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After a brutal, attritional first half, two moments of genuine quality from South Africa’s wide men secured them their third world title
Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbie scored brilliant tries towards the end of a game that England were never really in.
In an historic moment for South African rugby, flanker Siya Kolisi – raised in a Port Elizabeth township and the first black Springbok captain – lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy.
Both coaches went with virtually the teams that got them there. Rassie Erasmus recalled winger Cheslin Kolbie after he returned from injury in his side’s only change, while scrum-half Ben Spencer was called into the England squad just days before and made the bench after Willi Heinz got injured in the semi-final. It was only the second time in Jones’ England tenure that he named an unchanged XV.
That said, within the game’s opening moments Jones had to make a change.
In the first first three minutes England lost tighthead Kyle Sinckler – the Harlequin knocked out cold in an early collision with teammate Maro Itoje which ended his final before it had barely begun.
It came in an opening in which the Springboks started much the brighter, running the ball more in the first five minutes than anything they mustered in their semi-final against Wales. Their efforts won early penalties, one of which Handre Pollard put over for the game’s first points.
All the talk of the physicality and brutality that this final would bring proved to be correct. Within a quarter of the game, three players had gone off injured, with Springboks Lood de Jager and Bongi Mbonambi both leaving prematurely as Sinckler did.
The first time England got the ball through the hands and completed some phases they got their first points. Once Kolbie didn’t roll away from a ruck, Owen Farrell kicked the points offered. The downside for England was that Pollard immediately kicked three more of his own when England’s scrum was penalised.
When England went through 25 phases of sustained pressure around South Africa’s five-metre line the Springbok defence stood firm, eventually conceded a penalty rather than anything worse. Farrell again scored the three points, with Pollard replying immediately in a carbon copy of the exchange earlier.
There was enough time for the South Africans to win a final scrum penalty – their third of the half – on the gong to to go into the interval 12-6 up. South Africa had dominated the set piece, dictated the game’s rhythm and played the game on their terms.
Jones responded at half-time by bringing on George Kruis for Courtney Lawes to call England’s lineout and bring greater clarity to proceedings. It didn’t prevent the penalty count continuing to rack up, with South Africa’s pack controlling the collisions and the breakdown.
When England finally won their scrum penalty, with Joe Marler on for Mako Vunipola in the front row, it caused a huge cheer in the stands. It appeared to put breath in the lungs of the English as their chests puffed back up and they sensed that were still very much in the game.
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It proved to be short-lived. Farrell missed the kick, while Pollard made it six from six just minutes later. The constant exchange continued, however, when Man Tuilagi clattered into Duane Vermeulen to force another penalty. Twenty minutes to go and 18-12 to the Springboks.
South Africa then produced a moment of magic to grab the games first try. Mapimpi chipped over down the left wing. Lukhanyo Am collected the ball and offloaded back to Mapimpi to finish in the corner. A brief check from the TMO confirmed the try and the Springboks were within touching distance.
It wasn’t long before Mapimpi’s partner on the opposite wing went one better. Called into the side for his guile, Kolbie collected a pass out wide, danced past Henry Slade and sprinted beyond Billy Vunipola to put his team beyond reach. It was moment of quality that deserved its importance.
Rassie Erasmus’ squad comfortably deserved that moment. Having inherited a side in turmoil 18 months ago, he took them from being on its knees to the top of the world. Throughout the final they were utterly dominant, with England having no answer to the tactical, disciplined game plan and ferocious power.
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