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There is the age-old adage that “defense wins championships”, and the Springboks lived up to that adage as they claimed their 3rd Webb Ellis Cup as Rugby World Cup Champions. The South African defense was relentless and masterful against England. The Springbok defense has been a staple of their play style for decades.
They have now gone 3-0 in Rugby World Cup Finals and are yet to concede a try. In their 2 previous victories in 1995 and 2007, the Springboks also never scored a try. However, Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe put an end to that with 2 tries today. Handre Pollard added 2 conversions and six penalties to those tries and the Springboks defeated England 32-12.
The match got off to a difficult start for England. Tighthead prop Kyle Sinckler took a nasty looking head knock as he and Maro Itoje tackled Mapimpi. Sinckler laid unconscious on the pitch for a moment, but fortunately, he was able to walk off under his own power. With Sinckler out of the match, Dan Coles would enter the game nearly 60min before he was expected to.
The Springbok defense began causing problems for England early on. It was a theme that resonated throughout the match. South Africa’s line speed was impressive. They were able to get to the ball quickly and stop the English attack before reaching the gainline constantly.
England’s attack looked disjointed from the get go as passes would go to deck or just fly into touch. The Springboks were able to keep that pressure up through the match and England never looked truly comfortable.
The injury to Sinckler would soon begin to take its toll. Tendai Mtawarira was dominating Dan Coles at the scrum and it was resulting in penalties. Pollard turned two of those scrum penalties into points. The scrum was an area where the Springboks were truly able to assert their dominance over the English pack for the full 80 minutes.
A big moment of the first half occurred from the 28th-34th minute. Following a lineout, England did well to march down to the South African line. With England just metres shy of scoring the game’s first try, the Springbok defense went to work.
England kept the ball tight to the ruck and tried to breakdown the Springboks. Everyone put on a massive hit or three to prevent England from gaining that final half-metre. Captain Siya Kolisi was immense during this stretch of play. His tackle on Billy Vunipola seemed began to send England backwards.
Ben Youngs decided to try the backs, but Willie Le Roux was up to the task and England began moving backwards. Lukhanyo Am would eventually force a knock-on. South Africa did take a penalty on the play and Owen Farrell’s kick was successful to bring the game to a 6-6 tie. Although, they gave up the penalty, by not conceding the try, South Africa prevented a big change in momentum.
South Africa would ensure that they would go into the sheds without relinquishing anything. Duane Vermeulen was immense at the ruck all game. He had a huge jackal turnover that earned him a penalty as Billy Vunipola held the ball. Pollard would slot the penalty and one more scrum penalty before the half was out to give the Springboks a 12-6 lead at the break.
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It was much the same to begin the second half. Immense Springbok defense and a scrum penalty allowed Pollard to extend the lead to 15-6. Pieter-Steph du Toit continued to illustrate why he is a World Rugby Payer of the Year nominee by causing more English turnovers. However, Itoje would power through a Springbok maul and earn a penalty and Farrell would cut the lead to 15-9.
Right after, England’s scrum would fight back and earned a massive scrum penalty of their own to gain some territory. You could feel the momentum shifting in England’s favour. Tom Curry added to that momentum as he earned another penalty to set up Farrell. England was building on their momentum and you could feel the energy of the players as they closed in on the Springboks’ lead. Then Farrell missed and you could feel all the momentum shift away from England.
The Springboks would gain some momentum back with a brilliant change of tactics. The Springboks opted for a short ball to Eben Etzebeth. Faf de Klerk fired it to the backs who took the ball to contact. The forward pack then set up a wedge to de Klerk’s left. Vermeulen got the ball and the Springboks set up a rolling maul in open play. Coles was penalized for collapsing the maul and Pollard restored the 9-point lead. Quite a brilliant tactic designed by Rassie Erasmus’ staff and executed perfectly by the Springboks.
Farrell would get that one back quick as the Springboks could not handle the restart. The Springboks would soon pull away for good.
The trend of zero tries in Springbok RWC Finals came to an end in a spectacular way. Le Roux did well to gather the highball following a Youngs box kick. De Klerk sent the ball to Am who began working up field. Am passed to Malcolm Marx who just avoided tackle before passing to Mapimpi. Mapimpi put a kick through and the chase was on. Am burned Youngs and made a great gather and pass back to Mapimpi for the Springboks’ first try.
It’s difficult to match the skill on display on that try, but Cheslin Kolbe was determined to try. Marx would start the play with a thunderous hit on Henry Slade. Am scooped up the loose ball and du Toit would spring Kolbe down the wing. Kolbe put a stutter step on Joe Marler then a nasty cutback move that sent Farrell to the turf before dotting down the try. All Farrell could do is watch as Kolbe hit the final nail in the coffin.
The South Africa Springboks are your 2019 Rugby World Cup Champions! They were able to defeat England through a combination of an outstanding defense and a strong set piece. Mapimpi, Kolbe, and Pollard get the glory for all the points, but there were many fantastic performances from the Springboks today.
The Springboks’ defensive play was led by Captain Siya Kolisi. Kolisi had 13 tackles at 100% success. Most notably, he turned the tide on England’s first half surge on the goal line.
Franco Mostert is the only Springbok with more tackles than Kolisi with 15. He was immense after entering the game early due to Lood de Jager’s injury. Peiter-Steph du Toit had a number of key turnovers and set up Kolbe for his try. Lukhanyo Am had a strong all-around game. He had a major impact on both tries winning the race to the ball on Mapimpi’s try and preventing Itoje from gathering the loose ball before Kolbe’s.
The man of the match went to Duane Vermeulen. Vermeulen was a force to be reckoned with at the break down and many of Pollard’s penalties were earned by Vermeulen.
The Springboks were one of the most in form teams heading into the Rugby World Cup. However, they lost their first match to the All Blacks. The Springboks bounced back and are now the first team to lose a game in the pool stage and go on to win the Rugby World Cup.
The Springboks are now tied with the All Blacks with 3 Rugby World Cup Titles (1995, 2007, 2019). One of the big stars of this victory will be coach Rassie Erasmus. During this RWC cycle, the Springboks dipped to a record low 7th in the World Rugby rankings with some heavy losses to teams they typically beat. Erasmus has done wonders to turn the program around and will receive plenty of credit for their performance at the RWC.
Congratulations to the Springboks!