England head coach Eddie Jones has warned Rugby World Cup final opponent South Africa that his team is capable of improving on last week’s semifinal destruction of two-time defending champion New Zealand when the two sides meet in Yokohama on Saturday.
“We can definitely play better,” Jones said Thursday, as he named his team to face the Springboks in the final. “There’s no doubt about it. The players know that. I’ve been so impressed by the preparation of the players throughout the tournament, and particularly this week. There’s a steeliness about them, but also a nice relaxed feeling because they know they’ve done the work, so they can get on with the job.”
Jones is one win away from leading England to its second World Cup title, after taking the All Blacks apart 19-7 in a clinical semifinal victory last Saturday.
Standing in his way is South Africa, which is looking to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a third time and goes into the match with its reputation for power and aggression restored after a bruising run to the final.
South Africa beat England 15-6 in the 2007 final — with Jones on the Springboks’ side that day as the team’s technical adviser — but the 59-year-old is confident of an English victory this time around after watching his team grow into the tournament.
“We’ve had four years to prepare for this game,” said Jones. “We’ve got good tactical clarity about how we want to play, we’re fit, we’re enjoying the tournament. The only sadness is that the tournament is going to end. We’re having a great time and we want it to continue.
“We’ve got one more opportunity to play well, so we want to play with no fear on Saturday. Just get out there and play the game. We know South Africa aren’t going to give us the game. They’re going to come hard. We’ve got to meet their physicality but we’re looking forward to that and then being able to impose our game on them.”
Jones named an unchanged team on Thursday, with George Ford continuing at standoff and captain Owen Farrell at inside center.
South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus announced his lineup earlier Thursday, with winger Cheslin Kolbe returning from injury after missing the Springboks’ 19-16 semifinal win over Wales to replace S’Busiso Nkosi, who drops out of the matchday squad.
“I think it’s clear for everyone to see what type of threat he is,” Farrell said of Kolbe, who has scored two tries at the tournament so far. “He’s someone who, when he gets the ball, the whole team has to be on its toes, not just a couple of people around him. He can make things happen, and obviously with a big physical side like them to have players like him, Faf (de Klerk) and Willie le Roux, who can take teams on, is important for them. The key thing for us is to all be engaged. To all be in the game, especially when those players have their hands on the ball.”
Among England’s substitutes is scrumhalf Ben Spencer, who was called into the squad last Saturday as an emergency replacement for the injured Willi Heinz and is set to make his World Cup debut in the final.
“I was chatting to one of the lads this morning and saying that I’ve not really had a chance to process the whole situation yet,” said Spencer, who was preparing to play for club side Saracens when he received a phone call inviting him to join the squad, and arrived in Tokyo on Monday morning. “It’s been a crazy few days. It’s been a brilliant few days, getting back into the squad. It’s just been mental, really.
“I think the good thing is that I spent quite a bit of time with the squad in preseason, so I sort of know what’s going on and I’m not too much out of the loop. It hasn’t been too difficult to get up to speed.”
Jones also shrugged off injury concerns over prop Kyle Sinckler, who went off early in the second half of the semifinal and underwent a restricted training regime this week, but keeps his place in the starting lineup.
“One of the great things about this squad — and again it’s a great credit to the players how hard they work — is physically they’re fit, they work hard on rehabbing their injuries,” said Jones. “We’ve now got 32 players in the squad, and we’ve only got one player unavailable, which is Willi.
“If you look at our track record over the last five or six games, we’ve had close to 90 percent of our squad available for selection. The players have worked hard, we’ve got great medical staff, fantastic strength and conditioning staff, so the players are in great nick. Kyle Sinckler’s going to be absolutely buzzing on the weekend. He’ll be out there ready to go.”