By Neil Leverett
- England and South Africa face-off in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final on Saturday in Yokohama
- Duo meet in rematch of 2007 final in Paris, where Springboks came out on top to win second world crown
- Eddie Jones contests his third final, having been Assistant Coach to South Africa in victory over England 12 years ago
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN – With all the marbles at stake in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, Saturday’s meeting in Yokohama between England and South Africa is lined with many a layer.
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Former champions collide
It is a final that perhaps few expected. England and South Africa are set to lock horns in Yokohama on Saturday in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final to determine who will be crowned champions for the next four years.
With the William Webb Ellis trophy at stake in Japan this weekend, both sides have previously tasted world glory in the space of an eight-year dominance between 2003 and 2011, however the storied rivalry between the two Northern and Southern hemisphere nations is about more than just the odd sporting dalliance.
As Rose and Springbok gather themselves a for third finale showdown, both side’s closely-interlinked lineage serves as the perfect platform for Yokohama’s showpiece in the shadow of the Asian capital Tokyo. Indeed there are more than just the odd narrative for sporting fans to lap up this weekend.
Jones’ finale triple
As the biggest – but not sole – chess piece of the final, England coach Eddie Jones will be all too aware of his standing in Saturday’s final, as the Australian contests his third Rugby World Cup final, having seen all sides of winning and losing results and from various stances since 2003.
For the man who was the defeated coach by England in the final in Sydney 16 years ago, Jones was also part of the Springbok set-up in 2007, playing Assistant Coach to Jake White, as South Africa beat Brian Ashton‘s men by 15-6 in Paris.
Despite the Wallabies being on home soil in his previous final as Head Coach, this time around both he and England will be favourites to lift the Webb Ellis trophy, which would be a fitting story arc for the 59-year-old Tasmanian, after a 25-year managerial career in both hemispheres and on three continents.
After an oft-difficult last 18 months which has seen spectacular fall and subsequent rise in English rugby once more, in a city and stadium where Jones again catapulted himself into the limelight with Japan having fallen to England sixteen years ago, this weekend could see Jones as this time the architect, in re-installing England as the number one side in the world.
de Klerk and dagger
Perhaps the most fascinating layer lies in the hands – and feet – of Springbok scrum-half Faf de Klerk, who – to use Greek Mythology vernacular – was the ‘Mini Hercules’ who slayed David last weekend and again will on Saturday, look to do the same to England as he did Wales.
As no stranger to many of the England XV he will face in Yokohama, the Sale Shark is one of five South Africans who ply their trade in the Rugby Premiership. But, as the only player in the regular starting line-up and who will make his 30th appearance for the Rainbow nation in just a handful of day’s time, de Klerk lingers as the biggest obstacle to glory for Owen Farrell and his charges.
The lynch-pin of the Springbok pack in their Rugby Championship victory this past summer, de Klerk scored one of his only four career trys the last time he faced England in the ‘Boks remarkable 42-39 win in Johannesburg last year.
As one not to shirk confrontation, the South African defies his diminutive stature standing tall, amongst a heavyweight and intimidating pack. Indeed Sale teammate Chris Ashton – with 44 England caps to his name himself – believes de Klerk to be the best in his field as he told Rugby Union Weekly, quoted by BBC Sport.
“When he’s on point I struggle to find a better one. You cannot find a defending nine like Faf – he’s smashing people. He’s like a mini Hercules.
The way Faf plays the game, he likes that control and likes to feel as though he is an essential part to what the team is doing. You almost don’t need a 10 when he’s playing – he runs, passes, kicks. You get that feel from him that it’s almost his team.”
England and South Africa will clash for the 43rd time this weekend in the shadow of Tokyo, but by far their biggest meeting in the two side’s storied history was as documented in 2007, when the Springboks beat England for the second time in that World Cup, on an evening laced with controversy in Paris.
Having already beaten the Rose emphatically 36-0 in the Pool stage almost a month prior, the duo met again at the Stade de France, as four penalties from the boot of Percy Montgomery decided the game. However, England still maintain they had a legitimate score ruled out to this day.
After a war of attrition during the opening period, the defending champions trailed 9-3, but within two minutes of the restart looked to have scored the game’s opening try, as Mark Cueto received a recycled ball behind the Springbok defence and dove for the line – appearing to stay in play.
Following extensive review however, both referee Alain Rolland and the TMO adjudged Cueto’s foot to have touched the whitewash, as English fans despaired. With England pushing forward in the hope of becoming the first side to defend the Webb Ellis trophy, the Springboks took advantage of a number of penalties to push clear to a nine-point advantage to seal the win and instead their second title.
Some may still argue that the South Africans would have won regardless, but as England go toe-to-toe with their conquerors this Saturday, many fans see this as the perfect opportunity for not so much revenge, but a chance to put things right. And in golden fashion.
The 2019 Rugby World final between England and South Africa takes place at the Yokohama International Stadium in Japan, kick-off time 9am UK time.
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