Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

Consider a donation if you like what you see here!

Did you know?
We published The Runner's Body in May 2009. With an average 4.4/5 stars on Amazon.com, it has been receiving positive reviews from runners and non-runners alike.

Available for the Kindle and also in the traditional paper back. It will make a great gift for the runners you know, and helps support our work here on The Science of Sport.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

RWC 2007: South Africa 15 - England 6: SA World Champions!

South Africa are the Rugby World Champions for a second time! They won tonight's final against a spirited but sterile England side who probably outdid themselves even reaching the final. But the reality is that South Africa were never really challenged and by big final standards, won the game relatively easily. In our previous post, we predicted 20-9 as the winning score for South Africa. It was 15-6, five penalties to two, and a fair reflection of the game, as it turned out.

A game according to the script

The game went very much according to plan (for SA, that is). 80 minutes of sporadic kicking, which was at times very aimless, made for a fragmented game. As finals tend to be, this one was tight, and I can recall about three line breaks in the entire match, but not one resulted in a try.

England's game

For England, it was a bridge too far, though many would have thought the same when they'd made the semi-final. But they simply had no firepower. Their tactics were a little perplexing, because it was quite apparent that they would not breach the South African line, even in another 80 minutes. They used Wilkinson as a ball distributor, standing so far in the pocket that the Springbok defence were never even stretched. Play moved from one side of the field to the other, but they never looked threatening.

They did create the best chance of the game, when Matthew Tait broke through and Mark Cueto was denied a try by a blade of grass and a foot that just scraped the touchline as he dived for the corner. It was the only time England threatened a try.

Yet despite this apparent ineffective attack, they seemed dead-set against using Wilkinson to keep in touch with SA using the drop goal method. There were easily five opportunities for England to set up a drop goal attempt in the second half - the one occasion they did, it went wrong, and they didn't go back to that method again. Their willingness to run the ball, later forced by their deficit, was to their credit, but as noted, there was just no penetration in their attack.

Wilkinson's kicking from hand was ordinary, lacking distance and accuracy. South Africa won the kicking contest hands down. They could afford to kick for touch, knowing that their towering lineout would pressure the English and win the ball back more often than not. They did not have the expected dominance in the scrums, and at the breakdown, couldn't force the penalties they eventually needed if they were going to win the match. All in all, brave, a performance to take pride in, but just not sharp enough.

South Africa's game

The South African game was disciplined, efficient and clinical. The lineouts were magnificent, and Matfield and Botha put so much pressure on England that the stakes in the kicking game were raised for England.

The composure and discipline was also commendable. At every tackle situation, the South Africans were patient and controlled, giving away only one penalty in the entire game. A big reason for this was that the England hadn't shown the level of penetration that might force South Africa to slow the ball down at the breakdown. This afforded South Africa the opportunity of playing a safer game in defence, and the result was only two shots on goal for Wilkinson.

Brian Ashton has just been interviewed and feels that his team were not outplayed. I'm not sure which game he was watching - the lineouts, the kicking game, tackling, all won by South Africa. England had more of the ball, but that's about it. The South African defence seems to hunt not in pairs, but in threes. South Africa did, in fact, miss more tackles than England. But there was always backup, and backup to the backup, and England pounded and pounded away, but barely chipped the surface. They also made substantially more tackles, a trend in this tournament - the team that has less of the ball wins, as we wrote earlier today.

Then finally, South Africa were fantastic under the high ball. It was an England tactic to launch the ball high, but I recall only one occasion where they regained possession. South Africa were safe and secure under almost every ball, negating another of England's attempts to breach the defence.

A 4-year plan realised - keeping the political wolves at bay

So Jake White's 4-year plan is realised, and should he depart, as seems likely, he'll have had the last laugh, because South Africa's rugby future may soon be decided by political forces (more than usual, that is!). One thing that winning does is preserve the status quo a little longer, and so perhaps the political wolves clamouring at the door may have to wait a little longer.

So South Africa will wear the crown of World Champions for four years, until New Zealand 2007. These four years may prove the most tumultuous in the history of South African rugby, with promises of political 'influence' (read interference) over rugby, and the lure of the Euro and Pound attracting more and more players to France and England. So SA Rugby has a task on its hand. It is my experience of SA sport that we are the "worst winners" in sport, often failing to take lessons from victory and build on them. So the challenge is there moving forward, it will be fascinating to see how the incoming management achieve this.

But for now, little thought of planning, I'm sure. Instead, it will be all about celebrating the title of World Champions!


Chris said...

Well done South Africa. SA were the better side, England had passion, but never looked like winning. At least it wasn't another 36-0 pasting.

Chris (An English fan of your blog)