TOKYO (AP) — South Africa and England will meet on Saturday in the Rugby World Cup final, a rematch of the championship decider that the Springboks won 15-6 in Paris in 2007.
It’s tipped to be a brutal contest dominated by physical forward exchanges punctuated by tactical kicking for territory, the 10-man style preferred by both nations. There is scope for both teams, though, for enterprising attack through the backs, primarily from England.
The Springboks are aiming to continue a pattern by claiming their third title 12 years after their second, which came 12 years after their first — the 1995 triumph on home soil.
England last won the title in 2003, beating Australia with an extra-time dropped goal in Sydney, and this will be a fourth final for the country that invented the game. England lost finals in 1991 — to Australia — and to the South Africans in ’07.
Here are some players to watch in the tournament’s deciding match at International Stadium in Yokohama:
SAM UNDERHILL AND TOM CURRY
One word to sums up the pair of them: immense. Dubbed the “Kamikaze Brothers” by head coach Eddie Jones, the two young England flankers have been a revelation at the World Cup, often overshadowing more experienced backrowers because of the energy they bring to the collisions. While lock Maro Itoje was a deserving winner of the player of the match award in England’s upset semifinal win over two-time defending champion New Zealand, the 21-year-old Curry and 23-year-old Underhill were instrumental in unsettling the All Blacks with their supply of turnover ball. Curry, short for a blindside flanker, was spotted by Jones in 2017 and earmarked for big things.
In what is expected to be an intense, physical forward confrontation, the England flyhalf could play a critical role not just as a tactical and place kicker but as an option to shift the ball to England’s backs. He was demoted to the bench for the quarterfinal win over Australia but restored to the starting lineup for the semifinals and played a cool hand. He adds an extra attacking dimension in conjunction with center pairing of captain Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi. He has been in and out of the starting XV in recent seasons depending on where Farrell has started, but the dual-playmaker option involving both natural 10s has become England’s go-to for this tournament.
A powerful, strong-running midfielder equally adept at playing 12 or 13 but a more dangerous threat with extra space at outside center. Scored England’s try in the second minute to stun the All Blacks, burrowing over from behind a ruck at close-range. At age 20 in 2011, was England’s youngest ever player at the Rugby World Cup, but trouble followed quickly. He was arrest for jumping off a ferry into Auckland Harbour. Tuilagi has a point to prove this year, having watched from home four years ago because he was suspended following an altercation with a taxi driver and police. Was troubled by hamstring and knee problems until 2017, but has returned to top form. Of the Springboks, he says: “They are big men and we are going to have to take it to them — we can’t wait for them to bring it to us.”
FAF de KLERK
While the Springboks pride themselves on the enormous forward pack being the driving force for success, it’s the smallest man on the field who often is in the driver’s seat. Scrumhalf de Klerk has curbed his running instincts honed in Super Rugby for a more pragmatic game plans that is the hallmark of South African rugby. Despite his diminutive size, he shaped up to one of the biggest Welsh forwards during the 19-16 semifinal win and had to be held back. Has shrugged off criticism of his excessive box kicks by saying it is coach’s orders. Easily distinguishable because of his blonde mane, he has added elements to his arsenal since moving to play for Sale Sharks in England and was nominated for the world player of the year award in 2018. He will tend to kick first, or clear to halves partner Handre Pollard, who will kick, but that’s a strategy that has worked for the Springboks in their revival over the last two seasons.
SIYA KOLISI and PIETER-STEPH du TOIT
The Western Province teammates will be starting at 6 and 7 for the Springboks and going head-to-head with the young England flankers. While the main contest at the set piece is the contest between the tight fives, the backrowers will have the major say at the breakdown. Kolisi was the first black player appointed as Springboks coach when he took over in June last year, and he’s a leader by example. Despite missing much of the 2019 international season because of injury, has worked his way back into form and is aiming to be third Springboks captain to lift the Webb Ellis Cup. Du Toit is a tall, strong flanker who started out as a lock. Gains plenty of ground when he carries the ball, but is also a key part of the defensive unit. Was South Africa’s player of the year in 2016 and ’18 and stood in as captain for a test.
Is the only player in either squad with experience of a World Cup final. He was 20 in 2007 when he kicked a penalty goal during South Africa’s win over England. He’s larger-framed now and on the bench as a utility back, but brings a wealth of experience and is a calming influence for the Boks. He’s likely to go on as a substitute, and is hoping to become only the second Springbok to win two World Cup titles — prop Os du Randt was part of the squads that won in ’95 and ’07. Has won all 16 World Cup games he has featured in across three tournaments.
More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports