England can win a second Rugby World Cup if they repeat “the intensity and precision” they showed in the 19-7 semi-final victory against New Zealand.
But England’s 2003 tournament-winning coach Clive Woodward warned that the Red Rose face a major challenge to climb “that Everest again” to beat South Africa in Saturday’s final.
Woodward, who is in Japan as a TV pundit, conceded in his Daily Mail column the Springboks have strengths that could hurt England, but will not be in the same parish if Eddie Jones’s men manage to repeat the level of their performance of last weekend.
“England are capable of playing at a pace and tempo that could completely take the final away from South Africa,” Woodward said. “If they can replicate the intensity and precision they displayed against New Zealand then I am struggling to see how South Africa can match such an approach — it’s a million miles away from their natural game.
“I would emphasize again, though, that it will be a major challenge for Eddie Jones’ team to climb that Everest again just a week after the greatest ever England performance,” he added.
Woodward’s opinion was shared by players past and present.
Former All Blacks great Andrew Mehrtens, who suffered his own crushing World Cup disappointment in losing to South Africa in the 1995 final, and England scrum-half Danny Care, who was omitted from the squad after a loss of form, believe England will lift the Webb Ellis trophy.
Mehrtens was capped 70 times and said the Springboks, who edged Wales 19-16, were the only team capable of giving the English a run for their money.
“If England play like they did against the All Blacks in the final on Saturday, then I would say the World Cup is theirs,” Mehrtens said in his column for The Times. “It is hard to see anybody beating them but the only team I could see staying with them are South Africa.
“New Zealand could at their best, but the Springboks’ size and physique means that they can handle that side of the game. They will have to be immense, though, because that was the best England performance I have seen,” added the 46-year-old South Africa-born former fly-half.
Care, England’s second most capped scrum-half with 84, said the whole squad’s mentality changed when Jones took over following the hosts humiliating first-round exit in 2015.
“I will always remember him saying: ‘I look around this room and I genuinely believe this group of players can win the World Cup in four years’ time,” Care said in his Daily Telegraph column. ‘I think you can be the best team in the world and it will change your lives and your families’ lives forever’.
“Just those few words gave the whole room a massive lift. He made us believe in a way we never really had before,” he added.
Care, who lost his place last November after a poor performance against Japan, said England should be able to deal with the Springboks.
“South Africa pose a very different threat (to New Zealand),” he said. “They obviously have an enormous pack, but that was not a small Kiwi pack and England absolutely dominated them.
“That same New Zealand pack dominated South Africa,” he added. “I am sure a lot of England training this week will be about defusing high balls. If they take out that aerial threat then they will go a long way towards winning the game. The way they played against New Zealand I just cannot see them losing.”