Rugby World Cup Final: South Africa vs. England
The IRB Rugby World Cup Final goes tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon, between Pool A winners South Africa against defending RWC champs and runners-up of the same pool, England.
The two teams met earlier at St. Denis, with the Springboks thrashing the Poms by a scoreline of 36-0.
On that day however, England started Mike Catt at flyhalf. England has since recovered and been on a roll with oft-injured wunderboy Jonny Wilkinson directing traffic. Wilkinson hasn't played particularly brilliantly at the tournament - his goal-kicking, ball-handling and defense are nowhere near his heroic levels of four years ago - but there's no question that England plays with more grit, determination and confidence when he's in their side. And in terms of skill, experience, leadership and been-there-done-that, I rate him higher at his position that his Bok counterpart Butch James.
Many experts always tip the team with the superior pivot - in this case, Wilkinson's England - but I expect the South Africans have a big advantage in team speed, at the breakdown and on defense. Their scrummage, lineout, mauling and rucking will match anything Dad's Army can throw at them, and they look more dangerous out wide. Fullback Percy Montgomery has also been a metronome with his goalkicking boot, and will be sure to punish every infringement in the English half.
Alas, the result may come down to errors, lucky bounces, referee decisions (i.e. dodgy yellow cards and missed forward-passes) and drop-kicks. For us neutral observers, let's cross our fingers and hope that it's an exciting game that does credit to the sport.
As for my predictions, I expect the Springboks to run away deserved winners by 12 points or more, and I hope they do.
A few months ago I rhetorically asked the question if England repeated as World Champions - and become the first team to ever do so - then would that make them the Greatest Rugby Team of All Time? The question was asked with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but if England does win they will also become the first team to win the Cup after losing a game in competition, and will prompt many questions about the value of a 4-year RWC cycle that marginalizes the annual test match calendar. We'll cross that bridge when we get there, but let's face it: England has been the absolute worst-ever defending RWC champ by a country-mile.
SOUTH AFRICA: 1. Os du Randt, 2. John Smit (captain), 3. CJ van der Linde, 4. Bakkies Botha, 5. Victor Matfield, 6. Schalk Burger, 7. Juan Smith, 8. Danie Rossouw, 9. Fourie du Preez, 10. Butch James, 11. Bryan Habana, 12. Francois Steyn, 13. Jaque Fourie, 14. JP Pietersen, 15. Percy Montgomery. RESERVES: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. Jannie du Plessis, 18. Johannes Muller, 19. Wikus van Heerden, 20. Ruan Pienaar, 21. André Pretorius, 22. Wynand Olivier.
ENGLAND: 1. Andrew Sheridan, 2. Mark Regan, 3. Phil Vickery (captain), 4. Simon Shaw, 5. Ben Kay, 6. Martin Corry, 7. Lewis Moody, 8. Nick Easter, 9. Andy Gomarsall, 10. Jonny Wilkinson, 11. Mark Cueto, 12. Mike Catt, 13. Mathew Tait, 14. Paul Sackey, 15. Jason Robinson. RESERVES: 16. George Chuter, 17. Matt Stevens, 18. Lawrence Dallaglio, 19. Joe Worsley, 20. Peter Richards, 21. Toby Flood, 22. Dan Hipkiss.
Date: Saturday, October 20
Kick Off: 21:00 (19:00 GMT, 20:00 BST) 03:00 pm ET (Toronto, New York)
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Conditions: Clear, dry, moderate north-easterly winds - max 12°C, min 2°C
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Touch judges: Joël Jutge (France), Paul Honiss (New Zealand)
Television match official: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Assessor: Michel Lamoulie (France)
Planet Rugby predicts South Africa to win by six points. Rugby Planet final preview, click here.
Setanta Sports in Canada is televising the game on a 26-hour delay (!!) at 5pm ET on Sunday. I will be shutting down my computer and not receivng any email messages or phone calls for the weekend in the hopes that I might be able to watch the game pretending it's live.