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England primed to inspire generation

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At the risk of being labelled an arrogant Englishman, this group is primed to inspire a new generation - Andy Goode

At the risk of being labelled an arrogant Englishman, this group of England players look primed to inspire the next generation of rugby players in their country. We have all seen the drive on social media and elsewhere for people to go and watch the World Cup final at a local rugby club in England and victory would leave a lasting legacy.

The triumph of Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson and co in 2003 did make a real difference, including influencing many of those taking part in this final, and a second World Cup win 16 years on would be huge for the country.

Eddie Jones told us all four years ago to judge him on the World Cup and there have been some bumps along the way, with poor form last year and some questionable comments in the media in particular, but it looks like he has got his planning spot on for this tournament.

South Africa are the sizeable hurdle that stand in the way of him and his goal and they will present a different test to the All Blacks. There is no disguising the way they play – it’s going to be a huge physical confrontation and England will have to match them up front.

England have bullied Ireland physically in the recent past and they have the power to combat what is coming but that gain line battle will be key in determining who comes out on top.

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Finals are normally cagey affairs and the kicking game is clearly going to be important. The Springboks kicked the ball 37 times in open play against Wales last Sunday and Handre Pollard was superb marshalling his troops.

Faf de Klerk loves a box kick, too, so we can expect a fair few aerial contests. Neither Elliot Daly nor Willie le Roux are what you would describe as commanding full-backs under the high ball so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top in their head-to-head.

George Ford has retained his place at fly-half and he was outstanding against New Zealand, as he has been throughout the tournament. There would have been a temptation to bring Henry Slade in, as they did for the quarter-final versus Australia, with Damian de Allende posing a similar physical threat to Samu Kerevi. But Ford’s kicking out of hand will be vital.

 

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Tom Curry and Sam Underhill have rightly received rave reviews and their battle against Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi in the back row will be fascinating. I just hope referee Jerome Garces doesn’t have too big an effect on the game because there won’t be any communication at the breakdown, so who adapts best to him will have an advantage.

I can’t wait to see the battle between my old team-mate Tendai Mtawarira, aka ‘The Beast’, and Kyle Sinckler. The Quins prop has been brilliant thus far but he is in for a real test at scrum time.

There were some concerns about England’s lineout ahead of the semi-final, but Maro Itoje was the man of the match against New Zealand and that wasn’t an issue. But it will be another tough examination up against Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and co in this one.

South Africa’s mantra is ‘defence wins championships’ and they might be right – they have only conceded four tries in the whole tournament – but England’s attack can move them around enough to create the holes necessary to win the game.

They don’t play any rugby in their own half and will look to win the territory battle but if England can up the tempo, put width on the ball and run the sort of sharp decoy lines that they have been doing, there is a lot of space to be had out wide.

The Springboks are the ultimate pragmatists and the last thing England will want is for the game to be slowed down at every opportunity and for it to turn into a purely physical battle of muscle.

Cheslin Kolbe’s return is massive as he is the one real spark who can offer the Boks something truly different and special. He’s a jack in the box and if you kick loosely to him, you will be punished. When South Africa have beaten New Zealand in the recent past he has often been the x-factor.

He is up against Jonny May, who has the chicken voice in his head and has the capacity to do the unpredictable as well, so their match-up could be fun.

Kolbe has been nominated for World Rugby player of the year, which should tell you all you need to know, but the list is a bit of a strange one with Curry the only England nominee. That just shows how balanced England have been across the board, though.

England fans won’t want to read that this World Cup has been a huge success whether they win or lose in the final, but it has really been a success given the way they have played and the fact that almost all of the squad should be available in four years’ time.

Jones put his neck on the line when he asked to be judged on the World Cup and he has come good so far. One more step and the knighthood will be on its way!

If they achieve his ultimate goal and win the World Cup, the effect will be enormous. Kids across the country will be taking up rugby in even greater numbers and desperate to become the next Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi and others.

The players won’t be thinking about that or the life-changing opportunities that will come along with it for them personally, nor should they. But the impact would be huge and far-reaching. The world is at their feet and they look primed to take their chance.

WATCH: Former World Cup winner Neil Back sits down with RugbyPass to recall England’s 2003 triumph in Australia

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At the risk of being labelled an arrogant Englishman, this group is primed to inspire a new generation - Andy Goode