The Rugby World Cup final will see England, who defeated the All Blacks, take on the Springboks, who ground out a grim win against Wales in their respective semi-finals.
Two very different semi-finals
England vs All Blacks
Semi-final one was a pretty pulsating affair, with England taking an early lead and never really allowing the All Blacks into the game. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen fell into the trap of making a significant change to his starting 15 for a knockout game. He benched Sam Cane and selected Scott Barrett. Barrett does have some experience in the 6 jersey, but he is no Cane at the breakdown. The breakdown is exactly where England defeated the All Blacks.
To their credit, the All Blacks accepted their loss with dignity and could accept that their best was simply not good enough on the day.
As a side show, England defied World Rugby’s directive’s on how to face the haka and did so in their own way.
Wales vs Springboks
Semi-final two was a much more tense affair, with two sides playing fairly similar games facing off against each other. The Springboks were never going to do anything different to what got them to the playoffs in the first place. The Welsh did what they do best. They kept themselves in the game until the very last minute with grim determination. A single mistake by the Springboks would have meant a Wales win.
Although the Springboks never fell behind during the game, they should also be lauded for sticking to their guns and their game plan. They will be disappointed with the errors they made that often handed possession and momentum back to to Wales. For a team that relies on putting pressure on their opponents with a kicking game, they were not good at receiving the same treatment. Willie le Roux was particularly poor and just couldn’t seem to find the handle on the ball. The bad news for his detractors though is that he will not be dropped or benched for the Rugby World Cup final. His importance in the defensive system means he is a shoe-in for selection on Saturday.
Ryan Jordan takes a different look at Saturday’s match – World Rugby’s crown jewel, the Rugby World Cup final. What have their journey’s been in getting their respective teams to the point of contesting for the William Webb Ellis Cup.
Two very different coaches
The two coaches in charge have had diverse routes to the Rugby World Cup final. Jones is vastly more experienced than Erasmus. Erasmus has a much more impressive playing CV. The one similarity they share though is that they were both appointed to lead teams that were in crisis.
As a player
As a player, Jones had some experience at a high level. He played 12 games at hooker for New South Wales in Australia.
As a coach
Jones has a long career in coaching. Highlights include coaching the Brumbies and the Reds in Super Rugby, Australia and Japan in international rugby, Saracens in the English Premiership and was an assistant coach to Jake White in the Springboks successful 2007 Rugby World Cup campaign in France.
Getting the England job
His appointment as the Stormers Super Rugby head coach may well have been the shortest coaching stint in professional rugby. Two weeks after starting the job, he was on his way to to London to take over the England Rugby team. He was appointed to resurrect the hopes of a rugby nation who had just witnessed their team being the first host nation to crash out of the competition in the pool stages.
A cunning coach
Jones is known as a very cunning coach, able to identify and opponent’s weakness and has the ability to exploit that. At Rugby World Cup 2015, he knew that a high paced game that avoided spending too much time and effort engaging South Africa’s reliance on the set piece was his chance at success. The Brighton Miracle is now etched in rugby folklore. In the Rugby World Cup 2019 semi-final against New Zealand, he spotted that the All Blacks would be vulnerable at the breakdown with the bulky loose trio they had selected. The result was that England dumped the hot favourites out of the competition.
As a player
Erasmus has a long playing career behind him. He played 112 games for the Free State Cheetahs. Add to this, 53 games in Super Rugby for the Cheetahs and the Cats and another four for the Stormers. He also played 36 Tests for the Springboks.
As a coach
Stints as the Free State Cheetahs, Cheetahs, Western Province and Stormers coach were spread between 2004 and 2011. From 2012 to 2016, Erasmus was the General Manager: High Performance at SA Rugby. He then moved on to coach Irish provincial side Munster. From December 2017 to date, Erasmus has filled the dual role of Head Coach of the Springboks as well as the Director of Rugby at SA Rugby.
Getting the Springbok job
The Springboks experienced two dreadful years under Allister Coetzee post the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. SA Rugby had to make the difficult choice to part ways with Coetzee midway through his contract. Results were below par, there wasn’t a particularly understandable pattern of play in place and there was no real evidence of players being developed to create depth. At the time, the general rugby public in South Africa had no hope for a significant result, let alone being in Rugby World Cup Final 2019.
Also a cunning coach
The first part of this is not so cunning. Erasmus quickly identified that this current Springbok squad does have its limitations in terms of attractive back line play. They would not easily beat any of the top five or six nations by shifting the ball around. He decided to revert to what he knew this group could do. Be powerful up front and keep on smashing away at their opponents. To back this up, the defensive structure has been developed to rely on a lot more line speed and a lot of responsibility being given to the wings to make midfield spot tackles.
Some of the more creative things Erasmus has tried has mostly been with the Cheetahs. Few can forget him sitting on the roof of the stadium in Bloemfontein with his coloured lights. He would use a different colour light before each set piece play. Very few would know if there was any real significance to those coloured light.
In the Cheetahs preparations for the 2006 Currie Cup final against the Bulls in Pretoria, Erasmus subject his team to having the Blue Bulls theme song being played at full volume during practices. A small thing, but his team was ready for the environment they would face and yes they win.
Post publishing edit: Both coaches and teams have since been nominated for Coach of the Year and Team of the Year respectively.
Rugby World Cup Final
The attraction of Saturday’s game is a little more than just how either side will play, but will the coaches have a major influence by doing something different?
Could Erasmus have something strange up his sleeve for Saturday? With Erasmus, you can never tell. Could Jones have a plan ready to negate Damian de Allende’s ball carrying and prevent the Springboks from bending the defensive line?
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