There’s good reason to believe that the Springboks and England will vary their tactics in what promises to be an intriguing World Cup final, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Do you think you’ve seen England at their tactical best? Do you think you know what kind of threat the Boks will pose in the decider after witnessing the bloodyminded and pragmatic approach against Wales?
The media and public have already placed the teams in boxes. England are a better attacking team than the All Blacks, or so some say, and will do their best to make this fixture a spectacle. South Africa have been cast as the villains whose sole purpose, or so some say, is to play no rugby at all.
On Monday, a strong voice of reason pierced through the noise to put the matter into perspective. Neither team, said Jonny Wilkinson, will play exactly like they did in the semi-finals.
Wilkinson knows what he’s talking about. The former England flyhalf won the World Cup in 2003 and was part of the team that lost the 2007 final to South Africa. He’s currently involved with Eddie Jones’ side and has a clear understanding of the threats that England and the Boks will pose.
‘The way South Africa played in the semi-final is not the way that they will play in the final,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘They did what they had to to get through that game against Wales, but they will bring something else to the game against England.’
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) October 28, 2019
Jones, Wilkinson and the other England coaches aren’t buying the line that the Boks have played their hand. There may be a surprise or two this week, in terms of selection and tactics.
Rassie Erasmus has been open and honest about his selection policy of picking 14 forwards in his match 23. The move has already reaped significant benefits in the lead-up to the final, and the big boys appear primed to peak in the decider itself.
However, the nature of the opposition may give Erasmus cause to change his starting lineup. He’s already made the point that certain players – Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and RG Snyman, for example – are more suited to clashes with New Zealand.
If Erasmus believes the hype that England – on the basis of their outstanding dismantling of the All Blacks last week – are moving in the same direction as New Zealand then he may deploy the players equipped to deal with a physical yet high-tempo game.
That said, Erasmus will recognise the importance of the set piece and the threat of England’s lineout. The Boks aren’t going to have any sort of success if they can’t win the scrums and lineouts. Beast Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and Lood de Jager, among others, have been on fire in these departments.
Duane Vermeulen recently highlighted the collisions and breakdowns as key areas of the game. Combating England’s physical challenge and nullifying those multi-talented loose forwards will be mandatory in any sort of gameplan geared towards a win.
What the Boks do with the ball after that is not as clearcut as some may believe. They won’t risk playing from their own half and they will feel that they have the players to pressure England via a smart kick-chase game. In broken field, however, they may opt for a different approach.
So much hinges on star wing Cheslin Kolbe’s recovery from his ankle injury. His inclusion will provide the Boks with more options at the back and give the England defence cause to wonder what their opponents will do next.
More of the same on Saturday? Perhaps. But brace yourself for one or two tactical surprises that may influence the flow and outcome of the contest.
Photo: EPA/Facundo Arrizabalaga via BackpagePix