RWC Grand Final Live :: England display calm before the storm in build-up to Rugby World Cup Final
Last week, England got everything right. In the build-up to the semi-final against New Zealand, Eddie Jones took potshots in the media and took pressure off his players. The very fact that it was Jones in the media meant his players were not, which helped them.
Welcome to the Evening Standard’s LIVE news coverage of the Rugby World Cup as we build toward’s Saturday’s World Cup Final.
England swept aside the All Blacks to book their place in thier first final since 2007, winning 19-7 as New Zealand lost their first match at a Rugby World Cup in 12 years.
Eddie Jones’s side will face South Africa, who they lost to in the 2007 showpiece, after the Springboks edged past Wales 19-16 in a kicking contest in Yokohama.
There will also be a bronze medal match, between New Zealand and Wales, as both Steve Hansen and Warren Gatland send their teams out for the final time in their respective jobs.
Stay tuned to Standard Sport the latest news ahead of Saturday’s final…
A powerful strike runner from inside centre — as Wales’s Dan Biggar and Tomos Williams can confirm. He’s very direct and, if South Africa can get the ball to him, will be a handful for any defence. Is not the easiest to get around or through, either.
Faf de Klerk
The hirsute half-back has been criticised in South Africa for his relentless box kicking. He has done 56 of them in the tournament so far, including 19 against Wales — but there is so much more to his game. He is quick, tackles above his weight, and has no idea he is little, as his tussle with Jake Ball yesterday showed.
The barrelling No8 is extremely hard to stop when he gets going — no Springbok made more than his 45metres across eight carries against Wales. He is vastly experienced and just as physical in the tackle and at the breakdown as when
he is carrying.
15 hours ago
Elliot Daly: From rascal prankster to Rugby World Cup finalist
Dedication and discipline will be key as Elliot Daly prepares for England’s Rugby World Cup final against South Africa on Saturday.
But it was a different story when he was a schoolboy in south London and he had a reputation as a prankster who once hid his teacher’s car after being given the keys.
Chris Wilkins, 48, director of rugby at Whitgift School in Croydon, said the Saracens back could be a “rascal”.
“Once he took my keys to get the balls out for kicking and he moved my car from the car park, which was a laugh really, they just moved it somewhere else in the school. So basically as I went to go home that night I couldn’t find my car,” he said.
“Eventually I found it, but it took me a while. They were funny ones, they had a good laugh.”
Sometimes the joke was at Daly’s expense. When he turned up to Wasps’ Acton training ground in full school uniform during sixth form, he was labelled “briefcase”, a nickname that has stuck to this day.
Mr Wilkins, who coached Daly for five years, said he was a star in the making from his first training session.
“It was pretty obvious he was a quality player, the key thing was to let him develop naturally,” he said. “We didn’t try and change him too much, just tried to get him to do quick ball, to get the ball in his hands as much as possible and let him play.”
Daly, 27, who played as full-back in Saturday’s 19-7 semi-final win over New Zealand in Japan, started his rugby career at the age of five, playing for Beckenham RFC until 2006 before spending three years with Dorking. Since making his senior debut for England in 2016, Daly has notched up 38 caps, scored 13 tries and also took part in the British Lions tour of New Zealand in 2017.
As he prepares for Saturday’s showdown, his former coach looked back fondly on where it all began. “He was very competitive and confident in the right way, and also very down to earth so he was always really keen to play for the school, never any issues, about training or anything just loved his rugby and loved playing with his mates,” Mr Wilkins said.
Daly met his wife Michelle Cussell when he was at Whitgift. They were both 18 and she was working there as a sports events organiser. They married in France in June.
17 hours ago
The team selection — of George Ford and Courtney Lawes, in particular — was immaculate, then Jones and his coaching team plotted a strategy that would thoroughly outfox their New Zealand counterparts. John Mitchell’s defence was superb, while Steve Borthwick produced a tour de force at the line-out — the very area that the All Blacks wanted to target.
“The assistant coaches have done an outstanding job,” Jones said. “If you look at the percentage of work, I should probably give my money back, but I probably won’t.”
Then they came up with a terrific response to the haka that crossed the halfway line, but no other line: no offence was taken in New Zealand. Finally, they did what so few teams can, they backed up that response with a superb performance, one better than they had managed before.
Now, they have to do it all again — on an even bigger stage.
