Planet Rugby

Springboks rule the world!

20th October 2007 21:45

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South Africa World cup trophy

We've done it! The Boks celebrate the title

South Africa have been crowned rugby world champions after they beat England 15-6 in a tense and attritional Final at Stade de France in Paris on Saturday.

There were no tries, but nobody had expected a try-fest. The game went completely to the form books, with the two teams smashing into each other rather than cutting through.

It was so tense, so close. There was a beauty in that tension as there was heroism in the intensity of two teams who played to become world champion with every fibre of their beings and with the complete focus of their minds and hearts.

Eventually, the final whistle gone, South Africa captain John Smit, smiling broadly but as composed as he always is, could say of the effort that had gone into the four years' preparation: "It's been worth every second of it."

Jean-Pierre Rives, the Inspirational former captain of France, and his son eventually brought the World Cup to the podium. Syd Millar, the chairman of the IRB, handed out the medals and then the players shook hands with dignitaries such as Bernard Lapasset, the president-elect of the IRB, Gordon Brown, the prime minister of Great Britian, Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, and Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, who wore a Springbok tracksuit top.

Sarkozy was handed the little gold cup by Millar and presented it to John Smit who called President Mbeki over and together they fulfilled every South African's dream of lifting the World Cup in victory.

There were long banners in South Africa's colours and scintillating fireworks. The Springboks lifted President Mbeki up onto their shoulders where he gleefully brandished the cup aloft. And then they went skipping about Stade de France, showing off the Webb Ellis Cup while South Africans cheered in Paris and many other cities and dorps about the world.

Throughout the length and breadth of South Africa shouts resounded that were part joy and part relief because, heavens, it was close. Car horns blared, toasts were drunk, cheering and laughter broke out, revelry was on the cards - it was the biggest national party since 26 June 1995.

History did a bit of self-repetition. No side that had lost in the pools, as England had, has won the World Cup. No side has won the cup back-to-back as England could have done. South Africa has now won two finals. In neither did the Springboks or their opponents score a try.

South Africa won and paid tribute to England. England lost and paid tribute to South Africa. It was an honourable contest between two honourable teams.

Each side had one real chance to score a try and each side failed. England came closer when Mathew Tait broke and Mark Cueto had a chance in the left corner, but as Danie Rossouw dived in desperation, the Englishman's left foot just clipped the touch-line. England had to settle for a penalty goal instead.

That was in the second half, much the better half for England as South Africa rarely got out of their half, for England dominated possession and, as a result, territory.

The first half increasingly belonged to South Africa. Just before half-time Francois Steyn burst ahead and they battered at the England line, Rossouw close off a five-metre scrum. South Africa settled for a penalty goal instead.

England were unrecognisable from the mediocre team of 36 days before when they lost 36-0. This time they gave as good as they got and were beaten but not vanquished - not at all.

There were some surprising features in the game. The England scrum was nothing like the dominant force it had been against Australia and in fact they lost a scrum to the wheel.

Their line-out was poor as they lost six throws to Victor Matfield and his fellow poachers. That the Springboks did so well at the line-out made their persistent failure to kick the ball out all the more incomprehensible.

There were two dominant features in the match - kicking high and bashing close. Both sides kicked a lot, without producing tries. Both sides bashed a lot without a great deal of gain. In fact the best maul of the match came when England drove one up via their centres.

The two breaks that nearly brought tries both came in the centres, the first when Steyn broke through Mike Catt and the second when Tait broke through Steyn.

Considering the amount of slogging the two teams did at each other, manners were excellent and penalties few - just 12 in the match, 7-5 to South Africa.

England did not have the lead at any time in the match. The Springboks scored first when Tait's red boots slipped and he held on. Percy Montgomery kicked the penalty that gave South Africa a 3-0 lead after six minutes.

South Africa were in trouble when Andy Gomarsall kicked and up-and-under and JP Pietersen dropped it. Bryan Habana then brought off a brilliant, scything tackle on Paul Sackey but satisfied with that he stayed on top of the England wing and conceded a penalty. Jonny Wilkinson goaled. 3-all.

