South Africa broke English hearts with a ruthless display of power rugby to seize their third Rugby World Cup in devastating fashion.
Twenty-two points from the boot of nerveless fly-half Handre Pollard and second-half tries from wingers Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe ground England into the Yokohama dirt on a horrible night for Eddie Jones’s men.
And despite four penalties from captain Owen Farrell they never looked like closing that gap as the Springboks produced an outstanding display to match those of 1995 in Johannesburg and 2007 in Paris.
Those were iconic moments for a nation besotted with rugby and when Siya Kolisi lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy aloft as the first black man to captain the Springboks they will have the final part of a triptych that will endure forever in the country’s collective memory.
England, so quick out of the blocks in their semi-final win over the All Blacks, was rocked in the opening exchanges as prop Kyle Sinckler was knocked out in an accidental collision and forced to leave the field before touching the ball.
South Africa took that momentum and through a Pollard, Garryowen-and-gather went deep into the English 22 before Willie le Roux knocked on as he carved an outside line down the right.
The huge Springbok pack was making a mess of the English scrum and disrupting their line-out, but when the men in white made their first series of forays they won a breakdown penalty and Farrell levelled things up.
Now it was the Springboks forced into changes, hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi off with concussion and lock Lood de Jager appearing to dislocate a shoulder.
Yet England knocked on at the restart, had their scrum splintered and were behind again as Pollard slotted the penalty from the angle.
Back they came. The forwards hammered away at the South African line after driving a line-out on the 22, Courtney Lawes and replacement Dan Cole both going close until Duane Vermeulen infringed and Farrell kicked the penalty for 6-6.
The vast English support in the stands found their voice but the mistakes kept coming.
Billy Vunipola was penalised for holding on and Pollard landed a beauty from 40m, and then Elliot Daly knocked on from Lukhanyo Am’s kick ahead, the scrum was mangled again and Pollard struck again from in front of the posts.
South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus threw replacement props Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch on just after the break and at their very first scrum, they mangled England again.
Pollard drilled over a beauty from just over halfway and at 15-6 England were staring into the abyss.
The South African power was stopping their big runners dead and killing England at the breakdown and Jones rolled the dice, throwing Joe Marler into the front row and Henry Slade in at outside centre as Farrell took Ford’s place at fly-half.
It initially appeared to work. England blew the Springbok scrum apart, Farrell lined up the penalty and it was a six-point game.
Now Curry got to work, snaffling a breakdown penalty to give Farrell another shot, this time from 45m out wide, only for the kick to drift just wide of the right-hand post.
What could have been 15-12 was suddenly 18-9 as South Africa set up a maul in midfield and England were caught offside for a penalty that Pollard was never going to miss.
England had 22 minutes to save their World Cup and grabbed a lifeline from Farrell’s fourth penalty after Vermeulen held on from the restart.
Luke Cowan-Dickie and Mark Wilson came on for Jamie George and Sam Underhill but with 14 minutes to go the killer blow came.
South Africa went left down the blindside, Mapimpi kicked on and Am gathered before finding the winger on his outside shoulder for the first try the Springboks had scored in three World Cup finals.
Pollard’s conversion from in front made it 25-12 and the stands were alive with green-shirted noise.
And when the diminutive Kolbe stepped and accelerated through an exhausted rearguard in the final moments the Springboks could kick-start a Japanese party that will sweep through their homeland.
England head coach Eddie Jones speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live: “We just couldn’t get on the front foot. We were dominated in the scrum particularly in the first 50 minutes. When you’re in a tight, penalty-driven game, it’s difficult to get any sort of advantage.
“We needed to fix up the scrum, little things around the line-out, then get a bit more accurate in how we attacked. We did that for a while, got ourselves back into the game, but in the end we had to force the game and gave away a couple of tries.
“They were too good for us at the breakdown today. That’s the great thing about rugby, one day you’re the best team in the world and the next a team knocks you off.”
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Source – BBC