By Mitch Phillips
TOKYO (Reuters) – Expected tactics of England and South Africa in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final at Yokohama International Stadium:
Speed, pace, urgency, quickness of thought and deed, and selectivity in when to engage in the physical battle.
England had all of that from start to finish against New Zealand and they will need it again, perhaps even more so, to knock South Africa out of their stride in the final.
England’s speed of recycling, a result of Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Maro Itoje and Co sprinting into rucks, meant New Zealand’s defence always seemed to be scrambling by the time twin playmakers George Ford and Owen Farrell were fizzing passes left and right.
England’s try after 97 seconds saw half a dozen examples of quick ball, rugby’s holy grail, but the sweeping move retained its pace because the likes of hooker Jamie George and prop Kyle Sinckler did not slow it down when they got involved.
England will want more of that for 80 minutes on Saturday, working the big South African side back and forth again and again hoping to run the legs off them and then penetrate the gaps when they appear.
The contrast with how South Africa played against Wales in their semi-final was extraordinary — the Springboks were never in a hurry to go anywhere.
England will try to disrupt that by making a nuisance of themselves at rucks, but they will be selective, knowing that they could waste precious energy trying to shift some enormous Springboks forwards for often no real benefit.
Instead they will back themselves to deal with the aerial assault they know is coming.
Wingers Jonny May and Anthony Watson have shown themselves brave and effective jumpers, while fullback Elliot Daly knows this is the day when he will have to prove the doubters wrong over that aspect of his game.
George Ford will also be bracing himself for the most important defensive test of his career. Having seen how South Africa successfully targeted the channel of Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar, Ford knows what is coming.
Coach Eddie Jones has backed him to stand his ground, however, resisting any temptation to return to the meatier midfield option he went for in the quarter-final with Owen Farrell at 10.
The Springboks have pretty much reverted to what has worked for them for decades, and though they may have the odd trick up their sleeves for the final, the selection of six forwards on the bench is an indicator of how they will approach the game.
It is a simple, proven game plan and when executed well, even against teams fully primed for it, one that can be difficult to combat as Wales found in the semi-final.
Orchestrating the system are flyhalf Handre Pollard and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, a bundle of energy who can also make rugby time stand still when poised at the back of an immovable ruck waiting to send yet another kick high into the sky.
Then the pace of outside backs Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi and the hyper-dangerous Cheslin Kolbe give chase to put receivers under pressure.
Centres Lukhanyo Am and Damian de Allende are more from the “through rather than around” school of centres but Springboks’ hopes of victory probably depend more on Pollard kicking penalties than his fellow backs running in tries.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)