Against Australia and France, England showed the world how to close down a game and come out with a victory – the Springboks were watching and that’s exactly what they did to the former World Champions last night.
England’s strength in the quarter- and semi-final was at the set piece, where Andrew Sheridan ruled the scrums and Ben Kay lorded over the lineout. Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha were the undisputed kings of this domain in the match that mattered most.
England lost seven lineouts and couldn’t steal a single one from the opposition, and they could not exert the same pressure at the scrum as in previous weeks. Without that dominance, there was simply no way through the green and gold defence, led heroically by Juan Smith.
On the only occasion that it cracked, Mathew Tait went searing through midfield and Mark Cueto was put over in the corner only to be denied by the finest of margins – the evidence looked inconclusive, but the Australian television match official was never going to award the try to England, that everyone hates so much!
In fact, images in today’s paper showed that the decision was correct, but the non-try was undoubtedly the key moment. John Smit gathered his troops behind his try line and gave a rallying call to arms – for the remainder of the game, England were running into brick walls, fortified by the Springbok hunger for the Cup which they were just moments from lifting.
It wasn’t a classic, but it was gripping, and will have sent a message to the southern hemisphere boo boys that dislike the defence-based gameplan so much. Defences win World Cups, and Smith’s brutal band of Boks won it last night.
England return with their heads held high, having lifted themselves from the shameful abyss into which they fell a month ago, and their determination to restore pride can only be admired. The curtain comes down on the greatest World Cup ever, and the countdown to New Zealand 2011 begins.