The Springboks this morning stand once again at the summit of world rugby. They are there for the second time in 12 years, the stunning, soaring climax to Jake White's extraordinary,four-year rollercoaster ride asnational coach.
The man whom so many back home wanted to sling out on his ear just 12 months ago had more reason than most to savour the sweet taste of success. And the Boks did it with their trademark mixture of physical power and sacrifice, ferocious commitment and belief.
Maybe, just maybe, for once the last of these was the crucial element, more so than even the others, which are the traditionalstruts of the South African game. For belief was essential when England threatened to hammer back at their foes early in the second half. They gave the South Africans a fearful fright when Mark Cueto appeared to have scored in the corner. It looked a try, but the Australian TMO, Stuart Dickinson, took an age before deciding Danie Rossouw's flying challenge had forced Cueto's left foot into touch before he grounded the ball. It was the crucial moment, the decision that turned the final.
This was a final where defence ruled, ambition was stillborn and caution was omnipresent. The Stade de France was packed to the rafters with an animated audience that welcomed crunching collisions with the relish of Roman emperors of old.
The Springboks had to draw the sting from the reigning champions and they did it not in haste but with a steady, inexorable negating of English hopes and ambitions. The South African defence won the game and that was highly appropriate, because this was a final dominated by defence at the end of a tournament that suffered likewise.
For most of the first half, the stadium had been remarkably quiet. Neither side seemed willing to risk much, preferring the safety of an aerial approach.
The kicking was incessant, high, long and low. It was about as entertaining as watching paint dry because so little of it was delivered with real precision. But this is what nerves and the big occasion do to players.
It was not until the 36th minute that we saw the first movement of any real substance or quality.The Springbok youngster Frans Steyn sparked it with an audacious trio of side-steps that opened up the England midfield defence like a tin-opener a can. Butch James, strong, powerful and assured at No 10 for South Africa, took it on into the 22, his second strong foray into such territory in a couple of minutes.
When play was switched left, John Smit was eventually stopped a yard short. But a knock-on frustrated the Springboks.
The mundane tactics had clearly bored most of the crowd for the first 40 minutes. England won some possession but only kicked it into the air. They found a strong Springbok defence ready for such tactics, Percy Montgomery and his back three catching with aplomb.
England persisted with the tactic, partly because they have no other real attribute in their game going forward. But they made little headway, and it was always the Springboks who looked the likelier side to make decisive breaks going forward.
The Springboks always knew they would have a hard, long night breaking down a well marshalled England defence, especially around the fringes. But White's team worked hard to find some space.
Juan Smith and Schalk Burger,the latter again conspicuous by his total commitment, worked feverishly. And just before the interval fellow back-rower Rossouw was only stopped a metre short of the England line as he surged forward off a Springbok scrum that twisted cleverly to open up the defence to the Boks' No. 8.
The Springboks tried to open up more often than their opponents. But for the most part they could not quite find the continuity they needed to stretch and then penetrate decisively the solid England defence. So the cagey, cat-and-mouse game went on. England tried to slow it down to their own advantage, the Springboks looked for width and pace on the ball. But once the Boks got out to a nine-point lead in the second half, they closed up shop. Mathew Tait was England's best player by a distance, but in truth the championsjust could not find a way through the immaculately organised Springbok defence.
It was not pretty, in fact it was ugly and mundane for the most part. But winning is all that matters in finals. South Africa have done it, at last.Reuse content