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A week is a long time in professional sports. Seven days ago, England was expected to become the latest addition in a list of illustrious victims New Zealand collected en route to a third Rugby World Cup final.
As it turned out, Eddie Jones’ men didn’t so much not follow the script, they completely ripped it to shreds and reserved a similar treatment for the All Blacks.
England dominated them in every aspect of the game and became the first team to beat New Zealand in a Rugby World Cup match in 12 years.
Fast forward a week and it is England who enters the sport’s showpiece event as the overwhelming favorite over South Africa when the two teams meet in Yokohama, Japan, on Saturday (live at 5 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).
Jones has named an unchanged team from the one that defeated the All Blacks, with the only change on the bench being Ben Spencer replacing Willi Heinz.
England is the only Northern Hemisphere team to have ever lifted the World Cup, but its record in the final is patchy at best. England lost on home soil in 1991 against Australia, exacted revenge on the Wallabies in Australia 12 years later and then fell short against South Africa in 2007.
Jones insisted the tag of favorites did not add any pressure on his team and urged his players to make history and emulate the England team that triumphed in 2003.
“We will play with no fear,” he said in his press conference.
“How fantastic is it for a young bunch of guys we have? It’s the biggest sporting event on at that time. Saturday is the biggest sporting event in the world. […] They can inspire a whole country now, they can inspire a sporting community. That’s the opportunity they’ve got.”
For the first time since June 2004, England arrives into a game as the No.1 ranked side in the world, which only adds to the feeling that last week’s hunters will be hunted on Saturday.
Few teams relish the former role as much as the Springboks, who look to equal New Zealand’s record haul of three Rugby World Cups.
Since Rassie Erasmus took over as head coach in 2018, South Africa has been rest
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