By Mitch Phillips
TOKYO (Reuters) – Eddie Jones says England are bracing themselves for a massive physical assault from South Africa in Saturday’s World Cup final but added that he expected the odd twist too from the Springboks after they won a turgid semi-final against Wales on Sunday.
Jones was in Yokohama Stadium to watch South Africa reach their first final, since he helped them triumph in 2007, and said he saw pretty much what he expected in a “tough and exacting semi-final”.
“They are a massively aggressive physical forward pack, they probably played their stronger team in the second half as opposed to the first,” Jones told journalists on Monday. “They are going to be a difficult side to beat but we know a couple of areas that we think we can them expose in.”
As for whether South Africa would stick with their kick and chase policy, Jones was wary – but only a little. “Rassie (Erasmus) is a cunning coach so we’re prepared for the unexpected,” he said.
“They can play in different ways. You saw Faf de Klerk do 15-20 box kicks in the game. We know they can play differently but we also know that they are going to come through the front door. There are not many Springbok teams that don’t come through the front door. So we’ve got to be ready at the front door and have enough cover at the back door too.”
Jones said his main role this week was to keep his players relaxed and not try to over-supply them with information, but that is unlikely to apply to scrumhalf Ben Spencer, who arrived in Japan on Monday ready to go straight on to the bench in the World Cup final in place of the injured Willi Heinz.
Spencer has played a total of 20 minutes of international rugby via three late replacement appearances – the first two against South Africa on last year’s June tour and the last against Scotland in March.
“Ben has been in and around the squad consistently for the last couple of years so he knows the game, he knows the players,” Jones said.
“It’s just a great opportunity ahead of him. He has come into the squad and has got to learn a few new things. He’s just got to learn a little bit more in the early part of the week and get himself physically and mentally ready.”
Jones said that both Jonny May and Owen Farrell were recovering well from the dead legs they received in Saturday’s win over New Zealand and expected both to be fit to play. He will name his team for the final on Thursday, with prop Kyle Sinckler the other main injury concern.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, Editing by Michael Perry)