30 October 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

Rugby World Cup Final Prediction: South Africa v England

The Springboks will have to rewrite history in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final against England in Yokohama (11 am kick-off SA time) to clinch the coveted Webb Ellis Cup for the third time, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

England v South Africa (Saturday 2 November - 11:00 SA time)

No team have ever lost a pool match and gone on to win the global showpiece. Rassie Erasmus’ men will not only have to scale that mountain, having succumbed 23-13 to New Zealand in their tournament opener but do so against an elite England side fresh off ending the reign of the All Blacks with a near-perfect performance.

It’s a repeat of the 2007 final in Paris, which saw South Africa – captained by John Smit and coached by Jake White – grind out a 15-6 win to replicate the heroics of the immortals of 1995, who united a nation that had been split down racial lines with their transcended 15-12 triumph over the All Blacks on home soil.

After dispatching England 36-0 in the virtual Pool A decider at the Stade de France – the first time England had been shutout at a World Cup – the Springbok class of 2007 lived up to their favourites tag in the final as they negotiated a few tense moments, including wing Mark Cueto’s near try in the left-hand corner just after half-time.

12 years on, the tables have turned

A certain Eddie Jones was the Springboks’ assistant coach back then. This time, the tables have turned. With Jones at the helm, England are expected to triumph, having easily topped the Pool of Death with emphatic victories over Tonga (35-3), USA (45-7) and Argentina (39-10 – Le Crunch was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis), before walloping the Wallabies 40-16 in the quarter-finals and shocking the world with their 19-7 win over the All Blacks in last Saturday’s semi-final showdown.

The masterful ambush of the tournament favourites, from the initial mind games of countering the Haka with a statement-making V-formation to dominating every facet of the game and clinically running the All Blacks ragged with a high-tempo approach, was arguably the single best performance in the history of England rugby.

The famous victory has seen them eclipse the All Blacks as the number one team on the world rankings, further highlighting why Owen Farrell and his team are widely earmarked to add a second world title to England’s maiden triumph back in 2003, when a Jonny Wilkinson drop-goal in extra-time earned a thrilling 20-17 win over hosts Australia.

The Springboks, in turn, have been solid rather than spectacular. Siya Kolisi and company bounced back well from the loss to the All Blacks with dominant wins over Namibia (57-3), Italy (49-3) and Canada (66-7), and had little trouble overcoming hosts Japan in the quarter-finals, exhibiting big match temperament to take the “16th man” – the fantastic home crowd – out of the equation and claim a commanding 26-3 win.

The Rugby Championship winners’ composure came to the fore again in last Sunday’s tense semi-final win over Wales. The confidence they have in their pragmatic game plan – earned through blood, sweat and tears over the last two-and-a-half years – and belief in their structures and one another were what saw them edge the Six Nations Grand Slam winners 19-16. As a result, they moved up to second on the World Rugby rankings for the first time since 2015.


Have England played their final?

In the post-match press conference, defeated Dragons coach Warren Gatland warned that the Springboks shouldn’t be underestimated, highlighting their unrivalled physicality. He added that England may have peaked too early, saying, “We have seen in previous World Cups that teams sometimes play their final in semi-finals and don’t always turn up for a final, so it will be interesting to see how England are next week and it could be a good game.”

It’s a valid point, albeit one delivered with a dose of spite directed at old foe England, and it remains to be seen whether the English will be able to replicate the intensity, concentration and accuracy that saw them slay the All Blacks. That the Springboks have a six-day turnaround helps England’s cause, although one feels the war against New Zealand will leave the Red Rose more worse for wear as they brace for a physical onslaught unlike any other.

South Africa’s forwards-dominated, slow poison game plan is as ugly as it gets. It’s also tailor-made for finals rugby and, more importantly, may be England’s kryptonite. The All Blacks were unable to weave their magic against Jones’ charges because they lost the physical battle, both in the set-pieces and at the gainline, and defensively, they were too slow off the line.

The Springboks, with their aggressive, in-your-face rush defence, won’t give the English the time on the ball that the All Blacks afforded them. They’re the best defensive team in the tournament, having conceded just four tries thanks in large part to defence guru Jacques Nienaber, who Erasmus roped in with his first order of business when he took over from Allister Coetzee in 2018.

