James Mason expects victory for the Springboks in his best bets for the Rugby World Cup final in Paris.
Boks battle-hardened for final
The two most successful teams in Rugby World Cup history go head to head in Paris on Saturday, and one thing New Zealand and South Africa know is that a final is a one-off.
We can look back at the last five, 10, 20 meetings between the two and they tell us what we already know – there’s very little between these fierce rivals.
But past meetings only tell us so much, and both teams have won finals that show how tense and unforgiving these games are.
South Africa lifted the trophy at the Stade de France in 2007 with a 15-6 win over England, a team they had beaten 36-0 just weeks before.
Fast-forward four years and New Zealand easily overcame France 37-17 in a pool match but the score was just 8-7 when the same teams met in the final.
So just because South Africa beat final opponents the All Blacks 35-7 at Twickenham in August doesn’t give them any guarantees and they are outsiders in Paris.
However, the Boks’ path to the final makes them a worthwhile pick at odds-against.
South Africa have played every other team in the top six on their march to the final, beaten 13-8 by Ireland but edging Scotland 18-3, France 29-28 and England 16-15, and the narrow margins and generally low scores underline how they like to operate.
Not many teams can shut down the All Blacks attack but when they’re on song the Boks can, and after a run of close battles they look ready to do so again.
New Zealand lost to hosts France in their opener right after their defeat to South Africa and their only really tough test came against Ireland in the quarter-finals.
It looks sure to be tight but the Boks look at their peak and are the value.
Defence to the fore again
South Africa were caught out by the physical onslaught England threw at them in the semi-final but the fact is they did not concede a try, and they have never had their line crossed in three final appearances.
New Zealand showed great discipline and patience in defence in their semi-final win over Argentina, as they held the Pumas at bay without committing huge numbers to the ruck and not allowing themselves to be forced into giving up penalties.
We can expect a cagey opening to this match as the teams look to assert physical supremacy and they will be warned not to force the game and leave themselves open, but instead wait for any openings to come.
The last three meetings have all produced more than 41 points but on the four occasions when the teams have met at the World Cup the total has fallen on 40 points or fewer.
Breakthrough looks set to take time
The first try sets the tone for the game and in a final, when it’s all up for grabs, safety-first is the watchword.
Openings or half-chances that might be risked in any other game are so often passed up early on in knockout matches.
All three World Cup finals involving South Africa were tryless at the break, while the first try in the 2015 showdown between New Zealand and Australia was scored a minute before the break.
You have to go back 20 years for the last time a World Cup final try arrived inside 15 minutes.