You’ve probably seen the pubs of Leamington filled with people drinking before 11am the past few weeks and no, it’s not that they’re worried about how Brexit will affect our favourite drinks. Instead, it’s the Rugby World Cup in Japan (I mean, it’s past 11am there, right?). With England defeating defending champions New Zealand, and South Africa scraping victory from Wales, both semi-finals set strong predictions into place for the final showdown.
Favourites, the All Blacks, were beaten at the World Cup for the first time in twelve years; it wasn’t down to sheer luck. Instead, England came in stronger than they’ve been in a long time. It was clear from the start, when they made a V formation and began to encroach on New Zealand during the Haka, that they came in with the intention of dominating the match.
Ninety seconds in, centre Manu Tuilagi’s score set the incredible tone for the game. Alongside Owen Farrell, the two set up a perfect combination for George Ford’s recall as fly-half later in the game, where he consolidated England’s domination through a series of precise kicks.
It was too late for the All Blacks to claw back
The first half was dynamic on England’s side, with some precise passing and aggressive attacks, with New Zealand barely venturing into England’s 22. For the first time since 1991 in a World Cup match, the All Blacks failed to score in the first half, luckily escaping only 10-0 down.
The second half caused England to suffer a few setbacks, despite a Ford penalty taking the score to 13-0. Ben Young’s early try was ruled out for knock on and a lineout mistake when Jamie George threw the ball into Ardie Savea’s arms, conceding a try to New Zealand. However, England hit back immediately, and it was too late for the All Blacks to claw back.
With two more penalties scored by Ford, after Farrell had been hit hard in the first half, the score split even more. New Zealand began to grow desperate, but England’s strong tackling, led by a stellar performance by Maro Itoje, ended the game at 19-7. It’s safe to say that this was one of England’s most spectacular victories, bringing them into their third final since their win in 2003, still the only team from the northern hemisphere to win the Rugby World Cup.
The South Africa vs. Wales semi-final was a painful defeat, with rugby fans’ hopes of confirming a first all northern hemisphere final abandoned. The first ten minutes proved the game would not hold the same intensity as the England vs. New Zealand semi-final, with both teams readily resorting to tactical kicking.
Pollard’s reliability pulled South Africa ahead
Neither side seemed to find a particular rhythm, with the game feeling disjointed, in spite of scores occurring through penalties, making it 6-3 to the Springboks, thanks to Pollard. Since the game relied so heavily on kicking, it was Pollard’s reliability that pulled South Africa ahead.
The first half ended badly for Wales. Although scoring through penalties on both sides, it was 6-9 to the Springboks. Despite the somewhat close match between the teams, score wise anyway, the game itself felt a bit dry.
As the second half kicks off, Pollard was kicking with the wind on his side and it becomes obvious that Wales are going to need to find some sort of spark to win the game. Fortunately, an error by de Klerk meant a penalty for Wales. Back to evens – 9-9.
South Africa start to finally build up some momentum at the 50-minute mark, but give away another penalty just as things start to happen. However, after switching the whole Springboks front row, they win a scrum and some quick ball skills leave Damian de Allende to score South Africa their first try. This seems to be a turning point in the game, although Wales start to feel the pressure and fight back, scoring a try of their own.
South Africa’s tackling could bring them that trophy one more time
It’s even again, until Wales give away a penalty and Pollard doesn’t disappoint. There’s some back and forth, but when the final whistle blows it’s 16-19 to South Africa, and once again they hit the finals.
So, what are the predictions for the final? It’s safe to say that England appear much stronger after their performance in the semi finals and if they keep that tempo and precision, they’re definitely capable of securing their second World Cup win. However, South Africa’s tackling and strong front row is definitely one to watch and exploiting this could bring them that trophy one more time.
Maybe bias, but I’m hoping this is the year for England.