Boks crush England to prove they’re the best
England came in as favourites in some eyes but the Springboks always believed they were better and boy did they emphatically prove their point as they trampled the also-rans into the Yokohama International Stadium turf to annex their third Rugby World Cup title with a 32-12 victory.
It was the stuff dreams are made of both the Boks and their fans as their forwards took control of the game from the kick-off, with the big men softening England up but the team as a whole bringing a lot more to their game than they hitherto had in the tournament as two great back tries made sure of the win in the last quarter.
It was the Springboks’ third World Cup title, which takes them level with New Zealand on the all-time list in terms of wins, and also by far their most emphatic win in a final.
Indeed, when Makazole Mapimpi went in for a brilliant try some 13 minutes from time to put the game out of reach of England, it was the first try the Boks have scored in any World Cup final, and they’ve now won three out of three of those.
They led 12-6 at halftime and were never headed in the game. They twice drew level, first at 3-all and then 6-all towards the end of the first half, but Handre Pollard kicked two important penalties just before halftime to give the Boks a winning edge that they never really looked like relinquishing.
From the off it was clear that England were running into a team that didn’t have the complacency or the mental softness that the All Blacks had last week in the semifinal and which made England a lot better than they really were.
DOMINANT BOK SCRUM
The Boks knew that and were confident all through the build-up week.
Publicly they made England the favourites, but privately they were always brimming with confidence in their ability to deal with a team they beat twice in Rassie Erasmus’s first series in charge and which only actually got the edge on the Boks in games played under-strength in 2018.
A big part of the Bok effort was built around a dominant scrum that forced penalties almost with impunity in the first half.
Here it needs to be recorded that England did suffer a debilitating setback when their star prop Kyle Sinckler’s head clashed with his teammate Maro Itoje’s elbow quite early in the game and had to be replaced.
His replacement Dan Cole was horribly exposed and in the first half gave away four penalties.
But the Boks also lost two significant and influential men early.
In fact Bongi Mbonambi and Lood de Jager both went off at the same time, just as England, after a shoddy start, looked to be gaining just a little bit of momentum as they got into the Bok half.
The warning lights flickered briefly for the Boks, but not for long. There might have been some concern among the supporters when, after the Boks were awarded a penalty just 40 seconds into the match for an England breakdown infringement, Pollard missed an attempt that was well within his range and capability.
But it quickly became apparent that the Bok scrum was way too dominant not to have a significant say in the outcome, and the Boks were also playing a watered down version of their Rugby Championship game.
Meaning they were giving the ball far more air down the backline than they did in the previous games. That might have surprised England, and the halftime stats reflected 190 running metres to the Boks against just 77 from England.
ENGLAND DEFENCE SCRAMBLING
Where the England defence was outstanding last week, this time it was they who found out how the All Blacks felt in the semifinal.
When they did get the ball the Bok defenders were all over them like a rash, and with the fabled gainline battle going convincingly the South African way, England were in trouble.
In the England semifinal it was their big No 8 Billy Vunipola who had his name up in lights with the headway he made through the New Zealand ranks, this time it was Duane Vermeulen who did to them.
If big England outside centre Manu Tuilagi ever threatened to make the same impression that he did last week, it was hard to remember when. The Boks always had him well wrapped up and they read every England attacking move.
Pollard was presented with a much easier attempt after nine minutes which he kicked to make it 3-0.
The Boks were doing little different things they hadn’t before, like a couple of probing darts from Pollard and an excellent little kick and catch, and the England defence was scrambling.
There was a quick tap off the first scrum penalty. The Boks were mixing it up more. England by contrast looked a bit rattled and struggled to hold onto the ball.
When they did get it during one period where they took it over 20 phases they were repelled by determined and excellent defence by the Boks.
They did concede a penalty there that England kicked through skipper Farrell but the resistance would have struck a psychological blow against England. It said: “You’re not scoring a try today”.
A measure of South Africa’s early dominance is that it took England 21 minutes to be awarded their first penalty. Which they used to get play out of their territory.
It was after that long period of Bok defence that England got their first kickable penalty to make it 3-all. It didn’t take long though for the Boks to regain the lead, this time Pollard doing well from the angle.
England brought it back to 6-all in the 33rd minute, but the Boks finished the half in the ascendancy, and their dominance in that regard secured them two more penalties that earned them a well deserved six point buffer at the break.
MOMENT THAT SEALED THE GAME
The talk on the press benches was that if the Boks scored first in the second half they would win the game.
They did, in the 45th minute, and though England did narrow the gap to six points with a Farrell penalty, he missed his next attempt and the Boks took immediate advantage by kicking another one through Pollard down the other end.
It was 18-9 and the nine point, just enough to soothe nagging Bok supporters’ hearts and to give the players a degree of comfort, was restored.
Farrell kicked a penalty bring the nail gnawing back, but then came the moment that sealed the game for South Africa.
With 13 minutes to go left wing Makazole Mapimpi, who had been threatening all game, got the ball out wide after a turn-over, kicked infield for the impressive Lukhanyo Am to grab it and immediately transfer it back to the left to Mapimpi, who ran down the left touchline to score.
Pollard kicked the conversion to make it a 13 point game and England had a last chance to have a say when they attacked down near the Bok left hand corner flag.
But England were forced once again into error, the Boks were awarded a scrum, and from there they played the ball away from the danger zone.
England now had to throw everything into a last gasp catch-up attempt but almost inevitably the Boks pounced on their opportunity when it came, Cheslin Kolbe weaving his way through the England defenders to score a brilliant try.
With a 20 point lead and the game nearly done the World Cup was coming home to South Africa, but by then the Boks were so dominant that they could easily have scored another.
But when the final whistle blew, knowing the job had been done, Pollard was happy to boot the ball into the terraces to start a Bok celebration that will continue here until tomorrow morning and back home until late into Saturday night.
Just over two years since they were thumped 57-0 by New Zealand in Albany the Boks rule the world – and they have never done it so emphatically as they did on this memorable Saturday in Japan.
The South African music ringing out around the stadium afterwards told the story of a joyous end to a great World Cup and a great Bok campaign.
Oh yes, mentioning that, and before we forget, they also become the first team to win the World Cup after losing a pool game, something they did against the All Blacks here six weeks ago. That, like so much else that was negative, seems so long ago now.
South Africa 32 – Tries: Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe; Conversions: Handre Pollard 2; Penalties: Handre Pollard 6.
England 12 – Penalties: Owen Farrell 4