JON CARDINELLI looks at how the Springboks can take the energy away from England in the World Cup final.
How do you beat a side like the All Blacks? The question was put to Eddie Jones in the wake of England’s emphatic victory in the World Cup semi-final staged in Yokohama.
‘You take their energy away from them,’ the veteran coach said. Jones went on to explain how England had targeted certain players and areas in order to knock New Zealand off balance and set up one of the biggest upsets of the tournament.
What would Rassie Erasmus have made of Jones’ media-conference offerings? Having won two of his last four matches against England, Erasmus may feel that the Boks know how to beat them.
Jones’ charges have come a long way since they last battled the Boks in November 2018, though. Erasmus would do well to formulate a plan aimed at depowering a formidable England engine.
Following the Boks’ win over Wales, I asked several players what they thought about England’s newfound vigour on attack. They didn’t seem overly impressed. In fact, they suggested that I was asking the wrong question.
‘Their defence won them the game,’ stated Lood de Jager. Duane Vermeulen’s appeared to lick his lips as he contemplated a contest against England at the gainline.
Defence coach John Mitchell has transformed England’s approach. They’re troubling opposing teams by slowing the ball at the breakdown and then flying off the line at top speed.
The Boks have to knock flanks Tom Curry and Sam Underhill off the ball this Saturday. Neutralising England’s ‘Kamikaze Kids’ should be priority No 1. Failing that, the Boks won’t create the space needed to implement their kicking game to any telling effect.
The Boks’ affinity for a box or chip kick may also keep the defensive line in two minds. And as much as South African fans may not want to hear this, the Boks can take the England defence out of the equation simply by kicking downfield and inviting the opposition to attack from their own 22.
England have grown to love an aerial contest over the past 18 months. On Saturday, the Boks must make them fear every high bomb. The quality of the chase and subsequent leap for the ball will be key.
Cheslin Kolbe was one of South Africa’s better high-ball exponents in the earlier rounds of the tournament. The star wing will have an important role to play this Saturday, whether he is disrupting England’s receivers or running at the defence from broken play.
The Boks have also highlighted discipline as an area that requires improvement. While they forced several important penalties in the dying stages of the semi-final, they conceded far too many in the first half. England, via an accurate lineout and the metronomic boot of Owen Farrell, will make them pay for any poor decisions and instances of unchecked aggression.
On Tuesday, Erasmus apologised for a statement so obvious that it may, if not subsequently explained, be taken as an insult to the media and public’s intelligence. If the Boks take their scoring chances and stop or limit England’s, he said, they will win the game.
The Boks won’t be in a position to score, however, unless they neutralise England’s defence. If they concede soft penalties they will allow England to build momentum via the boot of Farrell and assume control of the contest.
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