TOKYO, 31 Oct - Jonny Wilkinson has felt both the joy and heartbreak served to players in a Rugby World Cup final.
So his successors in the England team would do well to heed his warning not to drop their guard against the “enormously explosive” Springboks on Saturday.
The man who kicked Clive Woodward’s team to the RWC 2003 title before losing to South Africa in the final four years later, pictured above, fears it will be “very, very close” at International Stadium Yokohama and that England players may feel out-numbered and overwhelmed.
But he says that if they draw on their inspired victory against the All Blacks last weekend it should be enough to clinch a second title.
"The inspiration came from playing right to the edge," said 40-year-old Wilkinson. "England, more so than New Zealand, seemed to be more excited about the prospect of the unknown.
“As a result, England started better, and were able to contain New Zealand well into the match. England’s defence was also very proactive, and I think they were very excited about defending, as well as attacking."
Comparing his 2003 team to the current vintage, he added: "The game is different, and so are the players. But I think the victory represents a definite stride forward, and perhaps will help people to transcend the idea that we are a lesser team than the southern-hemisphere teams. Certainly for now."
Owen Farrell and his team can display similar dominance against the Springboks, he said - if they acknowledge their opponents are not as one-dimensional as their semi-final "arm-wrestle" with Wales suggested.
“Against South Africa, England stand as good a chance as any, but the danger is that England think it will be the same South Africa from the semi-final that turns up at the final," said Wilkinson, pictured in Tokyo with 2007 winner Bryan Habana.
“I think South Africa played to win against Wales, and that’s what we saw. South Africa next week (in the final) will play to win against England – it will be a different game.
“They get around you and make you feel like the pitch is tiny, make you feel that there are sort of 20 of them. And they’re explosive, enormously explosive – which means that a very, very small moment can turn into a very, very big moment.
“A little dropped ball here, you get caught behind the gain-line, big hit … then all of a sudden, within two seconds, they have powered over the ruck, they’ve got the ball and are 50-60 yards downfield.
“They can really dominate a momentum change like that. They (England) need to manage those sorts of moments. But at the same time, you don’t want to get into an arm-wrestle with these guys.
“They need to have a balance and a variety about the game. They need to maintain their discipline, hugely, as they (South Africa) have a goal-kicker in their team who punishes, and a No.9 as well who is a link-man that is probably one of the secrets to their team. As well as their ferocious kind of intensity and physical sort of explosivity.”
So, who does the record RWC points scorer think will lift the Webb Ellis Cup?
“My prediction? I am English, I work with the England team, England will win. But I think it will be very, very close.”