TOKYO, 1 Nov - South Africa ceded possession in both of their knockout phase matches at Rugby World Cup 2019, giving Wales 62 per cent last week and Japan 68 per cent in the first half of the quarter-final. The Springboks have relied on defence, a strong set-piece and a kicking game to reach this year's final. This is in stark contrast though to the way they played against New Zealand in their opening pool match. A more adventurous game should be expected from South Africa in the final against England on Saturday.
The beginning of last weekend's semi-final against Wales illustrated how the Springboks attempt to frustrate their opponents. In the clip below, Handre Pollard kicks high into Welsh territory. Leigh Halfpenny catches and runs the ball back to the gain line but is stopped in his tracks by Eben Etzebeth and Faf de Klerk, who hold him up. Their aim is to create a maul and be awarded the put-in at the resulting scrum. A scrum will use up time and give South Africa a platform from which they can gain more territory.
After most scrums, the scrum-half will pass or the ball will be carried by the number eight. On this occasion, Faf de Klerk takes the ball out of the scrum, darts down the blind side and chips deep into space. He chases well and, although Wales gain possession, they are under massive pressure from De Klerk and South Africa's forwards in their own 22.
This was typical of South Africa and De Klerk over the past two weeks. South Africa's No.9, pictured top in training on Friday, kicked a total of 36 times and passed 77 times in the quarter-final and semi-final matches. De Klerk therefore made just over two passes for every kick. In contrast, England's scrum-half Ben Youngs kicked 17 times and passed 138 times against Australia and New Zealand. Youngs passed eight times as much as he kicked.
While we will see a repeat of some of the tactics described above, the danger of giving England possession or kicking to England's back three is greater than against Japan or Wales. Expect de Klerk and his team-mates to kick the ball less and pass more on Saturday, particularly early in the match. The Springboks will not be as expansive as either New Zealand or England have tried to be at this tournament but are unlikely to play as they have in the past two weeks. De Klerk has already played in a different way against the All Blacks - whose back-three threat is probably most similar to England's - at this tournament.
In the pool match against New Zealand, South Africa's scrum-half passed much more than in recent weeks. De Klerk's 71 passes in that match were more than five times the number of kicks he made. This strategy was responsible for an opening phase in which the Springboks should have got more than three points and a match which was much closer than the 23-13 score suggests.
Two brilliant attacks from their own 22 from New Zealand in a five-minute period in that match transformed the game after a dominant start by the Springboks. Expect Rassie Erasmus's team to begin Saturday's final in a similar fashion in order to get early points on the board and stop England doing so. Then - and only then - will the Springboks' slow suffocation of an opponent be implemented.