South Africa’s forwards coach Matt Proudfoot has spent the week working out a response to the performance by England’s pack against New Zealand last weekend that he summed up in one word: “wow”.
New Zealand, the favourites to win the semi-final and keep hold the trophy they had retained in 2015, were knocked back in challenge after challenge, culminating in their captain, Kieran Read, being stopped dead on the charge by Sam Underhill.
South Africa are expected to provide England with their most physical challenge this tournament, but Proudfoot noted that New Zealand fell victim to brain as well as brawn.
“I think the final will be very tight,” said Proudfoot. “England were very efficient and powerful against New Zealand. We have spoken about having to match that intensity, but it was not just about brute force. There was a lot of very intelligent play from their pack. I was very impressed with what I saw. We know it will be a big challenge.
“We played them four times last year, but as a pack they are a lot more confident in what they are doing. There is more understanding about what they want and so they are executing better. The New Zealand game was a great one to watch and they will look to play the same way. As a team we watched it and went, ‘wow’. They were just great.
“We know what we are up against, but I have been impressed with how mature our guys have become. The pack is experienced and solving problems internally. A number of them have played in the World Cup before and our coaching philosophy is to empower them. We know the pressure a final can bring and it will come down to which side does what they do better.”
South Africa’s captain Siya Kolisi will win his 50th cap in the final and the the front row veteran Tendai Mtawarira paid tribute to the impact the flanker has made since he was appointed by head coach Rassie Erasmus last year.
“What he has achieved is remarkable,” said Mtawarira. “He has come from being a young kid in a Port Elizabeth township and risen above his circumstances to become the Springbok captain and an inspiration to South Africans in all walks of life.
“Winning the World Cup would cap my long career, but we will not be getting ahead of ourselves. That is one thing I have learned in my long career. Rassie has made a big difference. He says it as it is, and that was not something I had experienced before. The players really respect him.”
South Africa’s prop Vincent Koch has noticed similarities between the way England and the country’s leading club, Saracens, play. He should know as he has been at Sarries for the last three years.
“I have noticed a few things with England that Saracens do,” he said. “Different jerseys but a similar gameplan. We will be ready for whatever they bring. I have spoken to the Sarries players here, but not this week.”