Rugby World Cup 2019 final prediction: who will win and kick-off time for England v South Africa
England are bidding to win the Webb Ellis Cup for only a second time while Springboks have won the World Cup twice previously
Final: England v South Africa, Saturday, 1pm UAE
It was unthinkable to my mind that England could play any better against the All Blacks than they did in their previous match against Australia. It just goes to show how wrong I can be.
The game was lit up with less than two minutes on the clock as Manu Tuiliagi, the scourge of New Zealand at Twickenham in 2012, crossed over for a try to give England a lead they would never relinquish.
While most are predicting a battle of the forwards – none more so than Rassie Erasmus and Billy Vuinipola – it's hard to see England surrendering as much territory to the Springboks as Wales did. And while the South Africans may have pinpointed Wales' back line as susceptible under the high ball, Willie Le Roux has looked more uncomfortable than most in Japan when the ball hurtles back down to earth, so don't be surprised to see England give the Boks a taste of their own medicine in Yokohama.
Rugby World Cup 2019 team of the semi-finals: England players dominate XV
England coach Eddie Jones has been doing his best to wind up Warren Gatland this week, telling the departing Wales coach to "enjoy the play-off" (now, now, play nicely, children), but the Australian has not been given nearly enough credit for the makeup of his side that systematically picked New Zealand apart in the 19-7 semi-final victory.
In a reverse ferret, horses-for-courses approach, George Ford was dropped to the bench for the quarter-final win over Australia but restored at fly-half for the game against the All Blacks.
If New Zealand saw the slight-of-frame England No 10 as a chink in the defensive armour, they were sorely mistaken. Ford made 15 tackles against the All Blacks, second most of any England player.
And while Maro Itoje – has there ever been a bigger nuisance to New Zealand in one game than the Saracens lock? – Tom Curry and Sam Underhill blunted the All Blacks attack, it is perhaps the performances of their fellow forwards with ball in hand where the game will be won against the Springboks.
Prop or playmaker? Kyle Sinckler's dual role of smashing opponents and supplying passes to put teammates into space has been a feature of England's play in the knockouts. The tighthead will relish showcasing his skills in the loose every bit as much as packing down opposite Tendai "The Beast" Mtawarira in the scrum.
Jamie George will be kicking himself for the wayward throw that led to a New Zealand try, but the England hooker showed neat footwork to set up a couple of England breaks in the opening 40 minutes to lighten the loads of human battering rams Mako and Billy Vuinipola, who is due a big performance.
Because of tactical substitutions, we are unlikely to see a duel between George and Malcolm Marx, arguably the best No 2 on the planet, but used more off the bench these days after Bongi Mbonambi has bludgeoned opponents.
The restoration of Cheslin Kolbe to the wing has immediately made South Africa a more exciting prospect to watch than anything they served in in 80 minutes against Wales. With Jonny May winning his fitness battle, let's hope the two quicks see plenty of the ball.
As romantic as it might be to see a black player captain a Springboks team to World Cup glory, my gut feeling is that England are every bit a match for Siya Kolisi and the rest of the giant South African pack; Ben Youngs will get the better of Faf de Klerk and that Anthony Watson, superb in the win over New Zealand, will add to his tally of one try so far in Japan.
Prediction: A tight first half before England open up in the second to pull away by 7-10 points. England world champions for a second time
Updated: November 2, 2019 08:35 AM