Jones had borrowed from the strategy book of his successor as Japan coach, Jamie Joseph, who said before his team played Scotland that the hosts had been preparing for years and their opponents for a few days. Jones said the same of England and the All Blacks.
Wales coach Warren Gatland noticed this and produced a trademark shot across the bows, wondering aloud if England had played their final already.
It is Jones’s job now to ensure that is not the case. England’s performance on Saturday felt so seminal, and produced such euphoria — in part because of the opposition, in part because of its sheer quality — that it was easy to forget that it was not the final.
There are so many reasons for optimism, but also so much to guard against.
Jones has been to this stage twice before and, as ever, is a man with a plan. He lost to England with Australia in 2003 as head coach, then was an assistant for South Africa when they beat England four years later. For him, the idea of winning the World Cup as the boss must be simply irresistible — and he is using those two campaigns to shape England’s week.
Jones used his experience of 2003 cleverly last week. Funnily enough, Australia, before playing and beating the All Blacks in a semi-final, claimed there had been a spying scandal then, too.
Of the plan for this week, Jones said today: “It’s always about doing less.”
Take note that he was speaking to the media again, flanked by one of his most experienced players, Ben Youngs. The team will have a rare day away from the media spotlight on Wednesday: less will be asked of them in every sense.
England have been together for months on end and should know what they are doing by now. The two-week break around the cancellation of the final pool match against France helped with that, too. New boy Ben Spencer might need bringing up to speed, but it is unlikely anything wild or new will be sprung on the team.
Some significant players have knocks that will need managing carefully. Jones will not mind seeing the players in the onsen — the Japanese hot springs — because he thinks it aids recovery.
The key, says Jones, is that “we don’t over-coach the players and we allow them to find their own rhythms in the week”. None of these players have experienced this before, although that did not hold them back last week.
“It’s not about doing everything,” he said. “It’s about doing certain things right, keeping the players fresh physically, keeping them fresh mentally, making sure they have enough to do off the field. It’s just getting the balance right in preparation.
“Coaches tend to think they’ve got to do more but we’re relaxed and we’re ready to go. The big thing for us is holding back the players this week, making sure they don’t go before the siren rings.”
Small things matter. The cancellation of the France match denied England experience of the stadium in Yokohama before the semi-final, but they have tasted that now. Jones says England have a pretty good idea who the referee will be because, well, it cannot be an Englishman or a South African.
At times over the last couple of years, Jones’s preparations for this tournament have seemed a little barmy and as if they were veering off course. That cannot be said of the last few days.
In the biggest week of all, he wants his players to relax — and perhaps we all should, too.
18 hours ago
England beware as pumped-up South Africa plan one more arm wrestle
Since Handre Pollard’s fifth successful kick flew between the posts in Yokohama yesterday, securing South Africa’s victory over Wales, one debate has raged: can they play another way?
The game, which South Africa won 19-16, has been referred to as an “arm wrestle” countless times since. There was more than one kick for every minute and it was rare for either team to have any quick ball. Swirling winds made fielding those kicks difficult. Faf de Klerk was the kicker in chief and kept almost all of his tricks in their box.
But why would the Springboks mind? They had what it takes to win and are into the final for the first time since they won the last of their two titles in 2007.
Nevertheless, Warren Gatland felt they might want to play a bit more rugby if they are to thrive in the final and Eddie Jones said he felt they had more to bring. Rassie Erasmus, the South Africa coach who is overseeing a real renaissance, agreed that “there are definitely some areas in our game that we must improve if we want to win”.
But Erasmus touched upon another important point. “I’m not 100 per cent sure that a World Cup Final will be won by a very expansive gameplan and wonderful tries,” he said.
Both the winning teams in the semi-finals scored just 19 points and all four teams scored a single try each.
World Cup semi-finals are about pragmatism, not champagne rugby. They are about being effective, not pretty.
“It’s our work ethic,” said fly-half Pollard. “Grinding it out is something we believe in. It’s what it takes to win play-off games and World Cups. We’ve shown it yesterday. We weren’t accurate in stages, but we ground it out and that’s something we’ll take a lot of confidence out of going into next week.”
