Matching South Africa’s physicality has been the byword for the week among the England squad, but flanker Sam Underhill says they will have to pick their moments to engage to prevent the World Cup final turning into a war of attrition.
The way South Africa have approached most of their recent games follows a familiar pattern, based on a huge pack creating a safe space for scrumhalf Faf de Klerk to, slowly, deliver endless up and unders for his team mates to chase.
Trying to counter-ruck to put the scrumhalf under pressure is a tactic England will use – but probably sparingly.
“I think decision-making is the most important thing around the breakdown,” Underhill told a news conference a little over 24 hours before Saturday’s (November 2) final.
Underhill, his fellow flanker Tom Curry and lock Maro Itoje have been England’s chief turnover weapons, bringing a speed and athleticism to the breakdown markedly absence in previous years.
But the sheer size of the Springbok side, not to mention their 6-2 forwards/back split on the bench that ensures the big men keep on coming, means that shifting them is no easy task.
Wales, for all their ambition to try to get the ball wide in the semi-final, could not avoid being dragged into what both coaches subsequently described as an arm wrestle.
Underhill, who said the team had received messages of support from Prince Harry, added that England were well aware of that risk but would be backing themselves to reproduce the speed of ball that kept New Zealand scrambling throughout their semi-final win.