History shows fast starts are critical to final success

Whoever dominates the first half of Saturday’s decider between England and South Africa will have the best chance of winning the Rugby World Cup.

TOKYO, 2 Nov - As England went through the final phases of their preparation from their base in central Tokyo, coach Eddie Jones attempted to rally his team with a "no fear" battle cry.

Having been at the helm for Australia’s 20-17 defeat by England in the 2003 decider, served as an assistant for champions South Africa in 2007 and led Japan in their breakthrough tournament four years ago, Jones knows - perhaps better than anyone – how the big Rugby World Cup matches are won and lost.

Looking back over the eight RWC finals, he should be aware of the one standout characteristic that consistently emerges throughout all of those matches: whichever team starts fastest, almost always wins.

No team has ever won a World Cup final having trailed at half-time. Even in the 2011 final – the closest in history with New Zealand edging out France 8-7 – the All Blacks led 5-0 through a Tony Woodcock try, below, at the break before the French fought back to set up a tense finale.

Indeed, while South Africa and then England required extra time to secure victory in 1995 and 2003, both teams still had the advantage of leading at the normal midway point. South Africa led New Zealand 9-6 after 40 minutes, while England were 14-5 up over Australia - including a try by Jason Robinson, top - before the Wallabies clawed back the deficit.

This may well be an advantage for England, who have started rapidly throughout this tournament. Over the course of their five matches, they have led by an average of 13 points at the midway point. In contrast, South Africa were down 17-3 at the break in their opening clash with New Zealand, while in their past two matches they led Japan by two points and Wales by three after 40 minutes.

England have scored relatively freely throughout this World Cup, even against Australia and New Zealand, but we should perhaps expect the final to be a rather cagier and more attritional affair.

While the 2015 final – which New Zealand won 34-17 against Australia – was unusually expansive, featuring five tries with both teams attempting to attack from open play, on average there are typically just two tries per final.

In addition, of the 254 points that have been scored across the eight finals in World Cup history, just 80 have come from tries.

The majority of the time, World Cups are decided by the prowess of the kickers, which should make for a fascinating contest between two of the game’s finest practitioners, Handre Pollard and Owen Farrell.

The two are evenly poised in the tournament points standings with Pollard recording 47 and Farrell on 46. Whoever comes out on top on Saturday night, is likely to have their hand on the trophy.

RNS dc/ajr/sw