South Africa have just a six-day turnaround and a gruelling game to recover from, so it seems unlikely that they are about to veer wildly off script. Against Wales, the Springboks played to their strengths. It is not so long ago — 25 months — since they were thrashed 57-0 by New Zealand, their fiercest rivals. Erasmus acknowledged how much England have improved, but his own side are becoming far more effective, too.
Like England, South Africa ghosted through the early part of this tournament. They lost a fine game against the All Blacks, then eased past lowly opposition and swatted Japan to one side.
England know they will be in for a fierce test. “We pride ourselves on our physicality, so it is going to be an interesting one to watch on Saturday,” said the lock, Lood de Jager.
Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen, the vast back-rowers, were excellent yesterday. A whole new tight five is waiting on the bench. The set-piece is solid (they have won 62 of their 63 line-outs at the tournament, while Wales were bullied at the scrum), and selection is very consistent.
They also boast the only player on either side to play in a World Cup Final: Frans Steyn has been around the block and back since appearing in the 2007 final as a 20-year-old inside centre, but remains a handy man to have coming off the bench. De Jager hoped, too, that the Springboks’s many players with experience of the English domestic game, like de Klerk, would be able to pass on tips.
There is one trump card waiting for Erasmus. He decided to leave the scintillating Cheslin Kolbe out of the squad to face Wales, because he was not fit. But he should be available again this weekend and will surely take a spot in the back three — perhaps at full-back for Willie le Roux, who struggled again yesterday.
Kolbe’s style of play could certainly never be accused of being boring and he gives another dimension to any team he plays in.
18 hours ago
England rugby fan books flights to Tokyo while ‘five pints down’
A rugby fan who booked flights to Tokyo “four or five pints down” after watching England’s win over New Zealand is preparing to arrive in Japan on crutches — with nowhere to stay and without a ticket to the World Cup final.
Rob Lewis, 36, a web designer from Sunbury-on-Thames, started looking up flights after a boozy morning with friends during Saturday’s semi-final.
Mr Lewis, top, said: “At 11am the idea popped in my head to look at flights.” He found an Air France flight with a stopover in Paris for £650 return, leaving on Tuesday. England are set to play South Africa in the final in Yokohama this Saturday.
“I had a knee operation just over a week ago so I’m on crutches at the minute,” Mr Lewis said. “I’m going to be hobbling around Tokyo on crutches trying to get a ticket to the final, which is pretty dumb but worth it for the adventure.”
Hundreds of other fans are planning expensive trips to the final, despite all direct flights back to Britain on the Sunday and Monday after the match being fully booked.
The cheapest resale tickets for the World Cup final on Viagogo on Monday morning cost £1,120.
19 hours ago
Why England George Ford could be dropped again for World Cup Final
As South Africa ground Wales down in Yokohama on Sunday, Eddie Jones — wearing his favourite Houston Texans NFL cap — and his right-hand man John Mitchell watched on from the stands, studiously taking notes.
“I forgot my pen last night, so I had to go for the high technology, the iPad, which I’m not that flash on,” said Jones. “So there wasn’t too many notes there”.
You can bet that is not true. Jones is not only the ultimate student of the game, but a workaholic who hates to waste a minute and a horses-for-courses selector. South Africa’s showing will dictate the team that he names on Thursday for Saturday’s Final.
There is one particularly fascinating call awaiting Jones, the one that has defined England’s whole tournament: the role of George Ford. The fly-half was quite brilliant against New Zealand, with the way he managed the game, defended (he made 13 tackles, the fourth-most for England) and stepped up to kick goals following Owen Farrell’s injury.
Ford is a key leader for England, the unofficial vice-captain.
So it would be unthinkable to leave him out for the Final, right? Well, no, as Jones showed 10 days ago. Ford was England’s best player in the pool stages, then was left out of the starting XV for the quarter-final against Australia. He handled this with maturity and made a superb contribution off the bench against the Wallabies. Jones said his role had been changed — a situation that Ford seemed to understand perfectly.
For those outside the camp, this can be hard to get. After all, in 2003, everyone knew exactly who was first choice in every position for England. But the game has changed and Jones is particularly tactically flexible. So far, Ford’s role has been managed to perfection. On Saturday, Jones got his other big call, Courtney Lawes starting and to be replaced by George Kruis, bang on, too. Both were sensational.
