Springboks stick to Erasmus’ game plan to down England

South Africa’s Rugby team celebrates with the Webb Ellis trophy after winning the World Cup Final in Yokohama on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 03 November 2019

Springboks stick to Erasmus’ game plan to down England

  • Raucous spectacle opens to the boom of Japanese drums and flames shooting into the evening sky

TOKOHAMA, Japan: South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus might have been criticized for his team’s “boring” game plan going into the Rugby World Cup final, but his side delivered perfectly with a dominant 32-12 victory over England on Saturday.

In victory, the Springboks demonstrated a perfect mix of brutal pragmatism and electric finishing based around an all-important dominant set piece and the kicking machines that are Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard.

A kickfest had been predicted for the final and — two blistering second-half tries from Bok wingers Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe aside — so it proved as Pollard and Owen Farrell traded penalties early on.

But there was no lack of bite in a hard-hitting contest of gladitorial standards that left the players bloodied and bruised in a shocking advert for the attritional quality of Test match rugby.

Even after six weeks of competition, there was no holding back from the two teams that have prided themselves on their physically confrontrational styles of play.

England prop Kyle Sinckler went off after just three minutes, left prone after a hitting his head in a tackle.

There was a double blow in the 22nd minute for the Boks when lock Lood De Jager departed with a shoulder injury and hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi was replaced as he underwent a Head Injury Assement following a tackle on Courtney Lawes.

A key point came halfway through the first half when wave after wave of brutal English attack was repelled, the Herculean Boks left panting on their line through exertion.

England lock Maro Itoje then flattened Vermeulen and Damian de Allende, the sound of the two sickening impacts clearly audible from the stands with renditions of “Swing Low” interrupted by gasps as the crowd visibly squirmed in their seats.

The raucous spectacle, opened by loud Japanese drumming and flames shooting into the evening sky, was how one might imagine a battle in a Roman ampitheater.

Flamethrowers erupted every time a penalty went over, fans baying with delight when an Itoje or Vermeulen threw themselves, seemingly with reckless abandon, into another tackle or drive forward.

The on-field attrition also came in the set-piece, as the Boks turned the screw at scrum-time, Sinckler’s replacement Dan Cole struggling badly to cope with veteran Tendai Mtawarira.

The second-half started just as the first ended, flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit — one of the nominees for World Player of the Year — put in two thumping tackles in quick succession on George Ford.

Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, named as the country’s first black skipper by Erasmus last year, was omnipresent in a back-row in which Vermeulen also outshone England’s vaunted “kamikaze kids” pairing of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.

De Klerk and Pollard kept England pinned back and the pressure continued to mount.

And after all the grind, it was fitting that two of the most exciting players at the World Cup, Bok wingers Makazole and Kolbe, scored a try apiece, justifying the team’s total belief in and execution of the no-nonsense gameplan devised by Erasmus.

Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

Updated 20 January 2020

Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

  • The 38-year-old is the only player to have scored at least league 15 goals in each of the last 14 seasons

MILAN: Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to form has coincided with Juventus taking a firm grip on Serie A.

Ronaldo did not score at all in November, but he scored twice as Juventus beat Parma 2-1 on Sunday to take his tally to 11 in his last seven league matches.

The win also put Juventus on course for a record-extending ninth straight Serie A title as the Bianconeri moved four points above Inter Milan. They were two points behind the Nerazzurri a month and a half ago.

Ronaldo has struggled with injury this season and missed three Serie A matches, playing through pain in others.

The 38-year-old Portugal forward has nevertheless scored 16 goals in 17 matches, becoming the first Juventus player to have that many goals after 20 matches since Omar Sivori in 1960.

Ronaldo is also the only player to have scored at least 15 goals in one of Europe’s top five leagues in each of the last 14 seasons.

“Cristiano is in another class,” Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri said. “Sometimes he poses you a little bit of a problem but he will solve 100 others for you.”

While Juventus managed to grind out results in November when Ronaldo wasn’t scoring, Inter struggle when their top scorers are not on form.

There have been three matches since December where neither Romelu Lukaku nor Lautaro Martínez have managed to find the back of the net. All three ended in draws.

The latest was a surprise 1-1 result at relegation-threatened Lecce on Sunday.

That is also down to a general drop in pace in the team as, prior to that, Inter had managed to win the previous four matches where Lukaku and Martínez didn’t score.

“The final result stems from the fact that we’re a team that needs to go at 200 kph. We cannot afford to be off the pace,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said. “It’s evident that if we go at an average pace, if we go into cruise speed, we become a normal team and aren’t able to get a result.”


Mario Balotelli’s match lasted only seven minutes on Sunday and he could now find himself with even less playing time in the coming weeks.

Balotelli came on as a substitute in the 74th minute of Brescia’s 2-2 draw against Cagliari but shortly afterward was shown a yellow card for a high tackle and then immediately shown a second after repeatedly swearing at the referee.

Depending on what referee Antonio Giua writes in his report, Balotelli could be suspended for several matches.

The forward will certainly miss Brescia’s next match, against former team AC Milan.

“I think the yellow card was too harsh. Mario didn’t feel it was right, and his protests didn’t seem excessive to me,” Brescia coach Eugenio Corini said. “It’s a pity because he came on with the desire to make us win the match.”

Balotelli was banned for the first four matches of the Serie A season following a red card in his last match with Marseille last season.

“It’s incredible how one episode can always drastically change from too negative or too positive everyone’s opinion on the character or professionalism of a person,” Balotelli wrote on his Instagram story after the match. “I will continue with my daily work this time, too. It’s not a problem. You can continue to judge me as you wish.”