Marcus Smith among several England players on ‘modified training’ ahead of South Africa semi-final

Smith ended the last eight victory over Fiji with a fat upper lip and a bandage on his head

Duncan Bech
Tuesday 17 October 2023 18:52 BST
England players react to 30-24 win to Fiji at Rugby World Cup

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Louise Thomas

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Marcus Smith was among a number of players placed on modified training as preparations began for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa, but England are hopeful he will be fit.

Smith ended the last-eight victory over Fiji with a fat upper lip and a bandage on his head after he was the victim of a dangerous tackle by wing Vinaya Harbosi, forcing him to depart for an HIA which he passed.

The Harlequins star, who has been moved from his accustomed position of fly-half for the World Cup, defended bravely on a tense evening at Stade Velodrome and is contention to retain the number 15 jersey ahead of Freddie Steward.

Defence coach Kevin Sinfield insists a clearer picture of his availability will emerge over the coming days after he was joined by Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole in missing the start of Tuesday’s session.

“Marcus is good. He’s one of those who have been modified today so we’ll get a clearer read in the week, but fingers crossed he will be good to go,” Sinfield said.

England learned on Tuesday that their semi-final will be refereed by Ben O’Keeffe, whose officiating was criticised by France in the wake of their defeat to South Africa on Sunday.

It will be the second time O’Keeffe has overseen a Springboks match at this World Cup after the Kiwi official was in place for their 13-8 defeat by Ireland in the group stage.

South Africa have taken steps to repair their relationships with referees after director of rugby Rassie Erasmus was banned for two months for verbally attacking officials during the 2021 Lions series.

The reigning world champions are among the least penalised teams in the tournament and Sinfield said: “We have full respect for whoever takes charge.

“It’s a big game and I don’t think we’d ever criticise the referee during this campaign. We understand what a tough job it is.

England’s Marcus Smith has been placed on modified training (David Davies/PA)
England’s Marcus Smith has been placed on modified training (David Davies/PA) (PA Wire)

“We are a pretty disciplined team at the minute and it’s something we talk about a lot. We certainly need to be disciplined in a whole host of ways on Saturday evening.”

Sinfield holds South Africa in high regard as the rematch of the 2019 World Cup final looms large, but insists England must also draw strength from their own attributes.

“They are a top team. We saw their quarter-final against France and were in awe of the physicality they brought,” Sinfield said.

“We have the utmost respect for them. We think they are a nation that play the best rugby. They know what they are about and they don’t shy away from it.

“We’re coming up against a team with probably the best defence in the world. They’ve been together a long time and they’re really well drilled. It’s an aggressive defence.

“They are a running threat, they’re a kick threat, they have an incredible set-piece, they have an unbelievable defence – do you want me to keep going?

“It’s important for us to get the balance right this week, understanding what South Africa do and how they play, but also some of our strengths as well.

“I think it would be quite easy for us to be completely blown away by how good they are.”

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