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During one of England’s practice sessions this week, front-rower Kyle Sinckler donned a hoodie and a pair of boxing gloves and started vigorously sparring with a strength-and-conditioning coach.
What better way to prepare for what could prove to be the most brutal Rugby World Cup final there has ever been, on Saturday.
After six weeks, 47 games and one deadly typhoon that briefly wreaked havoc with the first World Cup to be staged in Asia, the winner of rugby’s biggest prize will be determined in a contest between the two most physically intimidating teams around.
England v South Africa.
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“What we are going to witness,” England defence coach John Mitchell said, setting the stage perfectly, “is the two most powerful rugby teams in the world.”
Titanic. Brutality. Collisions. An immense battle. Fighting fire with fire.
They are all words or phrases that have been uttered by players and coaches in news conferences across Tokyo this week in relation to a final that will not be for the faint-hearted.
“We are going to see who is the bravest, who crosses that line, who wants to dominate the opposition,” said South Africa flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit.
The Springboks, World Cup winners in 1995 and 2007, and 2003 champions England have long prided themselves on their physicality. In one encounter – at Twickenham in 2002 – that got particularly nasty, then-South Africa captain Corne Krige lost his cool and swung a punch at an Englishman – only to miss and knock out his own team-mate, Andre Pretorius.
One tweet, sent by former Ireland international Stephen Ferris before the World Cup, showed the Springboks squad posing for a photo with their jerseys off and muscles flexed. It is quite a sight.
Three members of South Africa’s starting pack on Saturday are more than 2m tall. The eight-man forward pack weighs a combined 927kg 7kg more than England’s.
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