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England’s World Cup Final Defeat By South Africa Proves Warren Gatland Was Right

Just as England stopped the All Blacks from playing, so the Springboks did the same to Eddie Jones’s side.

Credit BBC/Getty Images

By Nick Evans

Warren Gatland was right about England after all. They played their “final” against the All Blacks and what struck me most is that their defeat by South Africa was so similar, just in reverse. Just as England stopped the All Blacks from playing, so the Springboks did the same to Eddie Jones’s side.

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I have wondered before that if you can stop England’s power game, stop them at the gainline, will they have the answers? In this instance, I would actually say that England did at least have some, just not enough against an inspired South Africa. It’s not as if England did not have any ideas, which is something that maybe they could have been accused of in the recent past.

We saw them trying to adapt. Jones made changes by bringing on Joe Marler and George Kruis. I could see what they were trying to do with their kick-chase – make the tackle and force the penalty and control things from there but while it had an impact early in the second half South Africa countered.

What a difference a week makes. England just could not get the kind of start that they did against the All Blacks. They could not get ahead and control territory to squeeze the life out of the Springboks. The opposite happened. I’ve been so impressed with England’s attack in the tournament but at one point in the second half Manu Tuilagi got the ball and up until then you would not have known he was playing.

Eddie has transformed England, but you have to marvel at what Rassie Erasmus has achieved

It would be easy to accuse England of nerves but I do not necessarily think that was the case. They would have been nervous before the semi-final. I speak from experience when I say that is when nerves are at their worst. You just want to get to the final, you are desperate to but once you get there, you loosen up a little. Maybe that was England’s problem, they were just a little bit too relaxed.

Nothing was sticking in the early part of the match. Against the All Blacks, everything was so fluid, England found their rhythm immediately. The Vunipolas made yards, so did Tuilagi, but this time they were not able to. They could not get the ball wide to their back three. Against New Zealand it was two big carries and then out wide but we did not see that. And that is when you see errors creep in like when Ben Youngs threw a pass out on the full. Or Billy Vunipola’s carry off the back of a scrum and then his loose pass. It was the right option, you can’t really fault England’s decision-making but their execution let them down.

I have said this before but it is so hard to back up an emotional performance with another one. England would have been so drained after the semi-final and in terms of getting the mindset right, it is so difficult to go again seven days later. I would not say they were overconfident or complacent, I think England were prepared for what was coming. As resounding as the scoreline was, it was ultimately a game of fine margins but the bounce of the ball went South Africa’s way on the night. England had their chances. They got to within three points but, thanks in the main to their set-piece dominance, South Africa were able to pull away, then two bits of magic and all of a sudden England are chasing shadows.

As much as I have been impressed with how Jones has transformed England, you have to marvel at what Rassie Erasmus has achieved with South Africa. Less than two years since they were beaten by almost 60 points by New Zealand, he gave his side the belief that they could win the World Cup. And they delivered.

They were so switched on for 80 minutes. Whether it be an inventive lineout, or the penalty that they won with the “mini-maul” right in front of the posts in the second half, mentally they were just so sharp. That may look like a cheap penalty for England to give away but actually it is evidence of clever thinking during the week by South Africa and it was extremely well constructed. They largely stuck to their guns, they did not listen to the outside noise and be tempted into changing their effective style and Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard kicked very well. Ultimately they just suffocated the life out of England.

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It was not quite the same as how they played against Wales but it was not too far off and they managed to force mistakes from England. We had not really seen that before in the tournament and all you can say from England’s point of view is that it just came at the wrong time. And it comes back to England’s inability to win the gainline.

Tom Curry and Sam Underhill had good games again but they were not able to be as effective as they had been in previous matches. Whenever they had a bit of joy, the Springboks back row were able to come up with a reply and Erasmus was able to bring on Francois Louw in the second half, which is such an advantage given how effective he is at the breakdown.

There is no shame for England, far from it. The country should be incredibly proud of what they achieved. They are a young team but they had the ability to win it. It was the right time for this group of players. They had the belief, they had achieved big wins over Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand this year.

It was not to be but the future is bright. England supporters have every reason to be excited when the pain subsides.

Evans wrote for the Guardian UK

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