It will be a north v south affair in regards of hemispheres on the 2nd November 2019 as England take on South Africa to play for the title of World Rugby Union Champions – I predicted half of this anyway in my semifinal preview!!! The International Stadium in Yokohama will host this coming Saturday, a repeat of the 2007 final, in which the South Africans prevailed.
It is fair to say that both sides produced contrasting performances in their respective semi-finals. England were dominant against the holders New Zealand in pretty much all aspects and it could easily be argued the 19-7 final deficit flattered the now dethroned back to back champions. The English side throughout were superb, their forwards were powerful, the backs slick and defence was outstanding, hardly giving the All Blacks a sniff. South Africa on the other hand were far more attritional in a right old arm wrestle with the Welsh. It was a forward and kick dominated game and it was the Springbok pack that led the way with the backs also lending their muscle, Damian de Allende’s try a classic example. A late Handre Pollard penalty was the difference in a 19-16 win, but they deserved it, just, by taking their opportunities and being decisive at key times, a skill of all top sides.
THE RED ROSE
6 matches, 5 victories for England, along with the draw from their Typhoon Hagibis cancellation against the French. Some people may well argue that England have not had a real test this tournament, wins over Tonga, USA, a 14 man Argentina, Australia and New Zealand have maybe to the untrained eyed looked very comfortable, but for me it is too simplistic to say that. The work they have gone through in those matches to make their opponents look ordinary is, for me, there for all to see. The forwards have fronted up, the backs have been clinical and the defence outstanding, all top sides work hard and sometimes it can look easy, as if they are not challenged, but they are being. Most impressive for me has been their mental edge, especially in the knockout phase. When they were pegged back to 17-16 by Australia in the quarter final, they then struck with 10 quick points to break Aussie spirits and then in the semi-final they gave New Zealand their points, to put the match in the balance at 13-7 with an awful lineout, then showing brilliant mental fortitude to go again and win 2 penalties to stretch the lead, one they never looked liked relinquishing. Just over a year ago against their final opponents Eddie Jones job was on the line, but a win in Cape Town, and then in November at Twickenham, saved his bacon and look what he has achieved now, one more win and English rugby immortality will be his reward.
When Head Coach, Rassie Erasmus took over in March 2018, this South Africa team were a shambles. Dropping like a stone down the world rankings they were seen as a soft touch, the one thing any Springbok team should NOT be regarded as even if results weren’t going the way they would like. He started to rebuild naming, Siya Kolisi, as the first black captain of the national team as well as going back to basics and implementing a style that said to anyone facing them front up or you will get walked all over. They have improved markedly and during the World Cup have shown that anybody facing them will be in for one heck of a game. Yes they lost their opener to New Zealand, but that wasn’t anything to get alarmed with especially as they played well in that game giving the All Black problems through the game. Expected demolitions of Namibia, Italy and Canada followed before their forward orientated defeats of Japan and then Wales in a nail biter of a semi-final. Please do not listen to those who criticise their style, personally I think there is some bitterness there, especially as hosts Japan, who became most people’s second team, were swatted away in a second half demolition job so clinically. Using the best tactics to beat an opposing team is logical in my opinion. This side 100% deserve to be in the final and one thing is for sure it is going to take a top performance to get the better of them.
Well what to expect? I think the first thing is that we will be peddled the lazy line that England are overwhelming favourites and whilst beating New Zealand puts you as the side expected to win, it would, in my opinion, be extremely disrespectful to dismiss this South African side. If you go right back to the first weekend of the tournament this same side rattled the All Blacks in their opening pool match, yes losing, but that was down to rugby from the gods, which is a forte for the now former champions, against anyone at anytime. England have forward power to match their opponents, so the Boks are going to have to show what their back line can do and for me they do have something to show in that respect, especially if Cheslin Kolbe is back after missing the semi-final. Eddie Jones’ side do have some injury issues, with Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Owen Farrell picking up knocks as well as having to fly over cover for scrum half after an injury to back up Willi Heinz. The final in 2007 was a real war which turned on a disallowed try early in the second half and the English never recovered and lost a little bit of their discipline, whilst South Africa took advantage and kicked themselves to victory. No side has ever won the Rugby World Cup having lost a match and I expected South Africa to get to the final, however I thought it would be New Zealand they were facing not an England side that have shown they can play in a variety of styles when taking into consideration the opposition. One thing the northern hemisphere side have not had to deal with in the tournament is being behind late in a game but they have dealt with every other situation very well, so for me that will not phase them as much as it has done in previous years. South Africa wont be able to bully this team like they did Japan and a lesser extent Wales in their previous match and for that reason I think England will just about eke out the victory – a 3-5 point winning margin with late points securing the win.
So there it is, my thoughts on what I will think will happen in the final at the Rugby World Cup 2019 – do you agree? Maybe, maybe not – let me know.
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