triumphed over England to win their second Webb Ellis Cup. White’s assistant coach? None other than Eddie Jones.
That day, South Africa were a very different side. Packed with experience – the champion team fielded the likes of Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Schalk Burger upfront – with Percy Montgomery and the tournaments leading try-scorer Bryan Habana in the backs.
Up against them were a plucky England side who were out to defend their World Cup title. Having suffered an embarrassing 36-0 defeat to the Boks in the group stage, coach Brian Ashton had all but lost his dressing room.
It was the team, full of reigning world champions such as Lawrence Dallaglio, Jason Robinson and Jonny Wilkinson, that pulled together and dragged their side out of the Pool and through two gruelling knockout games to once again face the Boks in the final.
That England side held their own in Paris and many will feel that they were robbed of a win amidst a controversial TMO decision that disallowed a Mark Cueto try in the corner, early in the second half.
(Mark Cueto’s try for England was disallowed by TMo in the 2007 World Cup final)
Twelve years on – and England are out for revenge.
The Springbok’s will want to draw England into an arm wrestle this weekend. Like they have done so successfully in the knockout stages of this year’s tournament.
Against Japan, South Africa were able to nullify the quick-paced, frenetic style of play that had made the host’s fan favourites in the group stages. With their superior physicality and power upfront – the Boks squeezed the life out Japan in the second half with ruthless efficiency, capitalising on ill-discipline as their opponents tired.
They stuck with the same game plan against Wales and frustrated Gatland’s men into another arm wrestle where they knew they would have the upper hand. It wasn’t pretty but it certainly was effective.
The England side that will take the field this weekend is full of the next generation of world-class players that are taking part in their first World Cup. In the back row, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill have been in outstanding form with impressive performances against the Wallabies and All Blacks.
Maro Itoje was player of the match against New Zealand with a display that, for many, cemented his status as the worlds best second-row. With a dominant showing in the lineout, breakdown and defence, the 25-year-old was unplayable at times against the All Blacks.
Faf de Klerk was instrumental in the Springboks semi-final victory. The South Africans utilised an effective box kicking strategy through him that put the Welsh under immense pressure for the whole eighty minutes.
De Klerk is the latest in a long line of great Springbok number nines, following in the footsteps of Fourie du Preez and the late Joost van der Westhuizen.
Not only is his kicking and passing game world-class – he is the best tackling scrum-half in World Rugby, regularly cutting down men twice his size. With him, the Boks effectively have three flankers on the field – something that the Welsh struggled to deal with last Sunday.
(Faf de Klerk is the world’s best defensive scrum-half)
South Africa have been given a huge boost this week with the news that winger Cheslin Kolbe will be fit and available for Saturday’s showpiece in Yokohama after recovering from an ankle injury.
The 5ft’6 winger has been a breakout star for the Boks in this World Cup with his dazzling footwork and electric pace. He will pose a real threat for the English out wide.
Both of these nations are no strangers to World Cup finals – with this being England’s fourth and South Africa’s third in the tournament’s history. In fact, if South Africa win on Saturday, an argument could be made for them being the greatest Rugby World Cup side overall, with three wins from just seven tournaments.
The only player from this coming weekend’s two teams that has played in a final before is Frans Steyn, who at the age of 19 starred in the Boks 2007 triumph, making him the youngest ever Webb Ellis Cup winner. That experience could be vital coming off the bench in Saturday’s game.
Jones’s decision to start George Ford at ten against the All Blacks turned out to be a stroke of genius, after having tactically omitted him from their quarter-final fixture against Australia.
Ford has been in fine form so far in this tournament but may still be left out of the starting fifteen against South Africa. With inside centre Damian de Allende impressing against Wales with his strong running.
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Jones may elect to start Owen Farrell to cover this threat in defence – just as he did with Samu Kerevi in their quarter-final.
Since the arrival of Rassie Erasmus to the Springbok set-up – South African rugby has undergone a revival after an awful run of form following the 2015 World Cup.
With a talismanic captain in Siya Kolisi, the Boks have once again become one of the leading forces in international rugby – with big wins in the last two years including an away victory against the All Blacks in 2018.
History, however, will be against Kolisi’s men as no side has ever lost a pool game and gone on to lift the trophy.
Our finalists have met five times since the 2015 World Cup, with England winning three of those encounters – most recently at Twickenham in 2018 in a close fought 12-11 win.
England survived a late scare from the Boks that day – after Owen Farrell got away with a suspected shoulder charge in the last phase of play. It appears that in recent months England have really focused on the defensive side of their game.
(England’s defence has been impressive in Japan)
They have been ferocious without the ball in this tournament and more importantly – their discipline in the tackle area has been flawless – in a World Cup where red cards have been regularly shown.
If Erasmus’s men are triumphant in Yokohama on Saturday, then it will be a truly monumental moment for South African rugby. Siya Kolisi is the first black man to have led a Springbok test side – a feat that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago.
There were contrasting scenes at the final whistles of each semi-final which may sum up each team’s mindset going into the final.
As Handre Pollard kicked the ball dead on eighty minutes for the Boks there were scenes of jubilation. With players punching the air and looking to the heavens, South Africa looked a side who were happy to have scraped through.
For England, it was a subdued response – a few hugs and handshakes was all for a side who felt that this win, despite it’s enormity, was just another step on the ladder to World Cup glory.
England are peaking at the perfect time coming into this match. With a virtually injury-free starting fifteen and tournament momentum on their side – England have never had a better chance to win in a final.