5 talking points ahead of the World Cup final
England collide with South Africa in Saturday’s World Cup final at International Stadium Yokohama to bring down the curtain on Japan 2019.
Here the PA news agency examines five talking points heading into the climax to the ninth instalment of the tournament.
Eddie Jones stated his only real goal from the moment he replaced Stuart Lancaster at the end of 2015 was to win the World Cup in Japan. Now that moment has arrived courtesy of a staggering 19-7 demolition of New Zealand that has installed England as favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy for the second time. Jones has already constructed a team of which the nation can be proud, but victory on Saturday would place them in the pantheon alongside the heroes of 2003.
What next for Eddie?
Win or lose, Jones’ future serves as a fascinating subplot to events in Yokohama. The 59-year-old has flatly refused to engage on what lies ahead for a coach who is at the very top of his game. In reaching the final he has already exceeded the target needed to trigger the two-year extension agreed with Twickenham lasting until 2021, but there will now undoubtedly be moves to tie him down until the next World Cup in France. Rudderless Australia are a genuine alternative as Jones has unfinished business with the Wallabies and Michael Cheika has left his post, but with most of the current England team set to be around for France 2023 and the Rugby Football Union happy to give him the resources he needs – even at a time of austerity for the governing body – he will surely stay.
Fifty for Kolisi
Jones’ future may be laced with uncertainty but Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus has confirmed he will step down after the final. Just as significant, however, is the 50th cap that will be won by Siya Kolisi – the nation’s first black Test captain. Rugby is viewed as a unifying force in South Africa and with the popular Kolisi at the helm, the nation has an inspirational figure to rally behind. Yet the appointment had far more humble origins. Erasmus: “My plan never was this big thing to get the country behind us. Siya was actually the best Super Rugby-performing team captain and that’s the reason why he became captain of the Springboks. I was naive not to think it would be a massive thing. It’s his 50th Test and this is a fitting and wonderful occasion for him as the first black captain. Now it’s also sunk into me. I understand how big it is. I’m not so naive any more.”
Mind the back door
South Africa’s conservative tactics at the World Cup have been described as ‘anti-rugby’ and they have undoubtedly won few hearts and minds. They know their strengths – a monstrous pack, shrewd half-backs with wicked boots and a powerful inside centre. All evidence in Japan to date points to another forward-led assault, not least because of their six-two split between forwards and backs on the bench, but they played some quality rugby while winning this year’s Rugby Championship and Jones is ready for a daredevil ambush from their “cunning” coach Erasmus.
England’s to lose
Regardless of what South Africa throw at them, England should emerge winners. If they are able to scale the heights seen against New Zealand, they will fully justify their status as strong favourites. The Springboks’ greatest asset is their pack, but the English eight are even more formidable, bristling with aggression and bursting with skills. The half-backs are brilliantly matched and so too the midfields, but England have greater threats across the back three. It will be a test of Red Rose psychology as much as anything and, with Jones having pushed the right buttons throughout the World Cup so far, there is no reason to doubt they will rise to the occasion.