Who, besides Eddie Jones and his squad, truly believed England would arrive at a World Cup Final without a dose of 'lady luck'? Or as favourites to win the trophy?
After a 2018 where the wheels on 'Eddie's England' appeared to be falling off, the turnaround has been stunning. Over the last three years Jones' oft' repeated mantra "it's all about the World Cup" sounded like platitudes to divert from disappointing performances, second half capitulations, coaching resignations and training ground injuries. Anyone, like myself, who had reservations at one point, has to stand back, apologise and admit Eddie did know best.
After England's most complete performance in World Cup history against the two-time champion All Blacks, a replication of that intensity and accuracy is all they need to leave Japan with the Webb Ellis trophy. Far easier said than done. The dynamics of this game will be wholly different from the semi-final due to the opposition. South Africa are the most brutal and belligerent of teams. They appear to be backing the law of averages, playing very little rugby and looking to box kick their way to glory. Dull? Yes. Effective? Absolutely!
Personally, I understand but detest this negative approach. I could understand it from an underdog with limited resources or player pool. Wales, for example, used pragmatic tactics to overachieve in narrowly missing out on a final. South Africa, with more quality players to call upon than any side at the World Cup (yes, more even than England), and with danger men like Faf De Klerk, Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe, they could well win the tournament with a more attack-focused gameplan. I fear this final will be "one for the purists" (aka "boring") as the Bokke will kick relentlessly.
Referee Jerome Garces will have a huge role in the outcome of this game. Often the breakdown and the offside line can appear a free for all under his watch. If South Africa can slow down England's ball, as New Zealand couldn't, they'll drag them into an arm wrestle. This is the fight they want and one the Springboks would likely prevail in. If England's "Kamikaze Kids" Sam Underhill and Tom Curry however can gain a foothold at the breakdown and stay on the right side of Garces, everything else falls into place and England should win.
Perhaps, above all, it's the mental fortitude in the most pressurised of situations which will dictate the outcome of this one. With England's core formed from the Saracens' all-conquering club side, and some steely characters besides, I'm confident they'll deal with the occasion.
This will be a brutal heavyweight contest between the two biggest and most ferocious defensive sides in World rugby. I hope, and believe, England's accuracy in attack will land the knockout blow.