December 13, 2019
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    England v South Africa: 'George Ford has moved out of Owen Farrell's shadow'

    October 30, 2019

    England head coach Eddie Jones has ripped up the script when it comes to George Ford this World Cup - and it has turned out to be a masterstroke.The fly-half was named man of the match as he combined with captain Owen Farrell at inside centre to help England to victory in their final pool game against Argentina.wo weeks later, in England's first World Cup knockout match for eight years, Ford was on the bench as Farrell took his place at fly-half.

    Ford is only 26. A lot of people at that age would struggle with such uncertainty in their role, but his performance after being reinstated to the starting XV for the semi-final against New Zealand was testament to his mental strength.Surely that will be enough to get him a starting sport for Saturday's final against South Africa? If it is, former England fly-half and BBC Radio 5 Live pundit Paul Grayson believes Ford can reach even greater heights."There is no doubt George Ford will have an influence on the World Cup final," Grayson said.

    "South Africa will come with an almost hysterical physicality. Confrontation is not the way to overcome them, so they will need the guile, vision and class of Ford and Farrell's partnership at some point."It could be the key to England winning the final."Ford's only start at the 2015 Rugby World Cup was in the dead-rubber victory over Uruguay in the pool stages
    The World Cup quarter-final against Australia was not the first time Jones has changed Ford's role. Over the past year, the Leicester playmaker has started at 10 for England eight times and come off the bench on nine occasions.
    During this year's Six Nations, Jones preferred Farrell at 10 with Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi in the midfield, but looked to have switched to a combination of Ford, Farrell and Tuilagi for the World Cup.Ford has been on this journey with another coach too. He was a regular starter before the 2015 World Cup, but was dropped by former England coach Stuart Lancaster for pool games against Wales and Australia.More recently, Ford started at fly-half in England's first two Tests against South Africa in June 2018, before being replaced by Danny Cipriani for the final match after the side were beaten twice.
    Undeterred, Ford has always strived to be better - he spent the rest period that followed last season coming up with a detailed plan to improve - and Grayson says he has come back stronger."He's 26 but he's been around men's rugby since making his debut for Leicester at 16 years old," Grayson added."When I first saw him play, he played with the freedom you would expect of someone that age, unencumbered by expectation or nerves."That went away. That bright, shining light disappeared for a couple of years with some setbacks. I see that back now with the way that he's playing."Now he understands the game. I see the same instinctive, comfortable play that the unfettered mind of a breakthrough 17-year-old superstar has."That's a hard thing to get back when you've lost it."'George has moved out of Owen's shadow'
    George Ford and Owen Farrell
    Despite these setbacks, Ford and Farrell have formed a formidable partnership, playing together at 10 and 12 more than any other duo in top-tier internationals since the last Rugby World Cup.The Ford-Farrell axis was a big factor in England's 2016 Grand Slam victory and could yet be part of the national side winning a second World Cup.It would be a childhood dream come true for two friends who used to play rugby on the street together when they were neighbours as kids.The older of the two, Farrell has often stolen the limelight since those days - but Grayson believes the way Ford has coped with this and continued to contribute to England's success shows the faith he has in Jones' plan."Coaches, like anybody else, don't always get it right, but they think as hard as anybody in the world about their jobs and about the right way to do things," he explained.
    "If a coach is true to his word on what you have to do to get into their team, or what role they want you to fulfil, it creates and maintains trust."Ultimately, you want to start every game and play 80 minutes. As a goal-kicker you want to kick all the goals, guide your team and write the headlines."The fact that George has taken it on the chin and accepted what happened in the quarter-final, then come back and played as well as he did in the semi-final tells me that he's incredibly mature and has a good relationship with Eddie Jones and the rest of his team-mates."Now, when George and Owen are on the field together they're equally as important. George has moved out of Owen's shadow."
    Rugby World Cup final: England's Billy Vunipola welcomes Springbok challenge
    From the sectionRugby Union
    Those comments were echoed by England defence coach John Mitchell, who said the final features the "two most powerful ms in the world".Vunipola said: "South Africa are very big people but then again we have a few big blokes on our team."
    England head coach Eddie Jones has previously said Vunipola can be the best number eight in the world, and the Saracens forward was influential in his side's victory over defending champions New Zealand in their semi-final.But the 26-year-old has never won a Test match against opposite number Duane Vermeulen, who was equally impressive as South Africa edged past Wales in their semi with a dominant performance in the forwards."I've played against them a few times and he's got up so I'm going to try my best to win that little battle," Vunipola said."I played against him last summer and he was monumental in terms of getting them those two victories."He just played better."Not just me, but we've got to try and negate his influence."
    Mitchell, who coached New Zealand in their semi-final defeat by Jones' Australia in 2003, says England must "earn" their victory over the Springboks."South Africa are strong and well coached and the gain line is going to be huge," the England defence coach said."They play in a particular way, but you must always be prepared for anything that comes at you. They have their own armoury and it's exciting."Against New Zealand we dealt with a lot of speed, a lot of footwork, but South Africa are certainly going to be a team that is more direct."Pressure is definitely going to come at us and that asks questions of your fundamentals."
    However, Mitchell also said his side are "adaptable" and can play more than one way."We are really excited by the week," he added. "In reality, all we have done is present ourselves with another opportunity at the right end of the tournament."We want to get better and we feel we can get better as well. Everyone is really calm and eager to get on to their work."'Honoured and delighted'Jerome Garces will referee the final, becoming the first Frenchman to officiate in the sport's showpiece event.World Rugby announced the appointment on Tuesday of the 46-year-old, who has refereed 55 Tests, including 11 World Cup games.

