Cape Town - The Springboks’ opponents in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final, England, may feasibly have just put together their finest back-to-back showings in history.
By first whipping Australia 40-16 in the quarter-final and then producing Saturday’s quite masterful 19-7 dismantling of (double) defending champions New Zealand, Eddie Jones’s charges are truly … well, on the charge.
But now they’re in quite possibly virgin territory in many respects: having to knock over the last of the traditional “big three” superpowers of the southern hemisphere, the Boks, just one further week onward in the showpiece.
South Africa’s knockout-phase victories over Japan and Wales having been rather more grimly manufactured, England are rightfully installed as favourites, and seeking to avenge their 15-6 loss to the Boks in the 2007 Parisian final.
That it looks daunting for Siya Kolisi and company can hardly be doubted.
At the same time, though, the Springboks should not fall into any trap of somehow being damagingly overawed by the task ahead. They’re second favourites, yes - but certainly have a puncher’s chance.
Let’s not lose sight of this fact: these foes had as many four battles royale (they usually were that, too) just last year, and honours were eventually shared 2-2.
It could so easily have been 3-1 to the Boks, however: remember the unpenalized, seemingly no-arms “tackle” on Andre Esterhuizen - well within kicking range if it had been called - by Owen Farrell in stoppage time of the Twickenham tussle at the end of the year, edged 12-11 by the home side?
Otherwise, the Boks had won a home series in our mid-winter 2-1, England only winning the dead-rubber third game in the driving rain at Newlands (25-10).
The two earlier Bok victories in Highveld thrillers (Johannesburg, then Bloemfontein) had been characterised by a fightback of enormous merit from the Boks, from 3-24 down, to prevail 42-39 in the cracking first encounter at Ellis Park.
So there’s a very recent history - to stick with a pugilistic, no-place-for-the-faint-hearted theme I fully expect to kick in again on Saturday - of these two quite genuinely going toe to toe.
England will currently be deemed to carry the smoother-firing weaponry.
But the Boks also have no special reason to be afraid.
Bring this one on, already!
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