How do England beat South Africa in the World Cup final?
Eddie Jones’ men could have to weather an early storm but Tom Curry and Luke Cowan-Dickie will take encouragement from the statistics.
England go head to head with South Africa in Yokohama on Sunday with the World Cup trophy on the line – but where will the game be won and lost?
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Here, the PA news agency assesses South Africa’s fixtures over the last 12 months and the areas in which Eddie Jones’ men must look to exert pressure.
Weather the storm
For the semi-final, the order of the day was to hit New Zealand hard and early – and England obliged thanks to Manu Tuilagi’s second-minute try, the eighth time in 12 months they have scored in the first three minutes of a game.
South Africa, though, have been resilient in the early stages – only four times in the last year have they conceded a try in the first 20 minutes.
Seven of the 17 they have conceded have come in the 20 minutes leading up to half-time, while they have also conceded three tries and eight penalties (out of 29 in total) from the 65th minute onwards.
The Springboks have won 11 out of 15 games in that time, but the eight in which they have conceded in the final quarter-hour include their three defeats and the 16-16 draw with New Zealand.
The others were three-point wins over France and in last week’s semi-final against Wales, a 24-18 win over Argentina – courtesy of two penalties after Pablo Matera’s 65th-minute try levelled the scores – and just one relatively comfortable win, 35-17 against Australia.
It will be vital, then, for England to stand up to the physical challenge and play right to the gong at the end of each half.
Happily, Jones’ side have scored 17 tries, six penalties and a drop goal from the 65th minute onwards in 18 Tests, including 10 tries in the final five minutes of games.
Curry too hot for the Boks?
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Of the tries conceded by South Africa in those games, seven have been scored by opposing forwards and 10 by backs, with a wide spread of positions within that – leaving no obvious main weakness.
One blindside and two openside flankers have crossed against the Boks and England have had success from those positions, with three tries from number six and four from number seven in the last year.
Tom Curry has scored three of those while operating in both positions and is set to start at six in Yokohama looking to cap a fantastic tournament on a personal level.
Two hookers have also crossed against the Boks – offering even more encouragement for England, whose hookers have combined for nine tries in the past year.
With four of those coming from replacements, it could be set up for the fresh legs of Luke Cowan-Dickie to add another late score against the Boks. The Exeter man has five tries in his last nine caps, despite starting only three times, and has scored after coming off the bench against both Tonga and Argentina in this tournament.
Among the backs, South Africa have conceded tries to every spot from fly-half back to full-back – but with both wing positions and outside centre registering multiple scores, England’s Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Manu Tuilagi will be eager to add to their prolific records.