England wilt when it matters as Springboks conquer the world
Rassie Erasmus’s side utterly dominant as they secure a third Rugby World Cup title
The Springboks are the deserving world champions for a third time, thereby joining the All Blacks as the most prolific World Cup winners of all time. By the end, they had dominated England at scrum time, led pretty much all the way and towards the end pulled clear.
Like so much else in this tournament, few saw this coming, and certainly not on this scale.
It is a phenomenal coaching achievement by Rassie Erasmus and company in less than a year and a half and just 26 matches in charge. But this has been a World Cup that’s torn up many scripts.
Sent into what seemed the easier half of the draw by their opening defeat to New Zealand, the Boks become the first country to win the trophy after losing a match en-route.
The Boks even broke the mould of their 1995 and 2007 final triumphs over the All Blacks and England, which they won 15-12 and 15-6 respectively with five three-pointers each time. They were on course to do something similar here when, thankfully, they varnished the occasion with tries by their speedsters out wide, Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe, who scored the Boks’ first tries in a final.
And with that, Siya Kolisi emulated Francois Pienaar and John Smit, both celebrating in the stands, in lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy. Kolisi, the captain from a poor township in Port Elizabeth, and this Springboks team, the most multi-cultural of the three and thus the most representative of their society’s make up, have provided the ultimate story of this World Cup at the last.
In also maintaining a trend in this tournament, England could not back up their massive performance last week. No one really did in this tournament, whereas the Boks kept their best performance until last when completely neutralising England.
The game pivoted on a key moment in the third minute when English tighthead Kyle Sinckler was hit on the head and knocked out of the game when Maro Itoje’s elbow connected with his head. Sinckler, who’s had a brilliant World Cup, was replaced by Dan Cole and England’s scrum was thereafter significantly weakened.
The Boks props, Tendai Mtawarira and Frans Malherbe, did a number on Mako Vunipola and Cole, and although the Boks also lost two of their front five in the 23rd minute, the impact from their replacements was altogether on a different scale.
England conceded six scrum penalties, three of them leading to penalties by the virtually unerring Handre Pollard, who along with Faf de Klerk helped keep their juggernaut pack generally on the front foot throughout. Duane Vermeulen also earned another two three-pointers with his strength in the tackle.
All of which rather becalmed the tens of thousands of English fans who outnumbered all else combined by some distance, but the pockets of Springboks supporters were delirious.
The teams re-entered the pitch from their warm-ups for the anthems and kick-off to massed banks of white. You’d see less at Twickenham.
Clearly plenty of Kiwis, most likely, and others sought to defray the cost of their trip by selling on tickets to the thousands upon thousands of English who flew in to Tokyo this past week without tickets. Two English fans were offered tickets, for £2,500 each!
Then again, some neutrals didn’t, including a fair smattering of Irish supporters.
The game wasn’t even 30 seconds old when Swing Low began to reverberate around the ground, although they were quickly quietened when Courtney Lawes was penalised for not rolling away. However, Handre Pollard’s surprising miss, even from 45 metres, was perhaps the result of early nerves, and had the English fans cheering again.
Not long after though, there was a long delay after the desperately unlucky Kyle Sinckler was poleaxed when caught by Itoje’s elbow as they tackled from either side.
Ironically this stoppage was also the cue, via the PA system, for the day’s first Maro Itoje chant, but the crowd fell into a hush when reviewing the incident on the big screens. Dan Cole was thus asked to play 78 minutes. Up in the coaches’ box, Eddie Jones looked concerned.
He must have been more disconcerted when Cole’s side of the scrum went backwards under the juggernaut pressure of the Boks’ scrum. After going wide right and left with some quick hands out the back, Jerome Garces deemed they had used up their penalty advantage.
They’d have been better not using the advantage so well, after England ran it out from behind their own line by moving the ball across their in-goal area to Jonny May, but the Boks were on the front foot again after Pollard brilliantly reclaimed his own up and under, but Sam Underhill’s tackle forced an important spillage from Willie le Roux.
Their deserved early reward from a Pollard penalty came after Owen Farrell picked up Billy Vunipola’s pass, from another scrum under pressure, to be tackled by Pollard before Vermeulen earned the penalty in the jackal.
England can’t start every game with an early try, and this time they were rocked; Ben Youngs soon sending a skip pass way over Anthony Watson and the touchline.
Not much was going England’s way. After Ford cleverly found grass to earn a lineout inside halfway, Eben Etzebeth did enough in competing with Itoje to force a turnover scrum and another penalty.
But finally something went England’s way when Pollard couldn’t hold onto a Youngs’ box kick, which meant Pieter-Steph Du Toit was offside when gathering. England launched their carriers off a strong maul, Courtney Lawes bouncing to his feet with one good carry, and Billy offloading to Mako, before Cheslin Kolbe was pinged for not rolling away.
There was a triple whammy for the Boks, in that hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi, with a head knock, and lock Lood de Jager, with what seemed like a dislocated shoulder, both departed before Farrell leveled the scores.
However, the White Army were soon becalmed again when Pollard’s restart flew over Itoje, forcing a knock-on from Tom Curry. Another scrum penalty when Cole went airborne, albeit after Malcolm Marx had popped first, led to Pollard restoring the lead.
