Rugby World Cup: ‘England could be at start of something great’

Matt Dawson

I cannot remember the last time I saw a team play as well as England did in their semi-final win against New Zealand.

Not only did it give me hope for Saturday’s final against South Africa, but if this is how England are going to play from now on, we are in for some glory days.

This is not just about this week and England possibly winning a World Cup, this could be the beginning of a legacy.

They were in the semi-final of a World Cup against a side who have won the past two tournaments. England were underdogs.

But there were times in that game when Eddie Jones’ side were so dominant that New Zealand had nowhere to go, and they knew it.

The All Blacks were running around in the backfield like they were playing sevens. It was as if England were playing against Uruguay.

New Zealand were getting smashed and making poor decisions, knocking the ball on and getting hit in the tackle.

It was wave after wave of relentless England pressure in defence, as well as very good attacking play.

I have never seen that in an England shirt before.

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‘There should be no excuses for England’

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England can play better in the final – Jones

After a performance of that quality the danger is everyone is going to look at England’s semi-final performance and think that is how they are going to play every week.

It is very difficult to put yourself in that mental state for back-to-back matches but that is what they will be aiming for.

England have had one fewer match in the tournament after their pool game against France was cancelled because of the typhoon. They have had one more day of rest this week.

There should be no excuses. The more I talk about it, the more edgy and nervous I get about whether England are going to win or not.

It should be a matter of how many – but it is the World Cup final and you do not win many of those at a canter.

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‘The week before a World Cup final can be oppressive’


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Before a match as big as a World Cup final, you are trying to occupy the downtime as much as possible with anything that is going to distract you.

It is difficult. You turn on the television and everywhere you look there is rugby. You put on BBC World News and there are pictures of bars in London going wild. It can get quite oppressive.

I remember in the week before the World Cup final against Australia in Sydney in 2003, I went for some breakfast with friends at a little beach club out of the way. There was nobody there.

It was just to have a morning off and chill out. You cannot think about rugby all day, all week.

The England players will be contacting friends and family, maybe trying to sneak out and go somewhere where there are not many fans around.

You start thinking about rugby, then the consequences and the outcome of the final and what the rest of your life could be like. England will be actively trying to blank out all that this week.

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‘A hugely physical, confrontational South Africa team’


South Africa’s players celebrate their semi-final win over Wales

After watching South Africa’s narrow victory against Wales, there is no question that England will be favourites. There won’t be any smokescreens being set up by head coach Jones trying to pretend they are underdogs in any way.

You do not see the Springboks getting anywhere near England, but the result could depend on how the game is refereed, what the conditions are like and the fitness of certain players throughout the week.

South Africa are a hugely physical and confrontational team but I can’t see them having as much dominance up front with the scrums or the rolling mauls as they did to obliterate and dominate Wales.

That means the Springboks have got to play a bit more rugby. They cannot kick their way to winning the World Cup.

Part of me thinks South Africa reached their Everest in the semi-final. There were big celebrations at full-time, they were parading round the pitch like they had just won it, whereas England did a quick lap and went straight down to the changing rooms.

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‘It has to be an exciting final, or England will win by a lot’


Eddie Jones and England defence coach John Mitchell watched the South Africa-Wales semi-final from the stands in Yokohama

South Africa’s semi-final win did turn into a bit of a boring kick-fest because that is what both teams wanted to do.

But I cannot see England wanting to do that. England have the ability to not only run back at South Africa but take them on physically.

They do not need to play a territorial kicking game and wait for South Africa to make a mistake.

I would not say that England are going to necessarily change their tactics dramatically. They will tinker with them to allow for how South Africa play but I do not think they are going to change their attacking shape too much.

If South Africa try and play like they did against Wales, England will soak it up and win by plenty.

If their backs, fly-half Handre Pollard and centre Damian de Allende, unleash a little bit then it will make it risky but it will be a cracking game.

It has to be an exciting final or England will win by a lot.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.