Ford was dropped against Australia in large part because, with Samu Kerevi lurking at inside centre, Jones wanted the most destructive midfield defence possible. By moving Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi in a spot and Henry Slade into the team, England had greater power in defence. Ford rarely misses tackles, but those tackles tend not to have the same impact. New Zealand did not have a huge power runner in the centres, so Ford had to return.
South Africa’s only try yesterday came when another mighty carrier at No12, Damian de Allende, barrelled through, with Welshmen hanging off him. Could Jones decide that one of South Africa’s key scything backs is worthy of greater attention? It is not unthinkable.
Jones will have noticed, too, the power of South Africa’s bench, with its split of six forwards and two backs allowing the whole tight five to change. He said that, against New Zealand, he picked his bench first and focused on set piece. He would be sensible to do the same again, by calling upon Kruis and Mark Wilson in the final quarter.
Wilson was beginning to look like England’s forgotten man, but he was terrific on Saturday. Having been so good at No8 in the autumn, then blindside in the spring, he would have expected to play more than 40 minutes against the USA across England’s first four matches. But the rise of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry, a badly-timed injury himself and then the late charge of Lewis Ludlam squeezed him out.
Wilson had to wait until the final 10 minutes against New Zealand, but made a huge impact. There were five tackles, a couple of carries and a key penalty forced with his first involvement. He might just find himself going head to head with Francois Louw, who had a similar impact for South Africa yesterday, in that role on Saturday. Wilson will do anything for the team — no player better encapsulates Jones’s “Team of 31” ethos.
And no change sums up Jones’s selection policy quite like Ford. Neither player nor coach will fear another shift this week.
20 hours ago
Eddie Jones hails England rugby team for giving country something to cheer during Brexit chaos
Eddie Jones says his team are giving England fans something to cheer by providing a welcome distraction from Brexit – and says there is more joy to come in Saturday’s World Cup Final against South Africa.
England put in one of their greatest ever performances on Saturday to beat New Zealand, who have won the last two World Cups, and book their place in the final for the first time in 12 years. They lined up in a V-shape to face the Haka – which could earn them a fine from World Rugby – then backed it up with a superb showing.
Jones was in a typically mischievous mood and fired a shot at Wales coach Warren Gatland saying “can you just send my best wishes to Warren and make sure he enjoys the third-fourth place play-off?”
But he was also quick to remind his team “that they haven’t done anything yet” and says the best is yet to come.
As England look to win the final for the second time (16 years after Martin Johnson’s team triumphed over Jones’s Australia in Sydney), England fans are flocking to Yokohama and tickets are appearing on resale sites at exorbitant prices. Jones hailed the support his team had received from fans in Japan and back home.
“I think it’s great,” said Jones “You give the country something to cheer about. And with Brexit at the moment they probably need something to cheer about. It’s a job of the team to make the country happy, not as happy as they can be, because there is still a game to go.
“The crowds here generally at the World Cup have been fantastic and I thought our supporters on Saturday night were massively instrumental in getting us home. Their singing, their general support of the team were fantastic and we urge them to keep doing that.”
Saracens scrum-half Ben Spencer has arrived in Tokyo as an official replacement for Willi Heinz, whose hamstring injury ruled him out of the final.
There was more optimistic news on the other injury issues, however. Jonny May and Kyle Sinckler left the field in the second-half against New Zealand and had strapping on their legs afterwards, while Owen Farrell played on for 55 minutes after a heavy blow. Jones seemed optimistic that all would be fit for Saturday, while Jack Nowell is also available.
“[May is] Pretty good,” said Jones. “We had a walk-through this morning and we had to tell Jonny to slow down a bit. He is probably in better condition than he was last week at this stage. Immeasurably better.
“Owen is a bit sore but he will be fine. We have got a few others carrying bumps and bruises because it was a tough old game.
“Our players are better today than they were last week and I would hesitate to say that our training’s going to be to a higher standard this week that it was last week. That’s how good a condition we are in.”
Jones watched on as South Africa beat Wales 19-16 yesterday, and says he is prepared for more from the Springboks – who employed a direct, kick-heavy gameplan.
“Rassie [Erasmus] is a cunning coach, good coach and has done a great job with the Springboks,” he said. “We’re prepared for the unexpected.
“We know they can play differently and we’re aware of that but we also know that they are going to come through the front door. There are not many Springbok teams that don’t come through the front door. So we’ve got to be ready at the front door and have enough cover at the back door too.”
