So here it is. After 44 days, 1056 hours and 48 matches, we are down to two as England and South Africa face off in the World Cup final, an event that one hopes will be a fitting send-off to what has been a great tournament, and one made by the enthusiasm and engagement of the host nation. Here’s a special match pack for the final.
Route To The Final:
One that’s been better than even Eddie Jones could have imagined. Fixtures against Tonga (won 35-5) and the USA (won 45-7) were the perfect lead into Tier 1 opposition in the shape of Argentina, although a Tomás Lavanini red card made that game a bit of a formality and England eventually won 39-10.
Australia presented a tougher test in the quarters, and they managed to pull the score back to 17-16 five minutes into the second half, but England responded with 23 straight points without reply to pummel the Wallabies.
Then came the big one. The All Blacks. And perhaps the best performance we’ve seen from England in many years, as the Red Rose monstered a New Zealand side that had looked invincible the week before in trashing Ireland. Every single player, right from Mako Vunipola in the front row to Anthony Watson at fullback, had the game of their lives as the All Blacks were actually second best in every facet of the game – one they wouldn’t have scored in had it not been for a lineout overthrow – and at the end of a stunning 80 minutes, a winning score of 19-7 actually flattered England.
Major ball-carrying combined with speed at the ruck, especially around the fringes, and the flexibility to use a hugely varied range of kickers across the backline have all combined to devastating effect in this World Cup.
Against New Zealand, England were relentless in attacking around the fringes of the ruck, with Sam Underhill and Tom Curry leading a charge that involved every man in white. Rapid pick and go movements, several involving Billy Vunipola, kept the All Blacks defence constantly moving, with sharp footwork also adding to the English’s intensity.
Such powerful carrying means that England have had the option to put George Ford onto flat ball, and with that space, he was able to involve Owen Farrell and use the England centre to find the lightning fast back three of Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly.
England also have a wide range of kicking options, and have used them all tournament; As an example, against Argentina Ben Youngs (nine), George Ford (eight), Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly (five each), Willi Heinz (four) and Henry Slade (one) all kicked from hand.
Defensively, England rushed out of the line to stop the All Blacks but perhaps their key attribute was the scramble defence that prevented the New Zealand from making line breaks into try scoring situations.
Everyone’s vital in this England side but Sam Underhill and Tom Curry had two of the best games of this entire tournament against New Zealand and they have been a towering presence for England during the entire tournament. In the backline England are brimming with talent but Ben Youngs’ speed at the ruck will be vital and Owen Farrell’s all-round game is likely to go a long way to deciding the destination of the trophy.
Don’t forget: Kyle Sinckler, who is light footed and far more even-tempered than he used to be, with ball in hand or at the scrum.
Route To The Final:
Rassie Erasmus has transformed this side. When the ex-Munster man arrived they’d just come off a European tour where Ireland and Wales had beaten them to add to a 57-0 defeat to the All Blacks earlier that year. Now they are in a World Cup final.
Started out with the hardest game of them all against New Zealand; they lost 23-13 but dominated the first 20 minutes in a similar fashion to England before the All Blacks scored two tries in the blink of an eye and won the game.
The rest of the pool stages were easy, with wide margin wins over Namibia (57-3), Italy (49-3) and Canada (66-7) before their quarter-final duel with hosts Japan. That game ended up being a 26-3 win, but it was a very hard earned success with Japan threatening a lot with ball in hand during the first half before the forwards wore the hosts down in the second 40.
A tougher test was to come still as they had to face Wales in the semis, and they slogged and scrapped in a titanic battle with a late penalty getting them across the line in what was a nail biting thriller where forwards won the day.
Power rugby. In the quarter-final win against Japan and their semi-final win against Wales the Springbok forwards have dominated play. Against the Brave Blossoms, they held out whilst Japan were in the ascendency with ball in hand a pack with a 6-2 forward split on the bench began to grind their way through the second half.
And why not, with the quality they have upfront? In the front row they have Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi, and Frans Malherbe; The elite lock pairing of Eben Etzebeth and Lood De Jager; and then the devastating back row of Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph Du Toit and Duane Vermeulen.
Do not underestimate the amount of bench quality they have either. Francois Louw was the difference maker in his 13 minutes on the pitch against Wales and in the shape of Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff they have players that would walk into Tier 1 teams waiting on the bench too.
The rolling maul is a big part of the Springbok game plan and the pack went 40 metres against Japan to set up a spectacular try in the quarters.
The Springboks are also, like England, major kickers. Boot was put to ball 41 times against Wales and Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk will be aiming to pepper England again if needs be.