Lewis Moody was penalised for a surreptitious trip and Montgomery made the score 6-3 after 15 minutes.

Soon afterwards their was a significant miss. Wilkinson dropped for goal from a favourable position and missed. Late in the second half he tried again, and missed.

They were both kicks one would have expected him to get. They were the only two drops he tried though in the second half of the second half one could well have expected him to drop at goal as England had a plethora of possession without really making headway towards the goal-line.

After Steyn's break and South Africa's pressure on their line, Montgomery goaled a penalty and the Springboks went into the break leading 9-3.

England made a change for the second half with Matt Stevens taking over from Phil Vickery. Eventually England would empty their bench where South Africa made only one real change - Wikus van Heerden for Rossouw with just nine minutes to go.

Two minutes into the second half, off an awkwardly bouncing ball, Tait slipped Steyn and raced straight down the middle of the field, stopped only by a brilliant tackle by Matfield on the South African line.

In desperation, Schalk Burger was illegal, but the referee played advantage till Cueto tried to squeeze in at the corner, a decision referred to the television match official who took a long time before advising that Cueto's foot had been in touch before he grounded the ball, as was clearly the case.

The referee then went back to the penalty against Burger, and Wilkinson made the score 9-6. In the next 38 minutes England did not score again.

Steyn again provided impetus as he thrust powerfully at the England midfield. He was tackled but Martin Corry conceded a penalty at the tackle, presenting Montgomery with a straightforward kick at goal. 12-6 after 50 minutes.

There was a nasty moment when Toby Flood chased a bouncing ball into the Springbok in-goal and shoved Montgomery in the back, sending the fullback over the advertising boards and into a television camera. Flood was apologetic but Montgomery was hurt.

Shortly afterwards, Ben Kay was penalised for obstruction and from just inside the England half young Steyn drove over a penalty goal of great length and accuracy. He had missed with a long kick in the first half - not by much - but this one was perfectly on course. That made the score 15-6 with 18 minutes to go, an important kick as it was forcing England to score twice to win.

England played most of the rugby at that time with South Africa using Montgomery, Steyn and Butch James to kick them back.

Then the time wore on and the Springboks mauled and bashed from a line-out and then, after Gomarsall had knocked on, they bashed from a scrum until the time dipped over 80 minutes and Fourie du Preez hoofed the ball into touch and started the winners' festivities.

Colin Mabey, an engraver, started working on the Webb Ellis Cup, digging South Africa's name into the gold of the base.

England formed a circle which Brian Ashton addressed with fervour. South Africa formed a circle and prayed.

With fervour and prayer over, the prizegiving took place with fireworks and colour and banners and confetti. What a moment, and what a fine end to a fine tournament.

Man of the Match: Every player who went onto the field deserves praise, from huge, battering Andy Sheridan and little, nippy Andy Gomarsall of England, from delicate Percy Montgomery to robust Bakkies Botha of South Africa, but if we have to choose one it would be Victor Matfield of South Africa for making England's line-outs so haphazard, for the try-saving tackle on Mathew Tait and for the best diagonal kick of the match. He is such a skilled giant.

Moment of the Match: The telling moment was Danie Rossouw's desperate dive that did just enough to keep Mark Cueto from scoring a try which may well have won the World Cup.

Villain of the Match: Nobody. It was a match without malice.

The scorers:

For South Africa:

Pens: Montgomery 4, Steyn

For England:

Pen: Wilkinson 2

South Africa: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Danie Rossouw, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 CJ van der Linde, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Os du Randt.

Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Johannes Muller, 19 Wikus van Heerden, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Andrť Pretorius, 22 Wynand Olivier.

England: 15 Jason Robinson, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Mike Catt, 11 Mark Cueto , 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Andy Gomarsall, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Martin Corry, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Phil Vickery (c), 2 Mark Regan, 1 Andrew Sheridan.

Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Matt Stevens, 18 Lawrence Dallaglio, 19 Joe Worsley, 20 Peter Richards, 21 Toby Flood, 22 Dan Hipkiss.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)

Touch judges: JoŽl Jutge (France), Paul Honiss (New Zealand)

Television match official: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)

Assessor: Michel Lamoulie (France)

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