England are an excellent defensive unit in their own right. Their terrific tackling played an integral role in the win over the All Blacks, keeping them scoreless in first 40 for the first time in seven years. Ironically, the last time New Zealand were shutout in the first half was also when they faced England, with the men in white winning 38-21 (after leading 12-0 at half-time) at Twickenham in 2012.


South Africa's defence at RWC 2019:

South Africa 19-16 Wales: Tackles 147; Tackles missed 11 – 93 percent success rate
South Africa 26-3 Japan: Tackles 148; Tackles missed 20 – 88 percent success rate
South Africa 66-7 Canada: Tackles 68; Tackles missed 17 – 80 percent success rate
South Africa 49-3 Italy: Tackles 112; Tackles missed 17 – 87 percent success rate
South Africa 57-3 Namibia: Tackles 77; Tackles missed nine – 90 percent success rate
South Africa 13-23 New Zealand: Tackles 108; Tackles missed 35 – 76 percent success rate


England's defence at RWC 2019:

England 19-7 New Zealand: Tackles 147; Missed tackles 34 – 81 percent success rate
England 40-16 Australia: Tackles 193; Tackles missed 21 – 90 percent success rate
England 39-10 Argentina: Tackles 108; Missed tackles 17 – 86 percent success rate
England 45-7 United States: Tackles 61; Missed tackles 18 – 77 percent success rate
England 35-3 Tonga: Tackles 128; Tackles missed 19 – 87 percent tackle success rate


Variety versus blunt force trauma

England could unlock the stoic South African defence from first phase, but they won’t be able to score a fast-flowing try like Manu Tuilagi’s terrific five-pointer 90 seconds into the semi-final. This is due to the Springboks heavily contesting every ruck, using their big, brutal tight forwards to smash into the breakdown points, which slows the ball down, tenderises the opposition and allows for turnover opportunities.

Given the Springboks’ predictable style, England have more strings to their bow out wide. The flyhalf, either George Ford or captain Farrell, always has multiple options – hit a forward with a flat ball, go the conventional midfield route or play the wrap-around runner. The accuracy and variety of their attack keep defenders guessing throughout.

Teams know exactly what to expect from the Springboks yet struggle to stop them. Their ball-carrying can be described as authorised blunt force trauma, while their well-structured driving mauls are rugby’s rolling thunder. Along with Handré Pollard’s accurate goal-kicking, which proved decisive in the nail-biter against the Dragons (plus Elton Jantjies’ contributions in the pool stages), South Africa have scored the most points of the tournament with 230, 20 more than second-placed New Zealand. They also top the try-scoring stats with 31, edging the flashy All Blacks by one. England rank third in both points (178) and tries (22).


Strike power and set-piece warfare

Where England have the attacking edge is making the most of their opportunities. The Springboks have been guilty of squandering try-scoring opportunities throughout their campaign and with tries historically hard to come by in World Cup finals, the team who capitalise if/when game-breaking moments arise will likely lift the biggest prize in the game.

Set-piece wise, the Springboks should have the ascendancy at scrum time. One would think they’d have an advantage in the lineouts as well, given they were a perfect 42 from 42 on their throw before proving to be human by missing the mark once against Wales, however, after Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes’ towering performances against the All Blacks, the sides seem evenly matched.


The "Bomb Squad" factor

Where we believe the Springboks will have the decisive advantage is their bench. The “Bomb Squad”, as they’ve dubbed themselves, have been their ace in the hole at the World Cup, the six-two forwards-back cavalry going well beyond adding fresh impetus off the pine.

They’ve wreaked havoc individually – RG Snyman, Francois Louw and 2007 World Cup winner Frans Steyn making big plays at crucial times with Herschel Jantjies waiting in the wings as an x-factor match-winner – and collectively, with the front-row combination of Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch being just as well-oiled and dominant as the starting trio.

It’s because of their superior depth that we, as the official betting partner of Superbru.com, are backing the underdog Springboks to come out on top in a hard-fought cliffhanger.



Prediction: South Africa by three.



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