     

    The Springboks will hope there is no omen in the fact Garces was in charge for their most embarrassing defeat - the shock defeat by Japan in a World Cup pool game in Brighton four years ago.However, the Frenchman was also in charge for their most recent Test victory over Wales in the last four."I am honoured and delighted to be appointed to referee the Rugby World Cup 2019 final," Garces said."It is a dream as a referee."
    Garces has enjoyed a glittering final year of his career after he refereed the European Champions Cup final between Leinster and Saracens in May, as well as the French Top 14 final between Toulouse and Clermont in June.He has shown a total of six yellow cards at the tournament so far but has not sent off anyone.
    Can Faf de Klerk be stopped in World Cup final?
    By Alex Bysouth

    BBC Sport

    From the sectionRugby Union 963
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    Faf de Klerk celebrating after South Africa beat Wales in the Rugby World Cup semi-final
    Faf de Klerk has made 29 appearances for South Africa
    Rugby World Cup final: England v South Africa
    Venue: Yokohama International Stadium Date: Saturday, 2 November Kick-off: 09:00 GMT
    Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.
    In a South Africa side packed with giants, it is the 5ft 7in scrum-half who stands out.

    The Springboks' route to the World Cup final has been characterised by the grunt and guile of their hulking forwards and dominant physical displays.

    But directing the Bok brutes around the pitch in both attack and defence has been Faf de Klerk, the blond-locked, box-kicking number nine.

    So who is the scrum-half dubbed "mini Hercules" who moved to Sale Sharks to reinvent himself? And how do England stop him?

    The Springbok rediscovered at Sale
    It is just over three years since De Klerk made his Springboks debut in a defeat by Ireland in Cape Town, but it threatened to be a short-lived foray into international rugby.

    With De Klerk in the team, South Africa lost eight of his first 11 Tests between June and November 2016.

    Six months later, and with a stipulation in place meaning players with fewer than 30 caps who moved abroad could not represent the Springboks, De Klerk left South African side Lions for Sale Sharks.

    England proved to be an unlikely springboard back into a green and gold jersey.

    "The main thing for me when I got to Sale was I got put in a role where I needed to make a difference in the team," said the 28-year-old.

    "A lot of responsibility came my way in terms of how we wanted to play, how we wanted to kick, how we wanted to play our running game.

