England’s creativity to hold the edge over South Africa

Africa

The 2019 Rugby World Cup will reach its climax in Yokohama on Saturday when England take on South Africa in what promises to be a thrilling final.

Needless to say, everything is on the line and both teams will be highly motivated to take the spoils. For England, a victory will represent a remarkable turnaround as they hit rock bottom at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in their own backyard when they were knocked out during that tournament’s pool stages.

England boss Eddie Jones deserves plenty of credit for their revival and he heads into the final with an 80 percent winning record, since taking charge of the team in 2016, and this weekend’s clash will be a momentous occasion for the Australian as it will be his 50th Test as the Red Rose’s coach.

Jones is also on the cusp of cementing his legacy as one of the greatest coaches of the modern era. He was the Wallabies boss when they lost the 2003 World Cup Final to England in Australia and a consultant to the Springboks outfit which beat England in the final in Paris four years later.

Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus will also not lack motivation after announcing on Thursday that he will step down from his position after the final. A Bok win will also be an historic achievement as it will mean they will become the first country to lift the Webb Ellis trophy despite losing a match during the tournament. They will also become the first side to win the World Cup and Rugby Championship in the same year.

Both teams deserve to be in the tournament’s marquee match after outstanding campaigns and with big physical sets of forwards on either side, don’t be surprised if this is a hard-fought and savage encounter characterised by several merciless collisions.

South Africa rely heavily on their physically intimidating forwards, who have run roughshod over most opponents at this tournament. They will not have things easy, however, as England have the pack to stand up to their intimidation. Jones boasts a well balanced outfit with plenty of attacking options throughout their ranks and the dual playmaking threat of captain Owen Farrell and fly-half George Ford will be expected to unlock the miserly defence of the Springboks, who have only conceded four tries throughout the competition.

Although the Boks are less creative than England, they received a shot in the arm when star wing Cheslin Kolbe was named in their run-on side for the final after missing their semi-final win over Wales with an ankle injury. Kolbe is an X-factor player and if he can get the ball in space, he should wreak havoc on attack.

Matches between England and South Africa have proven to be fascinating spectacles in recent times and the sides head into this encounter all square with two victories apiece from their last four fixtures, which were all played in 2018.

South Africa started that year and the reign of their new head coach, Erasmus, in superb form and notched back-to-back triumphs in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, which helped them to a series win over England, who bounced back with a win in that final Test in Cape Town. They also claimed a narrow victory over the Springboks at Twickenham last November.

In the history of the Rugby World Cup, England and South Africa have played against each other on four previous occasions. The first match was at Stade de France in Paris in 1999 which South Africa won 44-21. They then met in Perth in 2003, with England claiming a 25-6 victory.

The third and fourth Tests between these countries took place during the 2007 tournament in France. The Springboks easily took the pool match 36-0 but England won all their other pool games as well as the quarter-final and semi-final to qualify for the final.

That final turned out to be a kicking duel between Jonny Wilkinson (two penalty goals) and Percy Montgomery (four penalty goals) with Frans Steyn adding another penalty to the Springboks’ final score of 15-6.

Players to watch:

For England: Saracens second-row Maro Itoje was one of the standout players in his side’s semi-final triumph against the All Blacks and was a worthy recipient of the official man-of-the-match award in that encounter. Itoje is the prototype of the modern day second-row and delivered a masterful display against the world champions. He proved a handful to the men in black in most facets of play with his ball carrying, line-out work, prowess at the breakdown and defensive efforts superb throughout and he will be determined to continue his good work in the final. Also keep an eye on twin threat posed at the breakdowns by Tom Curry and Sam Underhill. The duo were superb on the ground against New Zealand and if they dominate that facet of play again, it could be a tough day at the office for the Springboks.

For South Africa: If South Africa want to be victorious, then Faf de Klerk will have to be at his best. The Sale Sharks number nine is a vital cog in the implementation of the two-time world champions’ game-plan and is reaching his best form at just the right time. Although the 28-year-old has been slammed for kicking away possession, he has not been fazed by the criticism as his box-kicking is a key component of his side’s style of play and has been pivotal in helping them reach the final. He is also dangerous around the fringes of the rucks and mauls where his sniping breaks can wreak havoc and also create try-scoring opportunities for his team-mates. Springbok captain Siya Kolisi‘s leadership will also be crucial in a pressure cooker environment and if he makes the right calls, it could pave the way in helping his side to be crowned world champions for a third time.

Head-to-head: Although there are several exciting battles across the park, the duel between England number eight Billy Vunipola and his Springbok counterpart Duane Vermeulen is worth the entrance fee alone. Both are abrasive characters who like the physical nature of the game and will be expected to give their respective sides much needed momentum with ball in hand. The duo are also solid in defence and renowned for putting in big hits. A few of those early on could set the tone for the match and should have a ripple effect on their respective team-mates, who will be keen to follow suit.

Previous meetings:

2018: England won 12-11 at Twickenham
2018: England won 25-10 in Cape Town
2018: South Africa won 23-12 in Bloemfontein
2018: South Africa won 42-39 in Johannesburg
2016: England won 37-21 at Twickenham
2014: South Africa won 31-28 at Twickenham
2012: South Africa won 36-27 in Johannesburg
2012: South Africa won 22-17 in Durban
2012: South Africa won 16-15 at Twickenham
2012: Drew 14-14 in Port Elizabeth

Prediction: The forward battle will be crucial and although the Boks hold a slight edge in that department, their backs are not as dangerous as England’s and that will prove to be the difference between the sides. England to win by five points.

The teams:

England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (c), 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 (c), 5 Lood 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 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn

Date: Saturday, November 2
Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama
Kick-off: 18:00 (09:00 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France),, Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

by David Skippers

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