It’s safe to say that few would have confidently predicted the semi-finals going down quite like that. After England dispatched the All Blacks with relative ease, the Springboks ground out a win over Wales, setting up a mouth-watering clash on Saturday. And now we find ourselves with England v South Africa to look forward to – Northern versus Southern hemisphere, a clash of two rugby heavyweights and a repeat of the 2007 final.
New Zealand, who made some baffling team selections, were absolutely destroyed by England at the breakdown last weekend, couldn’t make it through a robust defence, and seemed bereft of ideas to better Eddie Jones’ tactics. Unlike the first World Cup clash between these nations this year, no super over was required to separate the sides; England emerged victors by a margin of 12, which was frankly unthinkably large before kick-off.
South Africa, meanwhile, overcame Wales courtesy of a late penalty from Handré Pollard – fitting in a game that was dominated by the boot, to the point where there were more kicks than minutes played. The traditional South African forward clout made it nigh on impossible for Wales to get past, resulting in more semi-final heartbreak for Wales and a third final for the Boks.
Looking ahead, it promises to be a fascinating clash. In three of the four previous World Cup meetings, the Springboks have been victorious over England (with the infamous try-or-no-try 2007 final the most recent clash). However, not all the stats point to a Southern Hemisphere triumph: never in history has a team who lost a pool stage game gone on to win the Webb Ellis trophy.
One thing both teams have in common is bags of talent and the potential to go on to dominate the world stage until at least the next World Cup. Both squads have age on their side, with some truly stand-out players lining up for both teams. For England, Maro Itoje has been his provocative, colossal, disruptive self, while the Owen Farrell-George Ford axis proved to be a masterstroke against the All Blacks. Virtually every England player played the game of his life last weekend, and the squad – from the double threats of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill at the breakdown to Manu Tuilagi’s raw strength in midfield – look to be peaking at just the right time.
For the Boks, it’s been a little bit more of a mixed bag. Willie le Roux hasn’t yet threatened to show the scintillating form that first put him on the world’s stage. Faf de Klerk has showed glimpses of his typical livewire self throughout the tournament and showed against Wales exactly how chirpy he can be. Pieter-Steph du Toit has fulfilled his pre-World Cup promise and has been a powerhouse in the pack, while Pollard has pulled the strings to perfection.
In the coaching box, it cannot be overstated how important Rassie Erasmus has been to transforming this side, who were in dire straits before his arrival. With nine wins from eleven games this year, and the All Blacks the only side to beat them in 2019, it’s like night and day looking at the South African side now compared to his first few months in charge. Appointing Siya Kolisi as captain – the first black Test captain for South Africa – was the perfect choice, and the team has gone from strength to strength under this leadership team.
Of course, Eddie Jones has proved his World Cup credentials before when he was in charge of Japan, who famously overcame the Boks in Brighton back in 2015. England have been improving and gaining momentum game after game in this World Cup, and Jones has proved his tactical acumen. There were a few raised eyebrows after Ford was moved to the bench for England’s clash with Australia, but the midfield proved the perfect foil for the Wallabies, before Ford and Farrell combined perfectly to down an out-of-sorts All Blacks to set up this incredible final.
Whatever happens, it’ll be history.
“If England perform the way they did in Yokohama against the All Blacks last weekend I can’t see anything other than an England win, however to perform to that standard again is going to be a big ask. England need to keep the forward play explosive, as they did against New Zealand, rather than deploying the slow approach that Wales failed in last weekend. It may be scrappy at times but as a Welshman it pains me to say I feel England will prevail 22-10”
Alex Catton, Head of Sports
“I think it will be a close one! I’ll go for South Africa… I think it’ll be a low-scorer, both teams are absolute brick walls. Could it even be decided by a drop goal, à la Wilkinson in 2003?!”
Emma Fountain, Senior Sales Consultant
“England to win. My predictions? Manu Tuilagi to score in 80 minutes, and Owen Farrell to emerge as Man of the Match. You never know what Mini Hercules (Faf de Klerk) will have up his sleeve though!”
Simon Gee, Sales Consultant
“England to win for me! It will be really interesting for our clients out on tour with us if England win, our Sports Tour Director Richard Nurse is South African and will of course be cheering the Boks on!”
Nicola Suggitt, Sports Product Executive
“The England team really are firing on all cylinders at the moment and will be so encouraged after their incredible win against the All Blacks – I think they’ll have a bit too much momentum for the Springboks.”
Georgine Roberts, Sports Product & Marketing Executive
“I can’t look past England to win. It’s definitely going to be a game where kicking is king, and I reckon there might be the odd scuffle or two!”
Jennie Carter, Operations Manager
Agree with our predictions? Let us know your thoughts ahead of the big game on Twitter, @spectatetravel