Bok lock Lood de Jager says England are favourites to win the World Cup
Towering Springbok lock Lood de Jager looked down at the media in the bowels of the International Stadium Yokohama following their Rugby World Cup semifinal win over Wales and calmly declared England as favourites for Saturday’s final.
There was no gasp‚ or “can you say that again?” - De Jager stated it as a matter of fact and it is a point‚ on the evidence of both semifinals‚ that is hard to argue.
De Jager was hugely impressed with England’s semifinal dismantling of the All Blacks of New Zealand.
“England are the favourites‚ if you look at their performance in the semifinal. For us‚ we have a foot in the door.
"Anything can happen‚” noted De Jager.
He expected more of an arm wrestle from England’s clash against the All Blacks.
“We were surprised by how comfortable England actually beat the All Blacks‚" he said.
"If you look at history‚ semifinals have always been decided within one score.
"That always helps when you go into the battle knowing that you have to win those big moments.
"At the end of the day it’s the team that executes their plan the best. We did that (on Sunday)‚” De Jager reminded‚ following the Boks' 19-16 win over Wales in their semifinal.
England‚ though‚ are the team of the moment.
“England played very well. Their defence actually won them that game‚" he said.
"They attacked well but their defence was immense.
"They were really physical so we know it's going to be a massive physical battle. We pride ourselves on our physicality so I think it's going to be an interesting one to watch.”
And that is perhaps why De Jager seems so undaunted.
If there is an element to the Springbok makeup in which they can match‚ and better their main rivals‚ it is their ability to rise to the physical challenge.
They pummelled Wales‚ eventually into submission.
Wales were unlucky with some injuries‚ particularly to game-breakers like Liam Williams before the match and George North during the game‚ but poor tighthead Tomas Francis’s sin was that he stood in the way of Duane Vermeulen in full flight.
Apart from gain line dominance‚ De Jager knows that if the Boks are going to meet success on Saturday they had better win their individual battles.
“He had a fantastic game‚” he said about England’s man of the match in the semi-final Maro Itoje.
“He’s a great player‚ a big player for them.
"They rely on him a lot. He has a lot of big moments‚ he brings a lot of turnovers. It's going to be a great challenge coming up against him.
"We’ll go and have a look at what they do at lineout time and analyse them and come up with a good plan‚ but he’s a quality player.”
The lineout challenge will certainly be crucial.
While England did wonders in disrupting the All Blacks in that discipline‚ the Springboks have reason to go into that aerial contest emboldened. They’ve won 62 of their 63 lineout throws at this World Cup.
De Jager could not stop smiling.
It was as if a weight was lifted off his shoulders having been burdened by the Boks’ semifinal exit in 2015.
“This is a huge relief. We lost in the semifinal and that is bad.
"To play for third and fourth place is very bad. It hasn’t sunk in yet‚” he said about the Springboks reaching their first World Cup final since 2007.
“If we go on and win this thing it is going to be amazing.”