Saturday 2nd November 2019, England vs South Africa to be crowned world champions. Four years in the making! Deserved finalists, two rugby rich and storied nations squared up.
I will admit, I didn’t see this coming from the Springboks. Heck, I was even rooting for England and Eddie Jones throughout the tournament. When they met the Springboks, I had no choice but to stick to my early pick, I mean I have a lot of ties to the Springboks but the gentleman in me couldn’t allow me to jump ship despite all that. I really thought England was the best of them in the rugby world especially after beating the All Blacks in the manner they did.
Rugby is about imposing your will on the opposition. It’s up to whether you want to use brains or brawn to do so. The Springboks used both to good effect. It was clear as day what the message was from the coach. D-O-M-I-N-A-T-E from the get-go. The physicality of the side in the scrum led by Tendayi Mtawarira and his front-row companions.
I had never seen a scrum decimated in the manner the English scrum was decimated. That alone allowed the Springboks to get going and start the scoreboard ticking and it gave way to extensive periods where the scoreboard kept ticking. That is key to success in such high-pressure matches.
The Springboks were hungry. I spotted a worried look on the English captain’s face around the 10th minute. In the same split, the camera zoomed in on Siya Kolisi, Tendayi Mtawarira and Pieter-Steph du Toit when the Springboks stifled a seven-plus phase play by the English. I saw the hunger in the eyes of the men in green and gold, they had a determined look on their faces, it was almost as if they were saying we are ready to do whatever it takes.
I quickly left my seat in the restaurant I was to give my Mrs a ring and let her know the Springboks might just do this. They were just hungrier; they were not going to make any excuses and they were psyched up for that battle no wonder England doesn’t know what hit them.
How did Rassie Erasmus master the World Cup win?
1. Scrum and defensive dominance
The Springboks have always been known for allowing their forwards to set up everything for them, but throughout the tournament, we didn’t see enough of this. They backed their defence and allowed the opposition to make mistakes which they converted to points case in point the match against Japan. The English pack weighed 20kgs more than the Springboks, but it all came to nought.
The English scrum was so atrocious when they won their first of three scrums the English fans erupted into raucous applause; one would swear they scored a try. The number of scrum penalties England conceded all resulted in territory gains, possession changes and most important points for the Springboks off the boot of Handré Pollard.
The Springbok scrummaging was top-notch, but their defence was a very close second. How many defensive stops and forced turnovers did the Springboks manage to get? Too many for Eddie Jones’ liking if you ask him. The Springboks’ defence at halftime was at 90% tackle success rate of their 79 tackles, its such dominance that forced England to make many more errors and be unsure of themselves. Just for perspective, the Springboks ended the match with a 92% tackle success rate, to do that in a World Cup final match, I respect that.
2. Rotation of the front row
I watched all the Springbok matches and one recurrent theme was the early departure of the Springbok front row players, at first, I thought Rassie Erasmus was not happy with the display of the starting front three versus New Zealand. In the matches that followed I noticed the same thing happen repeatedly, to which I thought it’s just rotation to give everyone some minutes because of the way they were completely outplaying the likes of Namibia, Italy and Canada. In the tighter matches against Japan and Wales, the front row as if on cue started being shuffled around the 50th to 60th mins, I paid it no attention.
In the final Tendayi Mtawarira was first to leave the pitch after a dominant first half and a few minutes in the second half, others made their way to the bench and those replacing them were equally as good as those they replaced. In the post-match press conference, Rassie Erasmus went on to describe in detail how the rotation was their game plan from the start.
He said, “… the front row we have played they have all had around the same number of minutes when you compare that to the number of minutes…” and went on to explain how the opposition front row played upwards of sixty to seventy minutes every game. This was a key statement for me, not only were the coach and his staff preparing for specific matches, but they had a plan of how they wanted to play in the World Cup final and it all began with preserving any Springbok side’s key assets. Well played.
3. Finding consistency
The change in mindset at a key period leading to the World Cup. The Springboks have won eleven of their last twelve games and that is a far cry from their inconsistent results in 2017 and 2018. Kudos to the Springbok coaching staff and players for getting into gear and putting together a consistent body of work in crunch time before, during and in the greatest rugby match in the world.
My Springbok player ratings
15) Willie le Roux – The full-back provided safe hands under any high balls that England launched towards him. He was very cool under pressure. 6
14) Cheslin Kolbe – The speedy winger didn’t have a whiff of the ball. When he did, he gave us a glimpse of the hunger is teammates had by refusing to go down as he sped to score the try to ice the game. 7
13) Lukhanyo Am – He was resolute in defence and played a huge part in the Springbok’s first-ever Rugby World Cup finals try. 8
12) Damian de Allende – Wales’s nemesis made a couple of powerful runs but was confined. 5
11) Makazole Mapimpi – The try may have been a talking point but one thing that needs to be said about it is, how valuable it can be as a coaching tool worldwide. dubious the first try was, South Africa’s top try‑scorer in Japan took it superbly. Always a danger. 7
10) Handré Pollard – Recovered from missing a second-minute penalty to convert 22 points, points that put the Boks beyond reach. 8
9) Faf de Klerk – Was his usual effervescent self behind a dominant scrum and kicked well into places England did not want the ball to go. 8
8) Duane Vermeulen – Like the two Bok locks, the No 8 had treatment for a shoulder injury in a ferocious first half and made some big carries. 6
7) Pieter-Steph du Toit – The converted lock followed his exceptional game against Wales with another brutal display, not giving Ford room to breathe. 9
6) Siya Kolisi (capt) – François Pienaar was there to see another captain in a No 6 shirt lift the Webb Ellis Cup. Led the team superbly for 64 minutes. 7
5) Lood de Jager – The Bulls lock left the field at the start of the second quarter in great pain from a shoulder injury, but the Springboks coped. 5
4) Eben Etzebeth – For an hour was a real handful for the English pack despite having treatment for a shoulder injury. Back to his best. 7
3) Frans Malherbe – The tighthead was part of a front-row that for the first half helped squeeze the life out of the England pack. 7
2) Mbongeni Mbonambi – The hooker lasted only 20 minutes before he was injured in a tackle by Courtney Lawes and replaced by Malcolm Marx. n/a
1) Tendai Mtawarira – The Beast was a real menace in the scrum, giving replacement Dan Cole a rocky ride. Very strong all-round display. 8
Replacement player ratings
- Malcolm Marx (for Mbonambi, 21’) Good impact substitute 7
- Franco Mostert (for De Jager) 21) Helped to maintain the scrum dominance 7
- Steven Kitshoff (for Mtawarira, 44’) Helped to maintain the scrum dominance 7
- Vincent Koch (for Malherbe, 44’) Powerful in the scrums and shored up defensive efforts 7
- François Louw (for Kolisi, 64’) Had some big tackles 6
- François Steyn (for Le Roux, 67’) 6
- Herschel Jantjies (for De Klerk, 77’) n/a
Well done to the Springboks for making it to the mountain top! Congratulations to South Africa for being World Champions yet again, well deserved, the support the boys had back home is nothing like I have ever witnessed. All South Africans (including those representing the country in Japan) showed immense pride, passion and dedication.