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2019 Rugby World Cup final: Springboks turn attention to England

Oct 28, 2019
2019 Rugby World Cup final: Springboks turn attention to England

What will be a 63-day odyssey through Japan for the Springboks entered its concluding phase on Monday when the team moved base for one last time, returning to the Tokyo Bay hotel – the team’s home for the opening pool game five weeks ago.

The players will begin concertinaed field preparations for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final against England (kick off 11h00 SA time) on Tuesday – coincidentally at the same training venue that England used to prepare for their semi-final against New Zealand.

South Africa will have one day fewer to prepare than England, squeezing in two field sessions and a captain’s run either side of a recovery day on Thursday.

The coaching team had already turned their planning thoughts to England shortly after the final whistle in the 19-16 victory over Wales.

“We’ve played England four times in the last 18 months and it’s two-all, with three tests in South Africa and the last one at Twickenham, so we are accustomed to the way they play,” said Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby.

“They are obviously a lot better than the last time we played them. You could see it in the way they dismantled New Zealand. But we think we are in with a chance.”

The final is a repeat of the 2007 version when John Smit’s team overcame surprise finalists England, 15-6, in a game dominated by the struggle for territory and kicks at goal.

Erasmus indicated that he expected the final to be a similarly tight affair – despite England’s unexpectedly comprehensive destruction of New Zealand.

“I’m not sure that the Rugby World Cup final is going to be decided by an expansive game plan with wonderful tries,” said Erasmus.

“I might be right or I might be wrong – but we will go and grind it out.

“There are definitely some areas of our game that we have to improve if we want to win, but we’ve given ourselves a chance.”

The Springboks have done that with a remarkable transformation over the past two seasons.

This season they have won 82 percent of their matches (losing only once in 11), conceding fewer than one try per match (0,91 in fact) while scoring 4,5 themselves, admittedly including matches against Namibia and Canada.

Contrast that to the season prior to Erasmus’s assumption of the reins (2017) when the team had a 50 percent win ratio (losing seven times), conceding 2,6 tries per match and scoring 2,9 themselves.

“We’re a team that’s been together for 25 matches,” said Erasmus.

“We’ve had personnel changes – with a guy like Cheslin (Kolbe) going out and Sbu (Nkosi) coming in – and we’ve played teams with different style and we’re still in a phase where we have to adapt.

“If you play a team like New Zealand with a fast, running game we’re used to that; if we play a team like Wales with a long-distance kicking game it’s different for us to try and run from our own 22.

“But we’ve grown a little bit of experience now and playing against Wales four times we’ve learned our lessons – especially in the Washington test – we were ahead in the last few minutes and then they clawed it back to win that test match.”

That wasn’t to be on Sunday night and although the Welsh managed to draw level three times – having trailed throughout – it was the Springboks who closed the game out.

Wales coach Warren Gatland said afterwards that the Springboks had the capacity to win the title if they expanded their game.

After masterminding what amounts to a Springbok revolution, Erasmus will have his own road map for one last 80 minutes to the title.

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