England v South Africa: What to watch out for

John Mitchell wasn’t pulling any punches this week when assessing the merits of the two World Cup finalists.

John Mitchell wasn’t pulling any punches this week when assessing the merits of the two World Cup finalists.

“What we are going to witness are the two most powerful rugby teams in the world,” said England’s defence coach.

Eddie Jones and England are prepared for a Springbok assault ‘through the front door’ as the Australian put it.

The battle on the gainline will be absolutely enormous. But that almost goes without saying, you need to be direct and physical against the Springboks.

And defences are going to dominate, both sides have only shipped four tries all tournament.

But here are five other areas to keep an eye out for this weekend:

Damian de Allende is the key power runner in this Springbok back line.

His abrasive edge was on full display last weekend in downing Wales, the Stormers centre shrugging off Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams and Owen Watkin on his way to the line.

But it is not just the quality of his runs, but also the quantity. His 55 carries are the most by a Springbok in the tournament and second only to Billy Vunipola out of both final matchday 23s.

Rassie Erasmus’ side go to him early and often to generate front foot ball and the last time England were facing a similarly powerful ball carrier they cut their cloth accordingly.

In the quarter-finals, to counter Samu Kerevi as the Wallaby heartbeat, Owen Farrell shifted to fly-half and Manu Tuilagi came inside to No.12 – George Ford dropping to the bench.

But after Ford’s masterclass in the semi-finals against the All Blacks, kicking the Kiwi back three to distraction and making more tackles than any other player on the field, he gets the nod again for the final.

The All Blacks, for all their class and clinical edge, do not possess a power runner like Kerevi or De Allende though – at least not until Sonny Bill Williams was introduced in the second half.

So Ford will get a serious work out this weekend from de Allende – who had plenty of joy against England last Novemeber – and it will be up to Ford to stand up and be counted once again.

England and South Africa like to pride themselves on their bench impact.

The self-styled Bomb Squad for the Springboks have brought a fearsome physicality in the second half of games.

With their 6-2 split of forwards, including monsters like RG Snyman, Malcolm Marx and Franco Mostert, the Boks can bash with the best of them.

But while South Africa finish games strongly, they have not lost a second half in their last 14 Tests under Erasmus, beware England’s fast starts.

England have scored a stunning ten tries inside the opening five minutes of a Test against Tier-one opposition in 23 matches since 2018.

No other nation comes close to that, France are second with five, so Manu Tuilagi’s try inside 100 seconds against the All Blacks was no fluke.

The Boks cannot afford a slow start, but with canny class like Francois Louw and Frans Steyn coming off their bench their head to head with the likes Mark Wilson and Henry Slade will be fascinating.

England are no slouches off their bench, Dan Cole, George Kruis and Joe Marler have bags of experience as well.

Indeed, the last time South Africa lost a second half came 14 games ago as mentioned above. The opponents? England at Twickenham of course…

Much of the focus in the build-up to this weekend has been on South Africa’s kicking game.

In the semi-final, and in truth all tournament, Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard have kicked the leather off the ball.

Anthony Watson, Jonny May and Elliot Daly are in for a stern examination therefore, but May and Watson in particular are proven world-class operators under the high ball.

The more interesting kicking battle might well be the other way.

Ford and Farrell found grass time and again last weekend when kicking from hand, forcing the All Blacks back three time and again to turn and scramble.

But they will need to be on point again, with more brilliant kick chase led by Sam Underhill, or they could be punished by the brilliance of Cheslin Kolbe.

There is no player quite like the Toulouse winger in the game. He doesn’t so much as sidestep players as disappear away from them. Give him a split second and he will make defenders look very silly indeed.

His ankle injury that ruled him out of the semi-final has healed up, and it is his spark in the Springbok backline that adds vital variety to their game plan.

The battle at the set-piece will also be pivotal.

The Springboks back their scrum and maul game to get their momentum rolling.

But England have a pack that matches them in the tight. It will take something extra special for either scrum to get a big advantage.

England have also defended the rolling maul extremely well, led by the long octopus arms of Maro Itoje.

The Saracens star will therefore need to be at his best once again this weekend against the bruising power of Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager et al.

And on their own ball, England’s lineout has been near immaculate all tournament.

One bad misfire against the All Blacks cost them dear, but for the rest of the game they ruled the airwaves through Itoje and Courtney Lawes, ably assisted by the ever-improving Tom Curry as their third jumper.

With South Africa putting boot to ball so often, and England so adept last week at using the touchline as an extra defender, we can expect a huge amount of lineouts this weekend.

So the experience of George Kruis off the bench, and the brilliance of coach Steve Borthwick in that area, might prove absolutely vital.

Siya Kolisi wins his 50th cap this weekend for the Springboks.

And what a time to do it, leading out his country as their first-ever black captain and back in a World Cup final.

Kolisi’s story is undoubtedly inspiring and a rallying cry for the rainbow nation.

But the Springboks do not have the monopoly on influential leadership.

In Owen Farrell, England have their own captain marvel. Once a brash boy, now a serene star, Farrell’s captaincy of this side has come on leaps and bounds.

It was clear to see last weekend, in both word and deed as he led their impressive response to the haka and then played through a dead leg to get his side over the line.

His Friday night players only meetings have become the stuff of legend, Jamie George said this week he already cannot wait for it.

But as well as rallying rhetoric, the battle of the captains will be key in terms of how they keep referee Jérôme Garcès on side.

There really is not much to split these two sides.

England start as favourites because of the way they blew away the All Blacks seven days ago, but under Erasmus South Africa have won two and lost two against Jones’ England.

It will come down to who handles the biggest occasion the best.