PARIS: England coach Steve Borthwick’s tactical kicking master plan and the accuracy with which his team carried it out came agonisingly close to beating South Africa in the World Cup semi-finals, but also produced some astonishing statistics.
England went into the game as the team that kicked away possession more than anyone and again they did it 93 per cent of the time – matching their tournament record from their opening win against Argentina when they were down to 14 men for 77 minutes.
In the wet and windy conditions on Saturday it appeared a sensible tactic, especially as they performed much better than the Springboks when on the receiving end and maintained their position as tournament leaders in number of kicks per match at 34.3.
With no intention of moving the ball wide it is also not surprising that England had the slowest ruck speed of the tournament with an average of 6.73 seconds as they set themselves up for their kick and chase. Their tournament average was also over five seconds – the slowest of the 20 teams.
England also became the first team at the tournament – in 42 matches – not to register a single line break in a match. Their lack of try-scoring ambition is shown by them making only four red zone entries on Saturday, compared to their average of 11.2.
That failure to score a try against South Africa is hardly new, however. They did not manage one in the 2019 final or 2007 final or pool match or in the 1999 quarter-final – with all five games lost. Their only World Cup try against the Springboks came in the 2003 pool win.
The decisive stats, however, came in the scrum. The semi-final was the first time England had conceded a scrum penalty since their opening game.
They went on to concede four in total, all in the final quarter and two of which opened the way for the try and penalty goal that enabled South Africa to turn a 69th-minute 15-6 deficit into a 16-15 win.