Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Solomons backs Boks to go top of the World

By Gavin Mairs

The former Ulster coach who helped mastermind South Africa's last World Cup victory in the knock-out stages over England believes the Springboks will end Brian Ashton's side's dream of becoming the first to retain the Webb Ellis Cup in the Stade de France final in Paris tomorrow.

Alan Solomons, who coached Ulster from 2001 to 2004, was the Springbok assistant coach when Janie de Beer landed a world record five drop-goals in a personal haul of 34 points as England crashed to a 44-21 quarter-final defeat at tomorrow night's venue in 1999.

This time around Solomons believes England hold the aces in terms of the drop-goal threat, in the form of Jonny Wilkinson, but while he feels that a drop-goal could be the decisive blow, just as it was in the 2003 and 1995 finals when the England flyhalf and Joel Stransky's last-gasp efforts won respective finals for England and South Africa, he believes the Springboks hold the edge in 2007.

"I am South African and I want South Africa to win," said Solomons, who will be watching the game from his home in Helen's Bay.

"But if you look at it logically, they have got an edge across the board. England have generated huge momentum from the victory over Australia but it is going to be a very, very tough game which could go either way.

"But I will take South Africa to edge it because they won't give England opportunities.

"England will have to genuinely get on top of the Springbok pack and I don't know if they can do that."

Against all the odds, England, who have endured a wretched four years since Martin Johnson lifted the World Cup, have dogged their way back into the final and will once again square up to the Springboks on neutral territory.

Remarkably, England have five survivors from that '99 side in the 22 tomorrow. Current captain Phil Vickery is the only man who features in both starting line-ups but Mike Catt, Martin Corry and Wilkinson, all named in this year's XV, were all on the bench two tournaments ago. Lawrence Dallaglio, a starter then is among the replacements tomorrow.

South Africa have two survivors although both are in the starting line-up, giant prop Os du Randt and goal-kicking ace Percy Montgomery.

Finals bring their own pressures to bear and are often won by the side that seizes the moment, and that is not necessarily the most talented side. And Solomons, while backing the Springboks, does not rule out another upset by England.

"South Africa are better across the board, they are a better team than England, there is no question about it," said Solomons. "But you are talking about a final.

"England have got Wilkinson and it is a final. I would say South Africa to win it, but in percentage stakes it would be only around 55 to 45.

"It is all about how much pressure South Africa will put England under. They won't go there to just play rugby. They don't do that. They will try to put the heat on.

Solomons added: "England have got to try to get little edges wherever they can. One of those will be in the scrum and they have got to try to disrupt South Africa there, put them on the back foot.

"They certainly have to play a territory game and cut out the errors. South Africa are great predators and intercept artists of note. "But England will be saying, 'let's give them nothing. If they are going to score tries, they are going to have to create them'.

"They have to kick intelligently, by turning South Africa around or create a 50-50 ball in the air. Wilkinson can do that and Mike Catt can do that. It is going to be a war of attrition."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph