South Africa the most likely winners
I can understand why England are favourites, but that’s not how I see it. They’ve probably played the best rugby at this tournament without losing a game so far, and they look really impressive, especially when beating the All Blacks.
But I’m leaning towards a South African win. The Springboks are a bit too big and bit too strong for the English and if they play to the best of their ability they’re capable of grinding out the win. The Boks’ style of play forces opponents into an arm-wrestle and we’ve seen recently that they’ve also beaten New Zealand on the All Blacks’ own patch in that manner.
England played arguably their best game of the last decade in the previous round, and it’ll be very difficult for them to perform to that level – or higher – again. That’s a big ask for them and I think the Springboks will be quietly confident going into the final as underdogs. They just need to make sure they play to their full potential.
Springboks have incredible power, but also pose a threat out wide
South Africa have unbelievable quality. Their backline is incredibly dangerous, especially with Cheslin Kolbe returning to the lineup. He’s favourite to win World Player of the Year, and alongside him they have the likes of Willie Le Roux, who can be a big threat if he starts to fire again, and Damien De Allende. So they have dangermen all over the place and they’re able to send the ball wide if needed.
But their big strength, of course, is that they’re huge men and they’ll overpower you. There was a stat from the quarter-final that stood out: Wales could only average 1.7 meters per carry against South Africa, one of the lowest in the recorded history of the World Cup. That shows the brute force and size of the Springboks – defence is a huge part of their game and you don’t make many yards off them.
They were killing New Zealand in the opening match until the All Blacks ran in a pair of breakaway tries and since then their forward power and runners out wide have made them look an incredible threat.
The favourites’ tag won’t suit England – we saw what happened in the last World Cup – and one big performance from them against New Zealand doesn’t instil enough confidence in me to think they can overcome South Africa.
Rassie Erasmus has done an incredible job
Rassie Erasmus is one of my favourite coaches. I’m a big fan of his and I love his attitude and mindset.
His style of play suited Munster’s when he coached there, and it suits South Africa’s – which is similar to Munster’s – now. It’s a power-oriented game, but he understands that he needs a bit of flair and that bit of something different. He really has an appreciation for those who can provide that.
Aside from that, his tactical nous is exceptional. He’s as good as anybody at picking out weaknesses and flaws and how to break the opposition. I back him in this final, having worked under him and knowing he’s capable of pulling out all the stops for a one-off performance.
England have been good to watch, but strengths can be turned into weaknesses
England offer a lot of variation in their game, which has been very impressive. Their forwards have been going well and have provided some nice angles of running off the number 10, and their back play has been really nice to watch thanks to some sharp handling. They have found a nice balance between forwards and backs – and between a kicking and attacking game.
And, as we saw against New Zealand, in defence they’re really charging off the line and smashing teams. That’s a big strength for them, but it can also be a weakness if it’s countered right and I’m sure Rassie will have seen enough to go after them in that area.
Eddie Jones has evolved his coaching and his team has followed suit. That is clear for all to see and the proof is in the pudding: England are in the final. That’s down to Jones’ evolution of their game and the options he is giving them in attack. The big difference between now and in the past is the threat they pose with ball in hand – you’d have to give them a lot of credit for that.
They’ve worked hard after elimination in the pool stages as hosts last time. Now they’re in the final and proving to a lot of people that 2015 was probably just a blip.