England vs. South Africa
- What: 2019 Rugby World Cup final
- When: Saturday 2 November
- Where: International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan
- Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
- UK start time: 9am
- UK TV coverage: live on ITV
England’s rugby players have the chance to do what no politician has done in a very long time - and that’s put a smile on the face of the nation.
The last few years haven’t been much fun for the country with Brexit dominating headlines and dividing opinion, but on Saturday the England squad will unite the country around their television sets as they play South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final.
ITV, which clocked ten million viewers for last weekend’s semi-final triumph against New Zealand, is expecting double that number for the final, despite the 9am kick-off.
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Boris will do a Blair
If England do lift the Webb Ellis Cup the players can expect an open-top bus tour.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is as media savvy as Tony Blair, who occupied No.10 Downing Street in 2003 when England first won the World Cup.
He milked the occasion for all its political worth, to the extent that opposition MPs accused his office of “politicising its reception for the England rugby team”, but Johnson will surely do likewise should England win on Saturday, particularly with a general election just round the corner.
The players will also benefit if they win, with The Guardian reporting that they “will share a jackpot of nearly £7m if they overcome South Africa”.
On top of that there will be million-pound sponsorship and endorsement deals, not to mention the after-dinner speaking circuit once they hang up their boots.
But the England squad must put all that to the back of their minds in the next 24 hours and focus on one thing only - beating the bruising Springboks.
At least in their head coach, Eddie Jones, they have a man who has been there and got the T-shirt. This will be his third experience of a World Cup final - he coached Australia in 2003 and was on the South Africa staff when they won the cup four years later - and his message to his players is embrace the occasion.
“Saturday is the biggest sporting event in the world and our players get to play in that arena, what an exciting opportunity for them to be themselves, to play with spirit, to play with pride and an English style of play,” he said.
“They can inspire a whole country now, they can inspire a sporting community. That’s the opportunity they’ve got and all the messages that we’ve seen back in England at the moment is that there’s a bit of a rugby fever going on, so now mums are telling kids ‘play rugby’, be the next Kyle Sinckler, be the next Ellis Genge, and that’s the opportunity they’ve got.”
And the astute Jones knows that an England win on Saturday would mean more than usual for the country after the divisiveness of the last few years.
He added: “It changes how the country feels about itself for a period of time - it might change at the next general election - but for a period of time it changes how people feel about themselves and that’s the greatest joy.
“You’ve got this opportunity to change people’s lives through the ability to play rugby, and it’s a gift isn’t it?”
Today’s back pages
Rugby World Cup further reading
- England vs. South Africa: preview, team news, starting XVs
- Rugby World Cup final: pundit predictions and betting odds
- Where to watch the Rugby World Cup final in London and England: pubs, clubs, events and special screenings
- Eddie Jones won’t be satisfied until England are the best
- England fined for their response to the New Zealand haka
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