TOKYO — South Africa and England will meet on Saturday in the Rugby World Cup final, a rematch of the championship decider that the Springboks won 15-6 in Paris in 2007.
It’s tipped to be a brutal contest dominated by physical forward exchanges punctuated by tactical kicking for territory, the 10-man style preferred by both nations. There is scope for both teams, though, for enterprising attack through the backs, primarily from England.
The Springboks are aiming to continue a pattern by claiming their third title 12 years after their second, which came 12 years after their first — the 1995 triumph on home soil.
England last won the title in 2003, beating Australia with an extra-time dropped goal in Sydney, and this will be a fourth final for the country that invented the game. England lost finals in 1991 — to Australia — and to the South Africans in ’07.
Here are some players to watch in the tournament’s deciding match at International Stadium in Yokohama:
SAM UNDERHILL AND TOM CURRY
One word to sums up the pair of them: immense. Dubbed the “Kamikaze Brothers” by head coach Eddie Jones, the two young England flankers have been a revelation at the World Cup, often overshadowing more experienced backrowers because of the energy they bring to the collisions. While lock Maro Itoje was a deserving winner of the player of the match award in England’s upset semifinal win over two-time defending champion New Zealand, the 21-year-old Curry and 23-year-old Underhill were instrumental in unsettling the All Blacks with their supply of turnover ball. Curry, short for a blindside flanker, was spotted by Jones in 2017 and earmarked for big things.
In what is expected to be an intense, physical forward confrontation, the England flyhalf could play a critical role not just as a tactical and place kicker but as an option to shift the ball to England’s backs. He was demoted to the bench for the quarterfinal win over Australia but restored to the starting lineup for the semifinals and played a cool hand. He adds an extra attacking dimension in conjunction with center pairing of captain Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi. He has been in and out of the starting XV in recent seasons depending on where Farrell has started, but the dual-playmaker option involving both natural 10s has become England’s go-to for this tournament.
A powerful, strong-running midfielder equally adept at playing 12 or 13 but a more dangerous threat with extra space at outside center. Scored England’s try in the second minute to stun the All Blacks, burrowing over from behind a ruck at close-range. At age 20 in 2011, was England’s youngest ever player at the Rugby World Cup, but trouble followed quickly. He was arrest for jumping off a ferry into Auckland Harbour. Tuilagi has a point to prove this year, having watched from home four years ago because he was suspended following an altercation with a taxi driver and police. Was troubled by hamstring and knee problems until 2017, but has returned to top form. Of the Springboks, he says: “They are big men and we are going to have to take it to them — we can’t wait for them to bring it to us.”