The Springbok forward have received much of the attention in the build-up but fly-half Pollard has stepped upto become one of the team’s most reliable members and he stood up when it counted against Wales, kicking four penalties, a conversion and making the initial break for Damien de Allende’s try; In Faf De Klerk, outstanding against Japan, the Boks have a livewire to run at the fringes of others.
Their defence is unrelenting. The semi-final against Wales did not entertain many neutrals but a 94% defensive success rate is some performance even for a game that was dominated by forwards.
It is a commonly made mistake to assume that South Africa are only one dimensional but this could not be further from the case; See the 2018 England tour when the sides produced thrilling rugby from the start, with the first game ending 42-39.
Superstar winger Cheslin Kolbe is back but England can’t afford to miss Makazole Mapimpi, who has scored five tries in the tournament and stepped up in his absence, even if Willie Le Roux hasn’t had the same form at fullback.
That said, South Africa’s outstanding player this tournament has probably been Damian De Allende. The scorer of the inning try against Wales, he was exceptional in both the quarter and semi-final and his stats are eye-watering.
He’s made more offloads, beaten more defenders and made more tackles (with a higher success rate) than Manu Tuilagi per game and he’s also who won more turnovers per game than either Sam Underhill or Tom Curry. Those are astonishing stats and he, along with Lukhanyo Am, will a huge defensive challenge for the England backline.
Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager’s battle with Maro Itoje will be simply vital, and so will the movement of Faf de Klerk, but Damian De Allende is the player can turn this game on its head.
Don’t forget: Pieter-Steph du Toit, who has been quietly super reliable through this tournament.
Verdict and Best Bets:
England go off 6 point favourites, which, based on their victory over New Zealand, is an entirely fair handicap. However, fans should be in no doubt; this will be just as bruising an encounter. The South African gameplan has come in for some derision but the strength in depth that they have off the bench cannot be underestimated and Rassie Erasmus will know that he has the strength in depth for an 80-minute fight with England.
He’ll need it, because England have been flawless through the tournament and a performance of the type that downed New Zealand last week is simply going to prove too strong, but this is a South Africa side that has a strong head to head record with both England and New Zealand too.
England v South Africa
2019 Rugby World Cup Final
Saturday, November 2
International Stadium Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama City
9.00am Kick-Off (UK Time)
Live on ITV1 HD & ITV Hub
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
(Maximum 10 matches, Since 2000)
NOV 2018 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS England 12-11 South Africa
JUN 2018 ENGLAND TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA South Africa 10-25 England
JUN 2018 ENGLAND TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA South Africa 23-12 England
JUN 2018 ENGLAND TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA South Africa 42-39 England
NOV 2016 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS England 37-21 South Africa
NOV 2014 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS England 28-31 South Africa
NOV 2012 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS England 15-16 South Africa
JUN 2012 ENGLAND TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA South Africa 14-14 England
JUN 2012 ENGLAND TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA South Africa 36-27 England
JUN 2012 ENGLAND TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA South Africa 22-17 England
The Springboks do have the resources to play a wider, more open game than they have but World Cup finals tend to be narrow, nervy affairs. New Zealand blew away Australia four years ago but there was just one point in the 2011 final when the All Blacks won, South Africa beat England 15-6 in a tryless 2007 final, and England’s famous victory in 2003 needed that memorable drop goal from Johnny Wilkinson. For good measure, six of the last ten games between the two have been decided by single figure margins and a handicap of 6.5 points in South Africa’s favour could appear large.
A feature of many World Cup finals has been drop goals, and the 2/1 we have one in the match looks worth taking. In the past eight World Cup finals there have been six drop goals, including the last two, and in 2007 England attempted 2 drops. Handre Pollard, Owen Farrell and George Ford can all drop from distance whilst Frans Steyn can drop from the bench for South Africa.
There could be value in the Man of the Match markets as well. Handre Pollard’s steady boot has been vital for South Africa and one can easily see him being the difference maker once again. The 33/1 about Damian De Allende is an insult, and for England Owen Farrell and Tom Curry are selected – Farrell’s defence could be vital and Curry has arguably been one of the best players of the tournament.
RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK A Successful Drop Goal in the Match 4 pts at 2/1 with starsports.bet
BACK South Africa +6.5 2-way Handicap 5 pts at 5/6 with starsports.bet
BACK Damian de Allende Man Of The Match 1 pt at 33/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Handre Pollard Man Of The Match 1 pt at 10/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Tom Curry Man Of The Match 1 pt at 12/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Owen Farrell Man Of The Match 2 pt at 6/1 with starsports.bet
PROFIT/LOSS SINCE JAN 1 2017: PROFIT 247.69 points
(excluding Political Bets posted 8 August, Premier League ante-post, Cameron Brown football bets)