This is it, the 48th and final game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. England, winners in 2003 take on the Springboks of South Africa, winners themselves in 1995 and 2007.
If you were to look at this game with a simplistic view, England are the favourites. Their near-perfect performance against the All-Blacks of New Zealand last weekend means that they roll into the final on a high. When one considers that the ABs themselves defeated the ‘Bokke’ in the opening round, all signs point to an England win.
However, once you delve into the numbers, this game is going to be a hell of a lot tighter than most might suggest.
Even when you compare South Africa’s six games in the tournament to England’s five, the Rassie Erasmus-coached side are ahead of Eddie Jones’ men in the points scored, average points per game, tries scored and line-breaks charts. England, on the other hand, have been better in defence, their concession of 16 against Australia being their ‘worst day’ at the office.
The handicap on this game is England (-5). Taking into account the sheer magnitude of the game itself and that four of the eight World Cup finals to date have been tight affairs, one can only assume Saturday morning’s clash will be a close one.
South Africa will look to slow down England’s tempo by playing the game at their pace, while their line speed and kicking from Pollard won’t allow England the same amount of possession that they enjoyed against the All-Blacks.
If you are looking to have one bet on this game, take the straight handicap of South Africa (+5) at Evens.
Pick: South Africa (+5) – Evens
England’s starting XV is unchanged from their semi-final win against New Zealand. It is the 12th time that a team has named the same XV in the final as they did in the semi-final and something that England fans will love to have seen.
With Ford and Farrell on the pitch, England can get the most from their forwards, seeing as they can use several options in their attack plays, from both sides of the ruck. South Africa conceded tries against Wales and New Zealand to the opposition left-winger.
Both tries came from South Africa being too aggressive in their defence and one missed tackle leading to wholesale destruction. With England able to get (at the very least) parity in the set-piece, with go-forward ball a trademark of their play, allied with two distributors at 10 and 12, their left winger Jonny May is going to get his hands on the ball more than most.
Left-wingers always get more ball than their right-wing counterparts as the majority of players are stronger passes on their right.
So, with England looking to play with width, be it by passing or the boot and with South Africa’s achilles heel being their narrowness in defence, May as first try scorer at 8/1 is well worth a look,
Pick: Jonny May to score the first try – 8/1
There is always good value in the man of the match market as any one of 46 players could technically win it, but some are more likely than others. First up we need to look at who is going to play the most minutes.
The man of the match is normally still on the pitch as the clock turns red, unless of course, he has done such a good job that his side have decided to empty the bench early.
However, I do feel that England should have enough to win this game, all be it by less than five points. (see above)
Therefore Farrell (6/1), Itoje (7/1) and Underhill (10/1) are all worth a punt. For this weekend though, it is all about sheer brute force. Finals are normally won by those in the jerseys 1-10 and both these sides have World Class players in several of those positions.
However, only one player, for me, stands above them all in terms of sheer brutality and that is Billy Vunipola. The man can carry, he can tackle, he can off-load and he can poach. The tighter this game gets, the bigger the influence he can have on the game.
This final is very similar to the meetings of Munster (Erasmus’ most influenced side) and Saracens (most of the England stars) in recent seasons.
Munster, playing like South Africa, rely on the boot for too much of their play. What happens, as was the case in those Champions Cup games, is that the opposition hold on to the ball and you just can’t get it back.
Much like those two European semi-finals, especially the game this season in Coventry, Vunipola was unplayable. At 18/1 for the man of the match gong, I am signing off my World Cup coverage with this one. Hopefully, we can all go out on a high.
Pick: Billy Vunipola man of the match – 18/1
* All odds correct at time of posting.