Rugby World Cup: South Africa shrug off Twickenham factor ahead of All Blacks battle
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The Springboks have opened World Cup final week by immediately dismissing the relevance of their record victory over the All Blacks at Twickenham just prior to the global tournament’s kickoff in France.  

With the southern hemisphere rugby heavyweights winning through in contrasting style over the weekend in Paris to contest their second World Cup final – and first since their epic matchup at Ellis Park in 1995 – that August 25 clash in London has come into focus, and in particular the ruthless manner in which the South Africans dispatched the All Blacks. They ran in five tries that afternoon in southwest London in a 35-7 thrashing that stands as the biggest ever suffered in New Zealand rugby history.

Since then the two sides have taken divergent, yet similar paths. The All Blacks lost their RWC pool opener against France (27-13), but have turned their fortunes around since, running off five consecutive victories, including a memorable quarterfinal decision (28-24) over the previously indomitable Irish. Likewise South Africa, who dropped their group decider against Ireland (13–8), have steadied the ship impressively, albeit riding their luck through the knockout rounds to edge past France (29-28) and England (16-15) en route to the final. That’s a pair of one-point squeakers, if you weren’t paying attention.

But as South Africa forwards coach Deon Davids spoke to the media in Paris on Sunday (local time) in the wake of their thrilling semifinal victory over England, he moved quickly to dismiss the relevance of the Twickenham cakewalk, in which Scott Barrett was red-carded and Sam Cane was also sent to the naughty chair as things unravelled for the All Blacks.

“It will be a completely different game,” said Davids who confirmed the Boks came through a physical encounter against the English injury-free as they eye back-to-back crowns. “I think both teams have learned a lot of lessons out of both those games (the South Africans lost 35-20 to the All Blacks in Auckland in July). New Zealand are playing very good rugby at this stage.

“For both sides it will be a case of trying to improve from those lessons learned in different areas and just see where we can outsmart each other. It will be a total new start, a new game, under new circumstances, going for the top prize in world rugby.

“If we live in the past or look back too far and not be in the moment, we would fool ourselves. Our focus will be on what we have to do to be the best we can be, keeping in mind we are facing a formidable opponent.”

Undoubtedly Ian Foster’s All Blacks are a different side from that which took that Twickenham tumble. Since regathering their forces in the wake of the French defeat, they’ve built form, confidence and a nice rhythm to their game. The forwards are laying on some excellent platforms, the defence is on point and some of the ball-in-hand stuff has been exhilarating.

 Davids was asked about the clash in styles likely to eventuate at Stade de France this weekend as the All Blacks always look for a game of pace and space, while the Boks slow it down, go to the air and look to bring their big forwards into the contest as much as possible.

Wet conditions on Saturday night turned the second semifinal into a slugfest, with neither team having much success, or inclination, to move the ball through hands. But the Boks assistant cautioned against pigeon-holing either finalist.

“In my opinion there is strength in both teams in terms of how they play but also there might be similarities in how we look at the game,” he said. “Both squads bring something similar in terms of experience, in terms of X-factor, in terms of where and how they want to play. It’s going to be a tight battle to outsmart each other and ensure you get the upper hand over the advantage line and then use your opportunities.

“That’s what playing rugby is about. It’s about possession, about playing the game in the right areas, it’s about using your opportunities, and in those different areas it’s going to be a massive battle from both teams.

“Those are the things that assisted both teams to get into the final, and on the day the team that executes the best and pitches up mentally the best to handle and adapt to the conditions will be the winners of this tournament.”

And in terms of a rivalry that stretches back over 100 years, and some legendary battles over that long span, Davids feels privileged to be part of adding a new chapter.

“As a kid we grew up listening on the radio to the battles between the Springboks and All Blacks, and also listened to different stories of different heroes in both teams over the years. It’s part of our rugby history and every time we play each other it’s always a special battle. I don’t think this one will be any different, and it will just go to a different level in terms of the competition between the players.

“It’s going to come down to the day, the team that handles the pressure, that uses its opportunities the best and executes their plan the best … or maybe that one brilliant moment from an individual to turn things around.

“We’re very privileged and humbled to make it so far and be a part of such a big week.”

In rugby, they really don’t get any bigger.