South Africa clinched the World Cup in fine style as they beat England 32-12 in Yokohama on Saturday. Looking back over what was a fantastic tournament superbly hosted by Japan, it’s hard to disagree that the real winner was, in fact, sport itself.
The Springboks were worthy winners of the Rugby World Cup 2019. They improved with every game they played – the sign of a great team – and produced a brilliant display in the final on Saturday to simply blow pre-game favourites England away.
But it was what happened next that raised proceedings above the ordinary. When Springbok captain Siya Kolisi outlined what this victory would and could mean for his country, how it could inspire people at all levels of a divided society to work together to achieve common goals, it put everything into context and demonstrated once again how important sport can be in breaking down barriers and bringing people together.
It was a moment loaded with symbolism from a man who had slept on the floor of his family home throughout his formative years in a poor township outside Port Elizabeth. He had dared to dream and now he wanted all South Africans to do likewise to create a better future.
Francois Pienaar, captain when the Springboks won the trophy for the first time back in 1995 and who received the trophy from ‘16th man’ Nelson Mandela in a hugely symbolic moment after an historic victory over the All Blacks at Eden Park, believes that this is even bigger again as so many more people have access to media and were able to see it happen.
1995 signalled forgiveness, redemption and the re-birth of a nation following years of suffering and division. But, following years of corruption, South Africa is broken again and needs to be repaired. Hopefully, Kolisi’s dignified appeal will help to kick-start that healing process.
The final itself was excellent, a game truly worthy of the tournament that preceded it. England were hot favourites going into it and, after their dismantling of the All Blacks in the semi-final, very few people (me included) were expecting them to be so badly beaten. We knew the Springboks were getting better with every game, but they were like a team inspired on Saturday. England simply had no answers.
England have been accused of being one-dimensional before, of being unable to adapt when faced with an opposition game plan that didn’t allow them to impose their own plan on proceedings. It was levelled at them following their disastrous 2018 Six Nations campaign and reared its ugly head once again following their defeat to Wales in this year’s championship. However, such was their devastating progress through the tournament that these previous sins were all but forgotten – until Saturday.
When Kyle Sinckler got absolutely creamed at the first ruck less than a minute in, the English should have known something was up. They didn’t – and kept hitting their heads off the proverbial brick wall for the next 79 minutes. There was no deviation. Whatever they tried, the South African defence was there to push them back. It needed a Plan B. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one.
They were hammered in the scrum as well, conceding penalty after penalty as South Africa simply rolled them over. When one of your key possession platforms is as bad as that, it’s very hard to get a foothold in the game and England were always playing catch up.
After going into the final with such hope, and no small amount of expectation, it will be a bitter pill for Eddie Jones and the England team to swallow. Jones commented that the team were finished in the aftermath of the game and that a major rebuild was required. I’m not sure that is the case. A few of the squad are past their sell-by date – Dan Cole for one – but it is still a youngish team. The vast majority will be in their early 30s at most when the next World Cup comes around. They are hardly finished - it was probably Jones struggling to hide his disappointment.
Anyway, we’ve already seen that the four-year cycle doesn’t work when it comes to World Cup planning. It’s hard to look that far ahead. Rassie Erasmus took a two-year view, picking on form and including foreign-based players if he thought they were the right ones for the job. Ireland need to learn from that and so do England. The travails of this campaign will all be forgotten as soon as the Six Nations comes around in February.
World Cups may come and go but, thankfully, the PRO14 goes on forever. It’s provincial derby weekend in the PRO14, for the Irish sides at least, with reigning champions Leinster heading to Galway to take on Connacht on Friday night (LIVE on eir sport 1 from 7pm) and Munster hosting Ulster at Thomond Park on Saturday (LIVE on eir sport 1 from 4.30pm).
All four Irish sides have made solid starts to the season and occupy top and second spots in their respective conferences. The only unbeaten side left in the competition, Leinster ran in eight tries, with two apiece for wingers Dave Kearney and James Lowe, in a 50-15 demolition of Dragons in atrocious conditions at the RDS on Friday night.
It was an excellent performance from the reigning champions who, despite the heavy rain and slippery surface, produced some fine running rugby with top quality handling and link-up play. It leaves them top of Conference A with 24 points from a possible 25 after five matches.
Ulster are second in Conference A, five points behind Leinster, after overcoming a valiant Zebre side 22-7 at the Kingspan on Friday night. The Italian side have been much improved so far this season, but are yet to register their first win as tries from Dave Shanahan, Rob Lyttle and a penalty try sealed victory for the home side.
Munster produced a superb bonus point display to deservedly overcome Cardiff Blues 33-23 at the Arms Park to stay top of Conference B on 20 points. Tries from Chris Cloete, Albie Mathewson (2) and Calvin Nash helped the visitors to victory after the sides were tied 13-13 at the break.
Connacht, meanwhile, are in second place in Conference B, just a point behind Munster, after a well-earned 20-10 victory over Ospreys at Liberty Stadium gave them their fourth win in succession in the competition. First-half tries from Niyi Adeolokun and Peter Robb put the seal on a fine win which will give Andy Friend’s side plenty of confidence heading into the game against Leinster.
There’s a two-week break for the Champions Cup from next week which means we should see players who were away with the international squad begin to feature for their provinces once again, with the PRO14 set to resume for matchday seven on November 29th-30th.
By Kieran O’Daly
****Join us for matchday six of the PRO14 this weekend starting with Connacht v Leinster on eir sport 1 tonight from 7pm.