When de Klerk was penalised on half-way for flicking Youngs’ hand at the base when offside, England went up the line. They pounded through 26 phases, as not only the Vunipolas (with Billy again making telling offloads) but Manu Tuilagi also coming into the game. But with two penalty advantages they went one-off when they had numbers, twice went wide to be collared, and had to settle for another Farrell penalty after De Klerk again fringed, which was cheeky - bordering on cynical.
Despite Underhill driving Du Toit back in the tackle, not something you see every day, the Boks worked numbers when going back to the blind side but Lukhanyo Am knocked on. It was with an advantage though, Vermeulen earned a second three-pointer in the jackal for not releasing against Mako Vunipola.
Seeking to run down the clock, de Klerk shaped to box kick but fumbled, forcing him to pass wide. It was a profitable fumble, Damian de Allende transferred deftly to Am, who stepped Farrell and chipped ahead, Daly knocking on the difficult low ball. Cue another scrum, another penalty in over time and Pollard made it 12-6.
Eddie Jones’s brave if necessary response was to bring on George Kruis at half-time to stiffen the English scrum. It also re-united him with Saracens teammates Itoje and Jamie George, and he immediately took the latter’s long throw to the tail.
However, after a forward pass by Curry, Rassie Erasmus then introduced two fresh props, Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch, whereupon the English scrum was steamrollered again. Pollard made it 15-6 with a monster penalty from almost half-way.
Another scrum penalty for the Springboks soon followed whereupon, within moments of Henry Slade replacing Ford, there was the most unlikely sight of all - the English pack rampaging forward as the Boks’ pack splintered for the biggest cheer of the match thus far. Farrell unerringly trimmed the Boks’ lead back to 15-9.
After Farrell emptied le Roux after the kick, Pollard then had time to make a kick return but curiously opted to run, slipped and was pinged for holding on with Curry unmovable in the jackal.
But Farrell’s miss again diluted the fervour in the stands, and it was compounded when the Boks pack set up an in-play maul which Cole brought down for Pollard to make it 18-9, only for Manu Tuilagi to time his chase and hit on Vermeulen to perfection and Kolisi was then penalised. The sledging by Cole and Itoje seemed a bit premature, but Farrell made it a one-score game again.
Time for some aerial ping-pong, which suited the Boks more, especially when Anthony Watson was done for ‘escorting’ - possibly the first of its kind at this World Cup - when slightly nudging Mapimpi at the behest of Romain Poite. Thankfully really, Pollard was well short with the ensuing long-range effort.
Suddenly, some rugby broke out without Garces giving a penalty, and it was the Boks who struck tellingly. Le Roux, not for the first time, superbly gathered Youngs’ up and under, and from the recycle de Klerk either spotted or was tipped off that they had numbers on the blind side.
Am and Marx, deftly, moved the ball on to Mapimpi, who chipped ahead for Am to gather and, skillfully, alertly and unselfishly, passed the ball back across his body to give Mapimpi an easy touchdown. It was some try, and after the validity of Marx’s pass was checked, Pollard’s conversion made it 25-12.
England had a couple of flurries that were repelled before Marx’s hit on Slade forced a spillage which Am popped to du Toit and he passed to Kolbe. On his own, with a forest of white, there seemed nothing on, but then this is Kolbe. He weighed up his options, opted to go wide, side-stepped Marler and then fiendishly stepped inside Farrell to score untouched. Ridiculous.
Only the bounce denied Mapimpi a second, and Pollard miscued a drop goal, but the Boks were long since home and hosed before the gong sounded and, fittingly, Pollard kicked the ball dead one last time.
Scoring sequence: 11 mins Pollard pen 3-0; 23 mins Farrell pen 3-3; 22 mins Pollard pen 6-3; 35 mins Farrell pen 6-6; 39 mins Pollard pen 0-6; 40 (+3 mins) Pollard pen 12-6; (half-time 12-6)46 mins Pollard pen 15-6; 52 mins Farrell pen 15-9; 58 mins Pollard pen 18-9; 60 mins Farrell pen 18-12; 66 mins Mapimpi try, Pollard con 25-12; 74 mins Kolbe try, Pollard con 32-12.
South Africa: Willie Le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Tendai Mtawarira, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Duane Vermeulen. Replacements: Malcolm Marx for Mbonambi (23 mins), Franco Mostert for de Jager (23 mins), Steven Kitshoff for Mtawarira, Vincent Koch for Malherbe (both 44 mins), RG Snyman for Etzebeth (60 mins), Francois Louw for Kolisi (64 mins), Frans Steyn for le Roux (68 mins), Herschel Jantjies for de Klerk (78 mins).
England: Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (captain); Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola. Replacements: Dan Cole for Sinckler (3 mins), George Kruis for Lawes (half-time), Joe Marler for M Vunipola (46 mins), Henry Slade for Ford (50 mins), Luke Cowan-Dickie for George, Mark Wilson for Underhill (both 60 mins), Jonathan Joseph for May (70 mins)Ben Spencer for Youngs (76 mins).
Referee: Jerome Garces (France).