THE SPRINGBOKS could spring a surprise, but former England scrum-half Martyn Wood expects Eddie Jones’s men to be parading the World Cup trophy around International Stadium, in Yokohama, tomorrow morning.
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Wood, now coach of Yorkshire Carnegie, feels England have everything in their favour ahead as they attempt to grab back the trophy they previously won in 2003.
Final opponents South Africa, victors in 1995 and again 12 years later when they defeated England in the decider, can’t be discounted, but after last weekend’s stunning semi-final demolition of the All Blacks, Wood can see only one winner.
“I am ever the optimist,” said the Harrogate-born 42-year-old, who played for Wasps and Bath.
“I think last week’s performance was unbelievable, but it didn’t surprise me. The way Eddie has got the boys together, they can play many different varieties of the game and I think we will win comfortably.”
It is the old cliche, anyone can win it. Being a World Cup final it is whoever performs on the day, but I am massively confident we are going to win.Martyn Wood
The bookmakers have England as odds-on favourites and they have been wrong about only one of the previous eight finals. Ominously, that was in 1995 when the Springboks upset New Zealand.
“It is a World Cup final, there will be nerves,” added Wood who was called up as an injury replacement by England for the 1999 and 2003 tournaments, but did not make an appearance in either. “It is the old cliche, anyone can win it. Being a World Cup final it is whoever performs on the day, but I am massively confident we are going to win.”
Having rolled over the pre-tournament favourites last week, Wood believes England have to match fire with fire again.
“Ultimately, you have got to match their physicality up front,” he said. “The Springboks are very direct and very physical, but I am sure Eddie has got stuff up his sleeve and gameplans to get behind them and take the sting out of them somehow.
“It is going to be an attritional game and I can’t wait to watch it.”
England were the underdogs for their semi-final, but Wood is confident they can back up that performance with another huge effort.
He said: “Eddie has got the boys in such good shape mentally, as well as physically, I genuinely believe it is just one more game. We will play a really street smart gameplan against them – whatever Eddie has got on his mind – and throughout the World Cup we have seen the boys going out and executing what Eddie puts in place.”
The one blot on the semi-final triumph was a hamstring injury suffered by scrum-half Willi Heinz, which led to Ben Spencer flying to Japan as cover for tomorrow.
That brought back memories of 2003 for Wood, who recalled: “I got a call from Clive (Woodward) saying ‘come out’, so I went out to Australia and I was there for three or four days, staying in a different hotel, then I flew back when the boys (who had been injured) were fit.”
As he wasn’t officially added to the squad, Wood did not receive a World Cup medal, but, despite “a bit of stick about that over the years”, he doesn’t regret going.
He said: “It’s one of those things, if somebody rings you up to say ‘come out to play in a World Cup quarter-final’ you’re not going to say no.”
Spencer is likely to be on the bench tomorrow, with Ben Youngs starting at No 9. Wood pointed out: “Ben is a great player and he was probably unlucky to miss out in the first place. Only taking two scrum-halves, you always run the risk of, if one of them gets injured, having to bring someone in.
“It just happens it’s the final week, but what an opportunity for Ben Spencer, sitting there watching on TV and then he gets a phone call saying ‘come and play in the World Cup final’. What a story that will be. The preparation they have had has been outstanding and I am pretty sure Ben knows all the calls and knows everyone. It is an addition to the squad rather than a new man into the squad.”
The extra-time win over Australia 16 years ago sparked huge interest in the 15-a-side game and Wood reckons victory tomorrow would have a similar impact.
“It would be massive,” he predicted. “It has been a long time and there’s been some highs and lows (since 2003), but I think from grassroots up – not just at elite level – it would be huge and, hopefully, they can get more kids playing and enjoying it and bring the next generation up.”