Rassie Erasmus this week laid his cards on the table by saying that the Springboks would not be changing anything in terms of personnel nor game plan. When challenged on this he said he was “not bluffing”.
I am an experienced poker player … he is bluffing!
He claims the squad have only had 160 minutes of practice time since the semifinal to prepare for the final and therefore not enough to practice anything new. If you believe that then you also believe in father christmas and the tooth fairy. They have had multiple camps and been on the road together for 18 weeks. It is inconceivable that a coach of Rassie’s stature would not have practiced a few variations of the plan with his team. Rassie is well known for his in-depth analysis of opponents. He knew the best way to beat Japan and Wales. He will vary his plans for England as he knows they are a different beast.
He will have noted England’s defensive stats in their previous games that reveal the following: New Zealand beat 34 England defenders in the semifinal, made 12 clean breaks, 154 runs, carried over the gain line 44 times and forced England into 34 missed tackles. In the quarterfinal, Australia made 14 clean breaks, beat 21 defenders and forced 21 missed tackles. England’s defence is good but there are gaps.
Furthermore, England regained nine kicks against Australia and seven against the Kiwis and with their strong and pacy back three of Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson and Jonny May, Rassie knows that it would be suicidal to kick the ball down their throats.
Instead, Rassie will look to his big ball carriers to break England’s gain line – most likely targeting the 9-10 channel where flyhalf George Ford is considered a little lightweight. He may look to use the switch pass, allowing Damian de Allende to cut back into the weakest axis of England’s defence with one of his head-down bulldozing runs. This will only happen in England’s half though as he will be wary of England’s “kamikaze kids” – Tom Curry and Sam Underhill – getting to the breakdown early and creating turnovers or penalties for holding on.
Interestingly, England won 15 turnovers against New Zealand, 10 in their opponents’ half while South Africa didn’t allow Wales to get a single quick ball all game. This prevented Wales from getting any backline moves going because they needed 4 players to win the breakdown on their own ball versus the Springboks’ 2, thereby allowing the Boks to spread their defence. Despite the Boks only winning 3 turnovers vs Wales, they achieved their main goal of slowing the Welsh ball down. This is an area where the Boks won’t change anything against England and England will not enjoy the same amount of quality ball that they received in the semifinal. They also won’t have the same amount of time to execute backline moves with the Boks rush defence operating at full speed.
Another interesting stat to chew on …
The last three times a side that has beaten New Zealand in the quarters or semis has failed to go on and win it all. Australia did it in 2003, and France twice in 1999 and 2007, but neither went on to win the tournament.
Beating the All Blacks is a feat of its own that can take a lot out of a team. It would be very impressive if England were able to reproduce the level that they delivered against NZ last week.
Have England already played their final as Warren Gatland suggested?
** Stats courtesy of Gareth Jones from Sporting Life