    "I started kicking for poles a lot more, started doing kick-offs. I played a lot of rugby, got a lot of starts, and the head coach Steve Diamond backed me continuously."

    Eighteen months after De Klerk's last cap, South Africa boss Rassie Erasmus decided his Sale form could not be ignored and the scrum-half made a try-scoring return in the 42-39 win over England in Johannesburg in 2018.

    "Coming back into the South Africa squad with Rassie and everyone we worked with in 2016, it was just a similar thing - the coach backing the players and knowing what they can bring," explained De Klerk.

    "It's then up to us as players to execute whatever they give to us."

    'Smallest guy on the pitch' leading the fight
    Faf de Klerk squares up to Wales' Jake Ball
    De Klerk said he was "just great friends" with Jake Ball after their semi-final clash
    A year since his return and De Klerk is now first pick among three quality South Africa scrum-halves.

    He put in a man-of-the-match performance as the party-pooping Springboks squeezed the life out of Japan to knock the hosts out in the quarter-finals.

    Then, asked if South Africa could win the World Cup after beating Wales in the semi-final, De Klerk simply laughed and said: "Yes."

    But he has not escaped criticism at home from those who feel his kicking game often gives possession away too cheaply.

    In the victory over Wales, the Springboks had just 39% of the ball and a 38% share of territory - which De Klerk says was all part of the gameplan.

    "We've bought in to what we want to do every week. Part of our success is that everybody is on the same page with that," he said.

    "I'm pretty excited for when I get a good kick up in the air and I can really start chasing because I know it's a 50-50."

    He's not one to shirk confrontation on the pitch, either.

    Footage of De Klerk going nose to nose with Wales lock Jake Ball, who stands 25cm taller than him, went viral on social media and saw the Springbok scrum-half depicted in a series of memes.

    "We're great friends. It was just a nice moment between us," joked De Klerk afterwards.

    "I do enjoy getting physical, it's part of the game, and you do need to be up for it, especially against a team like Wales.

    "So if I can, as the smallest guy on the pitch add a bit of it, that just gives motivation to the rest. So I need to be up for it."

    'Bring it on' - Vunipola welcomes Springbok challenge
    Rugby Union Weekly at the World Cup: Eddie's hotel, Curry's new cats and dodgy tattoos
    The 'mini Hercules' you hear before you see
    Faf de Klerk puts up a box-kick
    De Klerk joined Sale Sharks from the Lions in 2017
    Sale wing Chris Ashton, who has 44 caps for England, rates his Sharks team-mate as the "best nine in the world".

    "When he's on point I struggle to find a better one," Ashton told the Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

    "You cannot find a defending nine like Faf - he's smashing people. He's like a mini Hercules.

    "The way Faf plays the game, he likes that control and likes to feel as though he is an essential part to what the team is doing.

    "You almost don't need a 10 when he's playing - he runs, passes, kicks. You get that feel from him that it's almost his team."

    Sale flanker Ben Curry is flying to Japan to watch identical twin brother and England international Tom face team-mate De Klerk in the final.

    Curry says the South African brings a great energy to the club both on and off the pitch - although the Sharks' WhatsApp group has been quieter since he's been away.

    "You hear Faf before you see him," Curry told BBC Sport.

    "He's very loud, he dominates and controls the room, whether that is rugby or whether it is a social situation. He is the centre of attention.

    "That's great as a scrum-half, you want your scrum-half doing that. That's why he commands a game so well. He can walk into a room and command that.

    "What you see on a pitch is kind of what you get off the pitch."

