Springboks clinch RWC title to sit alongside 1995 and 2007 successes
Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe tries, plus 22 points via the boot of Handre Pollard, saw a monstrously-physical South Africa seal a third Rugby World Cup triumph, beating an off-colour England 32-12 in Yokohama.
Owen Farrell notched all of England’s points off the tee courtesy of four penalties, but Eddie Jones’ side were punished for repeated errors and unable to get past a staunch South Africa defence.
The Springboks make history as the first nation ever to lose a Rugby World Cup game – their opening Pool B clash with New Zealand – and go on to lift the cup, while also becoming the first side to win a Rugby Championship or Tri-Nations title and World Cup in the same year.
England will be bitterly disappointed not to have reached the heights of their sensational semi-final defeat of the All Blacks last week, with the Springboks and skipper Siya Kolisi left to toast a marvellous performance.
The Springboks made a quickfire start to the contest when Courtney Lawes was caught the wrong side of a ruck inside the first minute, presenting Pollard a kickable penalty chance from just outside the England 10-metre line. The Bok fly-half, who was 100 per cent off the tee in semi-final victory over Wales, pushed his opening effort wide, though.
England lost starting tighthead Kyle Sinckler to a serious head injury moments later, forcing replacement Dan Cole on with 77 minutes of the final remaining. The first scrum upon Cole’s arrival yielded a dominant Springbok penalty, but having played away the advantage they lost the option to kick for goal.
Even still, signs were ominous for England as South Africa continued to force early pressure and made a breakthrough on nine minutes as Pollard lashed over a close-range penalty after No 8 Duane Vermeulen had won a superb breakdown turnover in the 22.
England continued to make mistakes but the Springboks failed to add to their score as Jones’ side were next to register – Kolbe playing the ball off feet in his 22, Farrell striking over to level against the run of play on 23 minutes.
Maro Itoje and Tom Curry failed to deal with the resultant restart, however, handing the Boks a scrum from which they forced another penalty. Pollard made no mistake again to restore a three-point lead.
Indiscipline from South Africa scrum-half Faf de Klerk allowed England to revisit the South Africa 22 – the nine slapping the ball down – before 27 phases of exhaustive possession was eventually halted by three Bok penalties, allowing Farrell to level the final once more.
South Africa replied instantly again, however, as Vermeulen forced another breakdown penalty and Pollard brilliantly dispatched a difficult effort from all of 50 metres.
In the final seconds of the half, Pollard was on target again as South Africa ground their way to a third scrum penalty of the half after an Elliot Daly knock on.
Five minutes into the second period, Rassie Erasmus made the bold decision to change both starting props – Tendai Mtawarira and Frans Malherbe making way for Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch. Scrum dominance was maintained – if not enhanced – though, as both drove forward to earn another penalty at the set-piece, Pollard again striking over from distance for a nine-point advantage.
A lineout knock-on handed England a scrum in the 51st minute, and with replacement loosehead Joe Marler on the park, the tables were turned as Jones’ charges romped forward for a dominant scrum penalty of their own. Farrell stepped up to nail his effort off the tee from distance, bringing the game back to a score.
Two minutes later, Farrell had a chance to narrow the gap to three points as an Anthony Watson tap-tackle on Pollard saw Curry latch on and earn a breakdown penalty – but though the response of players and fans in the stadium was euphoric, the centre missed his kick wide.
South Africa immediately made Farrell and England pay for that miss when an inventive maul formed in general play forced a penalty, which Pollard tapped over from straight in front.
Seconds later, England were on the scoreboard again as Malcolm Marx came in at the side of the first ruck after the restart and Farrell bisected the posts from inside the 22.
And then with 14 minutes left of the clock, the most pivotal moment of the final arrived as Lukhanyo Am and Mapimpi combined magnificently down the left – the wing kicking ahead for the centre to beat Ben Youngs in a foot race before shipping a pass back for the latter to score in the corner.
South Africa then put the result beyond all doubt with six minutes left as Kolbe – who had been largely anonymous throughout the final to this point – showed his exceptional talent to step past Farrell and sear to the line, prompting joyous Springboks scenes.