England vs South Africa - the final showdown in Japan

October 30, 2019

It will be a quick return to the International Stadium Yokohama for England after their historic semi-final win there over reigning World Champions New Zealand. This time, on Saturday, November 2nd at 9:00am, England will be facing South Africa in what is the final battle for the trophy. Can England end their 16-year wait to hold aloft the Webb Ellis Cup once again?

Rugby World Cup Final Overview

For the second time in the history of the global showpiece, England and South Africa will be meeting in the final. In 2007, England were trying to defend their crown, but it was to be South Africa’s day in Paris as the Springboks took a try-less 15-6 victory, with all the points scored coming from penalties.

Given the dynamic and expansive nature of the current England squad, the 2019 final is expected to be a lot more open than that. England hold it in their own hands to make it that way by looking to stretch their opponents using the ball - in contrast to South Africa who have heavily relied on their massive pack for a physical, direct approach throughout the tournament.

So, England must find a way to deal with the sheer brawn that the Boks will be laying down. South Africa will be happy to grind, keep the ball in the forwards and hit England hard on the fringes. They aren’t going to change their approach and so it’s down to England head coach Eddie Jones to plot a way around that.

Head to Head

The 2007 final is one of four meetings between England and South Africa in the history of the tournament, with the Springboks holding the better record. The first was in 1999 in which the South Africans took a 44-21 victory. England earned revenge in Perth four years later with a 25-6 win. Then South Africa beat England 36-0 in the pool stage of the 2007 tournament before beating them again in the final.

However, England have had the better of their opponents more recently having won the last two internationals against the Springboks, both in 2018. In the last decade they have squared off eleven times in total and it is South Africa who lead with a W7 D1 L3 record.

England’s road to the final

It’s been a tournament of momentum building from England. A patchy opening display against Tonga was improved upon as they cut loose to beat the USA in the second match, before showing supreme composure to take down Argentina - collecting a bonus point in all three games, tallying 17 tries.

After their final pool stage game against France was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis, England lined up against old rivals Australia in the quarter-finals. Eddie Jones made the call to drop the in-form George Ford from fly-half to bring Henry Slade into the centre, in a move to firm up the defense in the backs.

After withstanding an early barrage of pressure from the Wallabies, England clinically took their chances to post a 40-16 win. There was to be no let-up in intensity as England faced New Zealand in the semi-finals. Jones reinstated Ford to fly-half in a surprise move, but it gave England an important extra outlet with their kicking game.

The All Blacks were favourites, having not lost a World Cup match against England before. But England were immediately on the front foot when Manu Tuilagi crossed in just the second minute. They kept the All Blacks scoreless in the first half and England sustained their control to the point where the reigning champions ran out of ideas in the last fifteen minutes. England also had two tries disallowed in the fixture but ran out 19-7 winners.

South Africa’s road to the final

Despite South Africa’s tournament starting with a 23-13 defeat against New Zealand in their opening fixture, they got back on track with easy wins over Namibia, Italy and Canada – progressing through to the knockout stages as runners up behind the All Blacks.

The Boks then lined up against Japan in the quarter-finals, breaking the host’s hearts as they used their powerful pack to take a 26-3 victory and end Japan’s tremendous campaign.

In the semi-finals, the Springboks faced Wales. In a tense, physical game, the Springboks emerged victorious, with a late Handre Pollard penalty giving them a 19-16 win.

Keys to the final

There is going to be an almighty tussle upfront. South Africa’s strength is in their pack. They changed their entire front row before 50 minutes against Wales, indicative of how much work they do up front. Head coach Rassie Erasmus has already called the final, saying that his side needs to “grind” down England.

South Africa's front three, especially hooker Bongi Mbonambi, have been superb. For England, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Billy Vunipola are the keys to combating the physicality. They are the ones who can’t let the South Africa pack get up a head of steam, as they did against the All Blacks by securing so much turnover ball. That level of defensive ferocity must be there.

The link-up between number 8 Vunipola, scrum-half Ben Youngs and fly-half Ford is all-important for England. They have looked the far more dynamic side of the two and are most threatening with their key pivots attacking from quick ball. Kicks in-behind to turn the defense and throwing the ball wide could well be the key factors for England to breakdown Springbok defensive efforts.

England must be positive and brave enough to take on the Springboks out wide. Jonny May and Owen Farrell have already been declared fit after dead legs pick up in the semi-final. There’s not likely to be any shock changes made. England have lost scrum-half Willie Heinz to injury and have flown in Saracens’ Ben Spencer as a backup and he’ll start on the bench.

Stepping stone to more?

England’s win over New Zealand in the semi-final has been called one of the greatest English performances ever and it’s hard to argue with that. But they will have to maintain that performance for the final, and if successful then winning the 2019 tournament could be the tip of a big positive iceberg for England.

Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, the future looks bright for England. The squad is young and with the potential to dominate for years, and they will step into the 2020 Guinness Six Nations and Quilter Internationals with a big target on their backs. The latter series providing a first chance of re-matches against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, where their longevity and sustainability of success will be measured. That’s where they’ll have the chance to prove, particularly against the All Blacks, that this wasn’t just a glorious fleeting moment in the East.

Welcome England back to Twickenham in 2020

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