Jones was confident, though, that the best is yet to come from his team.
“One hundred per cent,” he said. “We played a great team on Saturday but we don’t feel we’ve played as well as we can and the challenge for us is to keep improving. And there’s small margins now. As you go through the tournament, the margins get smaller. The improvements you can make are still significant we’re looking to see how we can keep improving for this week’s game and that’s the exciting part for us.”
20 hours ago
England face fine for haka challenge
England are set to learn if they will be fined for challenging New Zealand’s haka by forming a V formation during the ceremonial dance.
World Rugby rules dictate that teams standing across from the haka are not permitted to cross the halfway line. France launched a similar response ahead of the 2011 Final against the All Blacks and were later fined £2,500.
Joe Marler was on the wrong side of the white paint ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final and was asked by referee Nigel Owens to retreat.
The 29-year-old, who was one of a handful of England players in the wrong half, refused to step back.
World Rugby are set to discuss the issue on Monday.
The act of resistance was devised by Eddie Jones and while England knew it could backfire, Mako Vunipola said afterwards it was vital to serve notice to a team that has not lost a World Cup match since 2007.
“We wanted to be respectful but we wanted to also make sure that they understood that we would be ready for the fight,” Vunipola said.
“We just knew that we had to back it up. There have been a few times in the past when the All Blacks have had that done to them but then blown the opposition away.
“We put accountability on ourselves to back it up and I thought we did. We knew it would rile them up, it probably felt like we disrespected them.
“We meant no offence by it, we just wanted to let them know that we were ready for the challenge ahead. And they let us know in the first couple of contacts.
“It was a ferocious contest, which is what you expect. I’m just very proud and happy for the boys.”
20 hours ago
Welcome back to Standard Sport’s LIVE coverage of the Rugby World Cup as we look towards England’s first World Cup Final, since, er, July… when we beat New Zealand at Lord’s. They must be fed up of us English this year.
Anyway, it’s our first Rugby World Cup Final since 2007, when we lost to South Africa in 2007. So perhaps it’s only fitting that the English face the Springboks once more. A chance to avenge that loss, or another bitter pill to swallow…? We’ll find out on Saturday morning…
1 day ago
Proud Gatland looks ahead to ‘monumental’ All Blacks clash
A proud Warren Gatland challenged Wales to end his time in charge with victory over his native New Zealand after South Africa knocked his men out of the Rugby World Cup in Sunday’s semi-final.
Wales went down by three points to the Springboks, who will now face England in Saturday’s final. Wales have to settle for a shot at the bronze medal match against the All Blacks on Friday night.
“It was a tough physical match,” said Gatland. “Congratulations to South Africa, great for them to be in the final, they deserved to win. I take my hat off to them, they were very good up front, defended exceptionally well.
“But I’m really proud of our guys, we never gave up and we got ourselves back into the game. It was a real arm wrestle – a really tough encounter – but I just want to say well done to South Africa – good luck in the final.
“I’m absolutely proud of them, we punch massively above our weight in terms of the playing numbers they have in Wales so I’m really proud of these guys, they’ve given us 100 per cent, they continue to do so and we got ourselves back in the game tonight as they do in those really close contests.”
Gatland said it would be “monumental” to face his home nation.
“It will be hugely monumental, it’s the team I haven’t beaten with Wales so it will be nice to be able to achieve that. Then looking ahead, back for 12 months with the Chiefs then I’m with the Lions and hopefully get some revenge for tonight.”
Gatland said South Africa might want to expand their game for the final, and questioned whether England had treated the semi-final like a final. “We have seen teams play their final in the semi-final and don’t turn up for the final. We will see what England do,” he said.
In response, South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus said: “I think he’s right, there are definitely some areas of our game that we need to improve. But we’ve given ourselves a chance, we’ve played four games with England in the last 18 months and it’s 2-2.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure that the World Cup final will be won by a very expansive style and wonderful tries – it might be, I might be wrong – but I think we’ll go and try and grind it out.”
1 day ago
So, can South Africa beat England in the final?
Not on the semi-final evidence.
England were breathtakingly brilliant in dismantling world champions New Zealand on Saturday, and if they reproduce anything like that form, then it is hard to imagine South Africa going close.
England will deservedly be favourites but South Africa are a tough side to beat and are yet to really fire in attack at the World Cup.