There are just two teams left in the hunt for World Cup glory as England take on South Africa in the final in Tokyo on Saturday. They met in the 2007 decider when the Springboks emerged victorious, but who will come out on top this time?
It’s been a great tournament so far – let’s hope the final is worthy of the truly amazing spectacle that has been RWC Japan 2019. The crowds have been superb throughout, imbuing each and every game with a special party atmosphere. The rugby, for the most part, has been pretty good too.
The most anticipated game of the tournament so far, the semi-final clash between England and the All Blacks in Tokyo, didn’t disappoint as the northern hemisphere side secured a deserved 19-7 victory after a titanic struggle. It’s not often you see New Zealand outmuscled and outmanoeuvred, so hats off to Eddie Jones and his coaching staff who were spot on with their tactics - even if it was at the expense of expansive rugby.
We’ve see time and again in this tournament how dangerous the All Blacks can be in broken play and Jones was keen to ensure that there was as little opportunity for that to happen as possible. Everything was kept tight, moving from set piece to set piece with minimum chance of possession being turned over. Sound familiar? That’s what Ireland did so successfully against the same opposition and in their grand slam campaign, but they failed to do it in Japan and paid the ultimate price.
If you thought there was precious little expansive rugby in the England-New Zealand semi-final, the Wales v South Africa clash on Sunday made it look like the legendary 1973 Barbarians v All Blacks game by comparison. South Africa came with a game plan and they stuck to it. It wasn’t pretty but it got the job done and Warren Gatland, for all his mudslinging and pre- and post-match posturing, departs the Wales hot seat on a sour note despite an impressive record during his 12-year tenure which included three grand slams and four Six Nations titles.
Gatland leaves Welsh rugby in a far better place than he found it. Does that mean he should be given the coaching job for the next Lions tour? I’m not so sure, but that’s a debate for another day.
So, what can we expect from the final on Saturday? Well, there’s no doubt that it will be one of the most physical games of the tournament. The Webb Ellis trophy for 2019 will be won and lost up front – having a secure set piece and bossing the breakdown are the keys. Come out second best in these areas and you leave yourself with a mountain to climb.
It’s a tough one to call. England have shown that they have the power and the accuracy. They also have considerable flair out wide should they be able to spread the play. South Africa have plenty of power. They may lack the same level of accuracy and have failed to convert chances out wide when they have come their way.
That should give England the edge, but will it be enough? I think so. Rassie Erasmus has worked miracles with this Springboks side, but this may be a bridge too far for them. All will be revealed on Saturday (LIVE from 8am on eir sport 1).
It’s matchday five in the PRO14 this weekend with all four provinces in action once again following their wins last time out. Reigning champions Leinster welcome Dragons to the RDS on Friday night (LIVE on eir sport 1 from 7.15pm) following their less-than-impressive 3-0 victory over perennial kicking boys Zebre in Italy. That said, Leo Cullen’s side did enough to win the game despite playing badly and remain at the top of Conference A. Dragons, for their part, enjoyed an excellent 18-5 win over misfiring Glasgow which will give them a huge boost heading into this fixture.
Munster were too good for Ospreys at Irish Independent Park on Friday night, securing a valuable bonus point in their 28-12 victory. That puts them level at the top of Conference B with Connacht on 15 points, but they face a tougher challenge this weekend as they travel to Wales to take on Cardiff Blues (LIVE on eir sport 1 this Saturday from 7.30pm).
Connacht produced a sensational comeback at The Sportsground to hand Cheetahs their first defeat of the season. Two tries from substitute Thomas Farrell in the last ten minutes following Dries Swanepoel’s red card helped the home team turn around a 22-14 deficit to win 24-22 in what was probably the best game of the season so far. Cheetahs arrived in Galway off the back of three straight bonus point wins, but Andy Friend’s side dug deep to emerge victorious and now sit at the top of Conference B ahead of their trip to Ospreys on Saturday.
Ulster saw off the challenge of Cardiff Blues at the Kingspan Stadium in a tough encounter on Friday night. The home side led 17-0 at the break thanks to tries from Luke Marshall and Billy Burns and the boot of John Cooney, but Cardiff hit back strongly after the break with two tries of their own. However, two further penalties from Cooney kept daylight between the teams as Ulster ran out 23-14 winners in the end.
Dan McFarland’s men are currently third in Conference A, four points behind Leinster and just one behind Cheetahs. They will be looking to keep the pressure on the top two as they host Zebre on Friday night (LIVE on eir sport 2 from 7.30pm).
There’s plenty of LIVE PRO14 action on eir sport this weekend. In addition to the Leinster and Ulster games on Friday, we also have Scarlets v Cheetahs (LIVE on eir sport 1 from 2.55pm on Saturday) and Benetton v Edinburgh (LIVE on eir sport 2 from 5.10pm on Saturday) before the Cardiff v Munster game. That’s six-and-a-half hours of wall-to-wall rugby - after the World Cup final. Not bad!
By Kieran O’Daly
****See England v South Africa in the RWC final this Saturday LIVE on eir sport 1 from 8am.