Rugby World Cup Preview

Japan v South Africa - International Match
South African players celebrate their victory over Japan (Image source: news.paddypower.com)

Sam Guthrie, Contributor.

England, I am told, is a lovely place. One time, when I was in London, a small boy in an England rugby jersey spat on me and thundered, “Who do you think you are?!” I thought, after quickly retreating to the relative safety of a nearby pub, that this chap, with the addition of a few more dislikable characteristics, would one day make a fine addition to his country’s rugby squad. So looking back, the path of the brutally dominant England team toward Saturday’s final would seem inevitable.

The English achieved easy wins over Tonga, the USA, and Argentina before having their game against France cancelled due to typhoon Hagibis. They went on to meet and subsequently gutter-stomp the fleeting dreams of my beloved Wallabies before facing up last week to the All Blacks. Which is where the idea of England’s inexorable march to the William Webb Ellis Cup falters, because few could truly have picked the systematic dismantling that Eddie Jones’s side wrought upon the New Zealanders. England consistently won the battle at the breakdown, winning 15 turnovers and controlling the tempo of the game. The All Blacks conceded eleven penalties, went into touch like it was going out of style, and with the exception of Ardie Savea looked a shadow of the team that bundled Ireland out of the cup. England’s win and its magnitude came as a surprise to anyone who wasn’t English, but the English, and trust me they’ll always tell you, thought it was inevitable.

That’s not to say England are home-and-hosed champions or even that they’re shoo-ins for the most dislikeable team in the 2019 World Cup final. Indeed, the South African team have just as much the air of that tag-along mate who joined you at the bar and makes everyone uncomfortable with their, well-announced, conservative political views. The Springboks snuck through, outclassed by New Zealand in their pool before extracting revenge for 2015’s humiliation on hosts, Japan in the quarter finals. Although, like the English, the South African performance against Wales suggests they too have stepped up a gear and might indeed be contenders. While the scrappy second semi-final wasn’t of the same calibre as its counterpart, it did illustrate South Africa’s ability to draw teams into their style of play, kick and line-out reliant, and beat them. Could the Springboks actually pull of the upset?

Let’s face it, as much as it pains an Aussie to say it, this is England’s game to lose. The headline matchup tomorrow will be that of flashy Faf de Klerk (SA) and Ben Youngs (Eng). There’ll be familiarity with one another’s game, playing respectively for Sale and Leicester at club level. While de Klerk’s higher profile might see him through, but he’s likely to kick no less than four box kicks to Willie le Roux that’ll leave the casual rugby viewer sicker than a Kiwi in Johannesburg. Even if the de Klerk-le Roux pairing finally does dividends, could the South African pack actually hold up against the likes of Lawes, the Vunipola brothers, and Tom Curry? It’s hard to see his pack getting ahead in the ruck – even with flanker and captain Siya Kolisi playing his 50th match for the Boks tomorrow.

Verdict? England to win by 13. Venue, International Stadium Yokohama. Kickoff 9am GMT with broadcast on ITV. Alternatively, you can watch it at Spoons, like I will, seated in Southern Hemisphere solidarity against the English, hoping to God that no small thugs spit on me this time.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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