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Springboks, England eye second win

  • Story Highlights
  • England and South Africa contest today's rugby World Cup final in Paris
  • Both nations are bidding for their second victory in rugby's premier tournament
  • South Africa thashed holders England 36-0 in a group game earlier in the event
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PARIS, France (CNN) -- Whatever the outcome of Saturday's World Cup final between South Africa and England, rugby's record book will be re-written as both sides bid to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for the second time.


Flying Springboks winger Bryan Habana shows his paces in training ahead of Saturday's final.

South Africa won the World Cup on home soil in 1995 with an epic and emotional victory over New Zealand, while England are the holders after Jonny Wilkinson's dramatic late drop goal saw off Australia in Sydney in 2003.

England would also become the first side to retain the trophy since the World Cup began in 1987 in New Zealand.

If experience is the pointer then Brian Ashton's men would start overwhelming favorites with four of England's team -- Jason Robinson, Wilkinson, Ben Kay and captain Phil Vickery -- starting their second final and 12 members of the 22-man squad already owning a winner's medal.

If form is the guide then look no further than South Africa, who have beaten England four times in the past 11 months and administered a humiliating 36-0 thrashing in a Pool qualifier five weeks ago.

The first of the wins at Twickenham in November 2006 probably saved coach Jake White's job, two were against an understrength England in the summer, but the victory at the Parc des Princes was comprehensive although their fellow- finalists could point to the absence of Wilkinson or a recognized fly-half.

After a tournament of upsets, White, who has built the Springboks into a formidable unit, understandably tried to label England as the favorites, pointing to the experience in their ranks.

"England players have won a World Cup away from home before," White said. "They've got guys like Dallaglio, Worsley, Robinson, Catt, Vickery -- all those guys being there is a huge advantage.

"They must be in a great mindset. They came back, they beat Australia and France in two consecutive weekends," he added.

Ashton, who is set to be rewarded with a new contract after taking over from Andy Robinson last December, was also keen to play down the significance of the defeat in the pool qualifier.

"When you put a new team together, as we have, in the context of a rugby or soccer season, we are only six or seven games into the season and you need five to bed down," the 61-year-old former Bath and Ireland coach explained.

"In that regard the South Africa match came at the right time as it was a kick up the backside and showed we needed to get our act together. That was the defining moment of the tournament for me.

"Since then we've won four games on the bounce and we'll hopefully make it five next week (in the final)," said Ashton, after the semifinal win over France.

England have been forced to make one change from the team that beat the hosts, with winger Josh Lewsey forced out by a hamstring injury to be replaced by Mark Cueto.

South Africa are unchanged after their 37-13 semifinal win over Argentina with veteran prop Os du Randt the only survivor of the 1995 triumph.

White makes one change among his replacements as loose forward Wickus van Heerden replaces Bobby Skinstad, owing his inclusion to a fine performance against England in the 36-0 rout.

Wilkinson, the top World Cup points scorer with 243 from the three tournaments he has played in, has spent much of the four years since the 2003 triumph beset by a string of injuries.

The jinx struck again before the tournament started as he sprained his ankle, causing him to sit out the early pool games, but his influence on England's fortunes, in partnership with 36-year-old veteran inside center Catt, has been undeniable.

South Africa have a match-winning kicker of their own in full-back Percy Montgomery, who is the leading points scorer in the current World Cup, while England will need to be wary of the mercurial Boks wing pair of Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen.

But it it likely to be the outcome of the battle between two sets of formidable forwards that will decide if it is South African captain John Smit or Vickery that gets their hands on the trophy. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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