After 47 fixtures, Typhoon Hagibis, upsets, shocks and drama aplenty, the Rugby World Cup 2019 draws to the ultimate climax on Saturday at the International Stadium Yokohama as 2003 World Champions England lock horns with twice winner South Africa in what promises to be a sensational showpiece.
Japan has hosted a terrific tournament, not without difficulty of natural disaster, and have validated World Rugby’s decision to host the world’s third biggest sporting event in Asia, but away from the success of those behind the scenes, the eyes of the rugby fraternity will be on Yokohama Stadium with the biggest match of all set to kick-off at 09:00 (UK time).
Victors in 1995 and 2007, the Springboks booked their place in the Rugby World Cup with a narrow 19-16 triumph over Wales, edging out the Home Nation late on Sunday.
Rassie Erasmus’s side, now ranked second in the world, come toe-to-toe with Eddie Jones’ England, who accelerated to the No 1 ranking with a clinical 19-7 victory to dismantle New Zealand, ensuring the All Blacks could not make history with a hat-trick of Rugby World Cup wins.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Drawn: 1 (cancelled)
Points Scored: 178
Average Score: 35.6
Points Conceded: 43
Route to the final: Pool C Winners, Australia 16-40 England, England 19-7 New Zealand
Matches Played: 6
Points Scored: 230
Average Score: 38.3
Points Conceded: 55
Route to the final: Pool B Runners-up, Japan 3-26 South Africa, Wales 16-19 South Africa
England’s route to the final has seen Jones’ side remain undefeated, while the Springboks did fall to the All Blacks in their opening Pool B encounter.
Bookmakers have England as favourites ahead of Saturday’s clash, but the test of South Africa, who have long managed to suffocate world class teams, will prove a whole new challenge for Jones’ men, who will be buoyant after overcoming the All Blacks.
England’s semi-final win highlighted their critical line speed and game management, never allow New Zealand an inch, while the Springboks suffered lapses in concentration against a Wales side and will have to step up significant to face the challenge of England.
History favours South Africa, with Erasmus’ side enjoying 25 victories over England, including three Rugby World Cup wins, while England have just 15 wins against the Springboks, one of which coming in the 2003 Rugby World Cup triumph.
However, the last two meetings between the sides, in Cape Town in June 2018 and at Twickenham in November the same year, have been won by England.
England’s strength throughout the tournament has been their blistering speed, with the like of Jonny May and Manu Tuilagi being unstoppable, while South Africa are top points scorers in the competition and wing Makazole Mapimpi is second in the try-scorers list with five, one behind Wales’ Josh Adams.
Defensively, England have been more shrewd, conceding less points than the Springboks and the likes of Owen Farrell, Sam Underhill and Maro Itoje set to be crucial stalwarts.
Saturday presents England with their greatest opportunity to replicate the success of 2003 and claim their second Rugby World Cup triumph and there is no reason, if they retain the levels of last weekend – or even step up another gear, Jones’ men can staple their place in history.
Ben’s Prediction: South Africa win by five points
Matches odds with Coral:
England 4/9 vSouth Africa 7/4
Coral verdict with John Hill: “Patriotic punters have been out in full force backing England to lift the World Cup on Saturday so it will be a costly result for the bookmakers if Eddie Jones’ men can complete the job against South Africa.
“England start the final as the warm favourites but given it may well be a tight game, South Africa have been popular in our handicap market with the points already on the board.”