    Springboks will grind out final - Erasmus
    How do England stop him?
    Ben Youngs and Faf de Klerk
    England scrum-half Ben Youngs and South Africa's Faf de Klerk will face each other on Saturday
    England scrum-half Ben Youngs described De Klerk as a "busy guy who likes confrontation" before pointing out he has already come up against two world-class opponents in the knockout stages in Australia's Will Genia and New Zealand's Aaron Smith.
    However, with England having to call up Ben Spencer as a late replacement for substitute scrum-half Willi Heinz this week, World Cup winner Matt Dawson believes starting nine Youngs could become a Springbok target.Dawson says Eddie Jones' side must pay De Klerk similar attention."Everything centres around Faf de Klerk," the former England scrum-half told BBC Sport."If you were in South Africa's shoes, would you be looking at England and thinking they have got no replacement scrum-half so they should target Ben Youngs?
    "Do they try and physically intimidate him and put him off his game? That is what you would be trying to do with Faf de Klerk"Maro Itoje is going to try and charge down his kicks. If he has a dart around the fringes he has got to be swallowed up, swung around like a rag doll and put back down."If you take his energy away then South Africa are running low on other avenues to inject any kind of energy into their own team."The Rugby Union Weekly team travel to Yokohama to cover the 2019 World Cup semi-finals

    Springboks will grind out Rugby World Cup final - Rassie Erasmus
    From the sectionRugby Union 707
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    South Africa have won both Rugby World Cup finals they have played, against New Zealand in 1995 and England in 2007
    2019 Rugby World Cup final
    Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama Date: Saturday, 2 November Time: 09:00 GMT
    Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, plus live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app
    Coach Rassie Erasmus has promised South Africa will stick to their physical, confrontational style in Saturday's Rugby World Cup final against England.

    In their dour semi-final win over Wales the Springboks had the minority share of possession (39%) and territory (38%), but Handre Pollard's boot and their powerful pack were key.

    "We're in with a chance," said Erasmus.

    "I don't think the final will be won by a very expansive gameplan and wonderful tries. We'll go and grind it out."

    Wales coach Warren Gatland warned England they may have peaked too early after a superb semi-final performance proved too good for defending champions New Zealand in the other half of the draw.

    "We have seen teams play their final in the semi-final and don't turn up for the final," he said.

    "We will see what England do."

    Erasmus is anticipating a tactical battle against England with the two sides well aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses following four meetings in 2018.

    England's meetings with South Africa with Jones and Erasmus at the helm
    Date Result Total tries
    9 June 2018 South Africa 42-39 England Ten
    16 June 2018 South Africa 23-12 England Four
    23 June 2018 South Africa 10-25 England Two
    3 November 2018 England 12-11 South Africa One
    England lost a Test series in South Africa 2-1 in June 2018 before edging a tight contest at Twickenham in November of the same year.

    Those encounters began with the teams sharing 10 tries in Johannesburg and finished with only one in their autumn clash, as the trend moved towards lower-scoring contests.

    "They're obviously much better than the last time we played them," said Erasmus of England.

    "You could see that the way they dismantled New Zealand. We've played England four times in the last 18 months, it's 2-2... we're accustomed to the way they play."

    Scrum-half Faf de Klerk echoed his coach's claim that South Africa would not stray far from the template they used against Wales in reaching the final.

    "Pretty much the same as tonight, it's going to be a physical, kicking game, they don't like to play out of their half at all," he said.

    "I think it's going to come down to little moments, if you get an opportunity to score you need to use it and, if not, you're probably going to end up losing that game."

    Asked if South Africa would take their chances to win the game, De Klerk responded with a resounding "Yes!" before being led away by a press officer.

    However Lood de Jager admitted the Springboks, who beat New Zealand by two points in Wellington in September 2018 before taking a draw on their return in July, were taken aback by the relative comfort of England's 19-7 win over the All Blacks.

    "The margin of victory surprised us a bit," the Sale-bound second row said.

     

    Watch best moments as South Africa beat Wales to reach World Cup final
    "I always thought it was going to be 50-50 because England are a quality side, but the way they beat the All Blacks was quite comprehensive; it was a great performance.

    "I think England are the favourites and on their performance last night they deserve to be but, for us, we have a foot in the door and anything can happen.

    "If you've watched finals in the past, it's always been tough. Look at 2011. Nobody gave France a chance and they almost beat the All Blacks in New Zealand."

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