England and South Africa meet in the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup after 44 days of high quality action. Japan has been the perfect host for the ninth tournament and all that remains now is to decide who will be handed the Webb Ellis Trophy on Saturday. Before that, the players of the two losing semi-finals have to play the game nobody wants to be involved in – the third-place play-off game. Charlie Mullan assesses both games that will bring this brilliant tournament to a close.
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There’s only one thing worse than losing a World Cup semi-final and that’s having to play in the third-place play-off game. After missing out on a place in the final, the Welsh and Kiwi players will have wanted to get on a plane and return home and forget about the rest of the tournament, but the players of Wales (27/4) and New Zealand (2/35) have one last game to play to see who gets the bronze medals. The game, and the medals, will not be recalled in years to come with any degree of pride as it represents failure in the biggest tournament of them all.
As for the game, New Zealand have been in this game three times before, beating Scotland in 1991 and France in 2003 while losing to South Africa in 1999. Wales have featured in this game twice before beating Australia in 1987 and losing to the same nation in 2011. With nothing at stake, the two sides will try to put on a show and end their tournament with a win with their coaches allowing their players to play a more expansive game than they would if it was the final.
Therefore, the third-place play-off game sees more points scored (37.9) than the final (31.8). Both are very proud rugby nations and will be doing all they can to avoid a second successive defeat. It may be a game for fringe players to start or get longer minutes than they might normally get.
Wales +19.5 @ 50/57
Under 52.5 @ 50/57
Beauden Barrett to be named man of the match @ 11/2
After two very contrasting semi-finals, we now know England (4/9) and South Africa (7/4) will meet each other for the right to be named champions of the world. Getting to the final is nothing new to either of these two nations who played out the 2007 final in Paris when the Springboks won 15-6. It was the second success for South Africa who don’t lose finals. That was their second decider and they have a 100 per cent record after winning the 1995 tournament when they not only hosted it but took part in the tournament for the first time.
As for England, they have got through to three finals with their one and only win coming in 2003 when Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal at the end of extra-time sealed a dramatic 20-17 win over hosts Australia. It was revenge for a 12-6 defeat to Australia in the 1991 World Cup final.
England were the first to book their place in this year’s final by causing a major upset to the majority of people outside their camp by beating the two-time defending champions New Zealand 19-7. England’s resurgence since the last World Cup when they failed to get out of the pool stage on home soil, can be put down to one man – Eddie Jones. Jones has masterminded England’s revival by coming up with astute tactical game plans to beat teams when it matters.
For four years Jones will have planned England’s World Cup path and so far, everything has come up smelling of roses for the Red Rose. Jones got through the pool stage with the minimum of fuss and with their final game against France cancelled because of Typhoon Hagibis, it means they are that little bit fresher for the final, England’s game plan against the All Blacks was to start at a high tempo and get points on the board early and that’s exactly what they did with Manu Tuilagi crossing for the game’s first try in just the second minute.
After that, it was a case of defending their line and kicking for territory to pin New Zealand back which worked a treat. The All Blacks were gifted their one and only try following a breakdown in England’s line-out close to their own line. Other than that, England’s line was rarely threatened and they were able to add four penalties to their score to secure their passage to the final after one of the best semi-finals seen at a World Cup.
The same could not be said about the second semi-final when South Africa and Wales met at the same stadium in Yokohama. Wales went into the game knowing they had beaten the Springboks in the last four meetings. But there was nothing as prestigious as a place in the World Cup final at stake in any of those meetings. South Africa’s last win against the Welsh actually came in the last World Cup when they won 23-19 in the quarter-finals which was one of five meetings to be decided by six points or less in the last seven meetings.
South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus has decided to stick with that style of rugby against an England side who will start the final as favourites regardless of Jones playing down their chances as he does so often to brilliant, devastating effect. Jones will have worked on a game plan for South Africa for several months and will find a way of exploiting their weaknesses. Not that either side has many of those.
Both nations have conceded just four tries throughout the tournament and have scored plenty of tries at the other end. No team has scored more than the 31 tries South Africa have crossed for while England have scored 23 tries having played a game less. The Springboks score an average 38.3 points per game to England’s 35.6, but if previous finals are anything to go by, this might not be a high-scoring final.
The average points scored in the eight previous finals is 31.8 with four of the last seven finals decided by six points or less. Five of the eight deciders have seen the champions crowned by scoring 20 points or less which could be the case this time. Don’t rule out the possibility of extra-time being needed. South Africa beat the All Blacks after extra-time in 1995 while England beat Australia after extra-time in 2003. The way England beat New Zealand suggest they will have a game plan to enable them to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy for the second time.
England -4.5 @ 4/5
Under 36.5 @ 50/57
Owen Farrell to be named man of the match @ 6/1