Yokohama (Japan) – South Africa stunned pre-match favourites England 32-12 with a brutally effective forward display to win their third World Cup in Yokohama on Saturday.
The Springboks’ victory was built on a colossal performance by their powerhouse pack that allowed fly-half Handre Pollard to kick six penalties before Makazole Mapimpi’s 66th-minute try — the first the Springboks had scored in a World Cup final.
Fit-again fellow flyer Cheslin Kolbe then crossed from the other wing to put the result beyond doubt and set off celebrations for the South African public.
Victory ensured the Springboks made it three wins from three World Cup final appearances — after missing the first two editions because of apartheid — and maintained their record of being crowned champions at 12-year intervals following their 1995 and 2007 triumphs.
Saturday’s win also saw South Africa become the first team to win a World Cup having lost in pool play, after their opening defeat by reigning champions New Zealand.
It was a tactical triumph for South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus, who has overseen a Springbok revival after taking charge two years ago following a miserable 2016.
And there was heavy symbolism when Siya Kolisi, South Africa’s first black captain, lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in a moment to rival 1995, when then president Nelson Mandela was on hand to congratulate Francois Pienaar’s victorious team.
“We have so many problems in our country but a team like this, we come from different backgrounds, different races but we came together with one goal and we wanted to achieve it,” Kolisi said.
“I really hope we’ve done that for South Africa. Just shows that we can pull together if we want to achieve something.”
– Early blow –
For England, four years on from the humiliation of their first-round exit on home soil in 2015, it was a match too far after their quarter-final and semi-final wins over Australia and New Zealand.
A third defeat in four finals for England was also their second by South Africa, who defeated them 15-6 in the 2007 showpiece when Jones was a consultant to the Springboks.
And it meant there was no repeat of England’s 2003 World Cup final triumph when they beat an Australia side marshalled by their current coach, Eddie Jones.
“We just couldn’t get on the front foot. We were dominated in the scrum particularly in the first 50 minutes,” said Jones.
“They were too good for us at the breakdown today,” he added.
“Thats the great thing about rugby, one day you’re the best team in the world and the next a team knocks you off.”
England suffered a cruel blow in just the third minute when prop Kyle Sinckler went off after colliding with team-mate Maro Itoje as the lock tried to tackle Mapimpi.
South Africa’s forward pressure was rewarded in the ninth minute when England captain Owen Farrell was penalised for holding on.
Farrell equalised but South Africa forced a scrum penalty which Pollard, the goal-kicking hero of their 16-13 semi-final win over Wales, landed.
England, who had made such an impressive start to their stunning 19-7 semi-final victory over New Zealand, were struggling to get their backs into the game but Ford’s penalty allowed them to win a line-out on the edge of the Springboks’ 22.
At last England could launch wrecking-ball centre Manu Tuilagi as they drove to within a metre of the Springboks’ line, but excellent rush defence stopped them in their tracks before Farrell’s 35th-minute penalty again levelled the match at 6-6.
Pollard, however, ensured South Africa led again with a 47-metre penalty and they were 12-6 up at the break after veteran prop Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira forced Dan Cole, Sinckler’s replacement, into conceding a scrum-penalty again kicked by Pollard.
– Bomb squad –
Early in the second half, Erasmus ensured there was no let-up by bringing on props Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Kock — two of six forwards from among his ‘bomb squad’ of replacements — and their very first set piece saw England concede a fourth scrum penalty of the game.
Pollard was again on target from the tee.
England, however, managed a scrum penalty of their own in the 50th minute and Farrell succeeded from some 40 metres to cut South Africa’s lead to 15-9.
South Africa, making no secret of their tactics, formed a nine-man maul that forced England offside in the backline to give Pollard a simple penalty in front of the posts that put the Springboks two scores ahead at 18-9.
Farrell, England’s lone points-scorer, reduced the gap only for the Springboks to surge clear.
There were two hints of a forward pass in the build-up to Mapimi’s try after his kick ahead was passed back to him by centre Lukhanyo Am, but referee Jerome Garces let the score stand after consulting the television match official.
But there was no doubt about Kolbe’s effort as he sped past Farrell and prop Joe Marler.
“There are so many good things in South Africa. We always in the past seemed to look at all the bad things,” Erasmus said.
“We just decided ‘Listen, let’s stand together, and work really hard, play well on the field.’ And all the other things will then from that come out later and that’s what we did.”