Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Rugby World Cup 2019: Stuart Barnes' semi-final talking points
Last Updated: 28/10/19 7:48pm
Sky Sports rugby union expert and former England international Stuart Barnes is back to look at the big talking points from the Rugby World Cup.
There's a look back on the semi-finals, where England and South Africa triumphed to book their place in this Saturday's final.
Barnes also takes a look at the areas where Saturday's decider is likely to be won and lost, and the key men for England...
1. Let's start with the most tactically astute performance I have ever seen from England. I don't know about 'the best' - I don't even know what that really means.
There was the Grand Slam demolition of Ireland in 2003 - a performance of power and cold calculation. Then there was the win in Wellington in 2003, with England down to 13 men for a while. Straight out of the Alamo except in this instance the defenders prevail and force Mexico's army to retreat.
And then there is the 2003 World Cup final - the only final England have won. That in itself makes it a contender for best in its own right.
But for sheer clinical control, I cannot remember anything to match the semi-final performance against New Zealand.
2. Twenty-four hours later, South Africa scraped through against a game but weary-looking collection of proud Welshmen.
It was light years away from the quality witnessed roughly 24 hours earlier. England - on the evidence of semi-final weekend - only have to turn up. But, as someone said to me: "Can England play any better than that? Can South Africa be any worse?"
If England fall off their game - admittedly, quite a lot - and South Africa lift theirs up - admittedly, quite a lot - we have a competitive affair. The Springboks, being who they are, will surely not wilt, even in the face of another excellent England performance.
3. South Africa have a stunning array of lock forwards, all with different strengths. The four of them are used in an attempt to overpower opposition.
There is little doubt that the bench made a difference against Wales, but England have Maro Itoje. He reached for the sublime on Saturday, matching his magnificent second Test for the Lions in Wellington with another spellbinding display against Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick.
He took - with a little help from friends like Courtney Lawes - away a New Zealand area of supposed strength. If he and the England line-out function as well against South Africa, it is difficult to work out how the Springboks win.
4. The scrum is another area of South African strength. England are good at this set piece but it not one of their overwhelming aces.
I would, however, rate the England scrum stronger than Wales' and this set piece was definitely not a match losing area for Wales on Sunday.
Scrums have yet to play a major role in this World Cup. Parity is pretty much expected on Saturday.
5. England were brilliant at the breakdown and in the vast majority of collisions. It wasn't the number of turnovers, but the way New Zealand were slowed down which was so impressive.
The Springboks play it different to the All Blacks and will not attempt the same ambition, but even a kicking game can get bogged down when the pack are being pushed back, collectively and in each collision. As individuals and an eight, England's forwards were relentless in these battles.
6. Foremost amongst them were Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, and England's flankers have been as influential as any two players in the knockout stages of this competition.
With Curry becoming that third line-out force, the threat of being squeezed at that set piece lessens.
On that note, there should be a word of praise for Steve Borthwick who has slowly created a hugely impressive line out without sacrificing a back row not noted for its jumping ability.
7. George Ford is another man in the most consistent form of his life. I am not going to spend too long writing about his vision and game management as Eddie Jones will probably switch him to the bench! No, surely, not this time?
Henry Slade isn't quite as sharp as he would like to be after injury and Manu Tuilagi is. The starting midfield surely has to be Ford-Farrell-Tuilagi.
8. South Africa will kick and they will kick a lot. They might possibly kick extremely well. Faf de Klerk is a big-match player, a man who has caused England no end of recent problems.
Outside him, Handre Pollard was coolness personified with the boot against Wales. If English discipline slips, South Africa have a marksman to do great damage.
Do not be surprised if the Springbok fly-half comes in for all sorts of attention from the likes of Tuilagi, Curry and Underhill.
9. More 'ifs'. If South Africa handle the pressure on their kickers, the spotlight will fall upon the England back three.
Anthony Watson was outstanding against New Zealand without ever quite breaking free, but he and Jonny May were superb beneath any kicks that came their way. May, however, is struggling.
When Tuilagi intercepted early in the game and sent the Leicester winger towards the try line, Scott Barrett was able to hunt him down.
Barrett is no slouch but this was not the May England fans have come to know and love. The medics have plenty of work on their hands in the next few days.
If May misses out and if fully-fit, Jack Nowell seems the likeliest replacement - although with Eddie, who knows? Perhaps Big Joe will swoop in and steal the show.
10. Which brings us to Eddie Jones. He has been magnificent in every aspect of his management since the World Cup started. Selection has been superb and his tactical ploys have worked to perfection.
Against Wales and Scotland in the Six Nations, the players looked like so many waifs and strays when the pressure came. In Japan they have played at pace, slowed it down with the use of the boot, reacted quickly to any concessions of points.
In short, orchestrated games superbly. Against both Australia and New Zealand, they struck back hard and fast to score that potentially opened the door for the opposition.
I am sure that moment will come in the final, and if England maintain their quarter and semi-final form they will win. If (this is truly the column of `ifs') they up their game again, we will have witnessed a truly great, World Cup-winning team.
I do not discount South Africa, but I do expect an England team that has left its past behind to win and - in the end - win extremely well.
If you are English, South African or neutral, enjoy the event. I hope it is a great game and wonderful advertisement for rugby union.