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What is fear? A feeling caused by many things, that can produce many results. An emotion that can stem from a person, an occasion or an unpleasant memory. But it can only occur in one place, a place that it consumes completely, and that is within the mind.
For many, the prospect of facing a gargantuan South African team in a Rugby World Cup final where every little mistake and error will be beamed around the world to millions, is enough to swallow the mind with fear: of failure, of personal humiliation, of letting your country down. On Saturday, fear will be the biggest opponent standing in the corner – the shadows as Eddie Jones likes to call it – and it will be down to each and every one of the 46 players named to play in Yokohama to conquer that emotion. The ones who don’t will be the team watching on as their opponents lift the Webb Ellis Cup; one of the worst feelings known in rugby union.
It is why Jones has told his players to go out and play Saturday’s World Cup final with “no fear”. The England head coach said ‘fear’ eight times on Thursday after announcing his side to face the Springboks, a team who can easily strike the fear of God into any human being, and it was left in little doubt the message that the 59-year-old has been drumming into his team this week.
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It is because many players have frozen on the biggest stage in sport. Five times a World Cup final has been decided by nine points or fewer and tries come at a premium at this stage of the tournament – particularly when the Springboks are involved, given there has not been a single try scored in the two finals they have played and won.
With South Africa very much reverting to type in Japan and relying on their stereotypical direct style to get them to this stage, it will be very easy for England to fall into the trap of playing their way, which is why Jones is determined not to allow the fear to take hold of his side, but for them to embrace it. After all, the world will be watching.
“We will play with no fear,” said Jones. “How fantastic is it for the young bunch of guys we have? Every sporting person out there is looking at the game. It’s the biggest sporting event on at that time. Saturday night is the biggest sporting event in the world, and our players get to play in that arena.
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