England started the Rugby World Cup final against the Springboks as favourites, and their coach Eddie Jones had masterminded victories over Australia and New Zealand but met his match in Rassie Erasmus.
Erasmus even engaged in a little bit of the mind games that have established Jones as one of the most imposing opponents in international coaching.
In the build-up to the final, the Springboks insisted they would be sticking to their gameplan, however predictable it might be, backing themselves to win the contest off the back of physicality, but come game time they sprung some surprises.
Erasmus’ Springboks surprise England
The Springboks put in their most dynamic attacking display of the knockout stages, taking more risks on attack than they did against Wales.
That game was built off of forward dominance which the Springboks established early on, but it caught England off guard and totally threw them off their own game.
England struggled to get over the gainline with any great regularity and weren’t able to test the Springboks aeriel defence as much as they would have liked.
On defence England seemed to be caught between covering the box kick and closing down the Springboks dangerous outside backs, whom Erasmus’ team were constantly trying to unleash.
Adjusting to Garces
The Springboks played their third game under the direction of French referee Jerome Garces and have been able to adapt their game to the referee’s style.
The Boks didn’t enjoy Garces officiating in their opening loss to the All Blacks but were able to effectively adapt to his permissive style of officiating to put one over on Wales and then England in the final.
The Springboks were brutal at the breakdown with their loose forwards doing a great job of neutralizing the smaller England flanks. Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and especially Duane Vermeulen made things difficult for fetchers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry. Billy Vunipola was excellent with the ball in hand but was outworked by Vermeulen in the loose.
Backing under-fire veterans
The decision-making of Faf de Klerk and form of Willie Le Roux were questioned ahead of the final after inconsistent displays in the tournament but both showed the value of experience.
Le Roux was used as an alternative playmaker and kicking option in the middle of the park while de Klerk did a great job of mixing up his distribution. The scrumhalf was a menace on the fringes, pushing the limits of what the referee would allow and keeping pressure on his opposite number.
England’s playmakers were kept quiet as Youngs’ passing game let him down and George Ford had little impact on the game before he was substituted.
With England looking to get back into the game in the latter stages of the second half, the Springboks were afforded opportunities for their outside backs to take on forwards out wide, leading to the two tries that were scored.
Erasmus’ gameplan was one that was still based on the basics of forward dominance, but crucially the Springboks showed a greater variation on attack that made their game far more effective.