How England can beat South Africa and win Rugby World Cup 2019™
Eddie Jones has consistently been ridiculed and second-guessed throughout his four-year tenure as England’s head coach.
From claiming his team were spied on to telling the press to wish Warren Gatland luck in Wales’s bronze medal playoff, Rugby World Cup 2019™ has demonstrated that the Australian is an expert at creating a media frenzy all about him.
However, this isn’t purely Aussie arrogance, by shielding his players and coaching staff from the spotlight, the media do not scrutinize his style or selection as they instead plump for the eye-catching headlines. This relieves pressure from his team, which was demonstrated in their semi-final as an unshackled England tore New Zealand apart.
Now this is not a maverick concept in sport, with plenty of coaches using this ploy. Having worked with football managers such as Pep Guardiola and Gareth Southgate, Jones cherry-picks ideas from respected colleagues which allows his teams to be truly innovative.
A prime example of this is his maverick George Ford/Owen Farrell dual playmaker combination. First implemented in their 2016 Six Nations Grand Slam campaign, England romped to victory, blitzing teams apart in the process.
After a year of highs for England, which included a 3-0 whitewash in Australia against the Wallabies, teams began to figure out ways to stop their tactic. Instead of discarding the formula, Jones put the gameplan back in the drawer knowing that his team were comfortable with the system, and began to formulate a different ploy.
These innovations have formed pieces of a puzzle that only now is slotting into place to reveal a Web Ellis Cup.
The Ford/Farrell combo devastated New Zealand, but only with the help of the relentless Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, who were reinforced by the set-piece king Maro Itoje, who could only dominate the All Blacks through a steely platform of Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola.
Unheard of for an England coach, Jones has introduced a culture of self-focus. This was demonstrated by selecting the aforementioned Ford/Farrell partnership and the “Kamikaze Kids”, Curry and Underhill. Have any team in rugby history had the nerve to select two 10s and two 7s against the immortal All Blacks? Moreover, New Zealand’s starting XV was a direct response to England’s. The team who pride themselves on not caring about the opposition opted for an extra lock in Scott Barrett to attempt to dominate the lineout. The result? England dominated the lineout.
This new English mindset is not to say that they do not focus on their opposition. In John Mitchell, England have, alongside Wales’s departing Shaun Edwards, one of the best defence coaches in world rugby. Former All Blacks boss Mitchell took the role late last year and is responsible for creating England’s electrifying and ferocious defence. This pace and power will be crucial against a resilient South Africa side, who ooze steely strength and titanic ball carriers.
Another facet of the Springboks’ game is their focus on territory, which will suit England just fine. Much has been made of Faf de Klerk’s penchant for a box kicking, however his ability with the boot leaves a little to be desired for an international scrum-half. England will be happy to let Taz of Tasmania’s blonde cousin blast moon-balls all day long with the knowledge that they have three of the best kickers in World Rugby to retaliate: Ford, Farrell, and Elliot Daly.
Jones also has the benefit of possessing explosive broken-field runners Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May and Anthony Watson. Should the final morph into a rugby tennis match, England will look to get the ball to one of these three and create chaos between the twenty-twos.
The winner of the World Cup Final will be decided up front. Where South Africa have oodles of experience and power with Tendai Mtawarira, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch and François Steyn, England have youth and dynamism.
Sinckler and Mako Vunipola are now crucial components of England’s game plan, with their superb offloading game allowing their side to maintain a quick tempo and catch opposition defences napping.
Itoje was at his barnstorming best against the All Blacks, but Courtney Lawes has transformed his game from an explosive tackle machine to a relentless workhorse who compliments Itoje’s game superbly. This was humbly noted by Lawes, “we don’t need to do anything special, we just need to do our jobs.” South Africa have four of the best second-rows in the world but England’s locks more than match them
Billy Vunipola has had a relatively quiet tournament, but that is when he is at his most dangerous. The explosive ball carrier raises his game for big occasions, and none get bigger than this. Watch out for his encounter with his counterpart Duane Vermeulen: it will be box office.
Saturday’s Rugby World Cup Final will be huge. With every moment of tenure building up to this, Eddie Jones has solved the England puzzle to reveal the Webb Ellis Cup.