Six Leicester Tigers players will head home from Japan as Rugby World Cup silver medallists after South Africa’s win over England on Saturday.
Tigers colleagues Ben Youngs, George Ford, Jonny May and Manu Tuilagi all started the final, with club colleague Dan Cole among the replacements and Ellis Genge also named in the 31-man World Cup squad selected by national coach Eddie Jones.
After topping the pool and then brushing aside Australia and New Zealand in the knockout rounds, England were beaten 32-12 by a South Africa side who were on control throughout Saturday’s final at Yokohama Stadium.
Cole had an early introduction when Kyle Sinckler suffered a head injury after just two minutes, but England found themselves under pressure at the set-piece and starved of meaningful possession for most of the first half, trailing 12-6 at the break.
Handre Pollard kicked four penalties – with one on the stroke of half-time to stretch the lead to six points – against two from Owen Farrell.
England, therefore, would have to do what no other team has ever done and come back a half-time deficit to win a World Cup.
It remained a hard-fought contest with the kickers exchanging penalties as South Africa led 18-12 on the hour and England meeting ferocious defence whenever they had possession.
South Africa finally found a breakthrough with ball in hand on 65 minutes with wing Makazole Mapimpi racing in on the left, and they added a second score inside the last 10 minutes when opposite wing Cheslin Kolbe found a way through to the tryline to tighten their grip on the trophy.
"We were massively inaccurate in the first half," Tigers and England fly-half Ford told ITV Sport at the final whistle. "We couldn't build any pressure. Congratulations to them, they executed their gameplan brilliantly."