England suffered defeat in the most agonising circumstances as world champions South Africa emerged victorious at the Stade de France to set up a colossal Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand. Steve Borthwick’s men performed admirably and executed a sublime game plan, backing up their quarter-final victory over Fiji behind the magnificent kicking of Owen Farrell.
But the Springboks showed their resilience and rallied late in the second half, also relying on kicking, with Handre Pollard, on after half an hour following a ruthless move to hook the struggling Manie Libbok, shining and subsequently hitting the match-winning penalty. South Africa scored the only try of the match, with RG Snyman bundling over with 12 minutes remaining, cutting the deficit to just two points and allowing Pollard to snatch victory and ensure a mouthwatering encounter with the All Blacks.
Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi admitted the contest was a tough watch at times: "It was ugly today, really ugly, but that's what champions are made of. England, credit to them, they were written off. They showed who they are. All credit to them, my team, it was ugly, but we found a way to fight and get back into the game. I'm really proud of them, especially the guys who came off the bench.
“England did so well in the kicking game, they outplayed us in that, our discipline was awful. But we showed who we are and what we can do. The All Blacks are playing really well, but we want to thank the South Africans who stuck with us and travelled over, next week will be tough, it'll be special, hopefully we can defend it.” Follow all the reaction and analysis from a pulsating semi-final below.
Why England will come back ‘stronger’ from Rugby World Cup heartache
Up into the stands the England players clambered to find their families, taking the consolatory hugs but unsure quite how to feel. Across 80 minutes in Paris, their belief had been replaced by disbelief and then by desperation and dejection, England threatening the unthinkable and taking the world champions to the brink.
For most of a sodden Stade de France evening, a Rugby World Cup final was within their grasp. A South Africa side superior in most areas were dragged down into the sort of slugfest the Springboks would usually favour, and very nearly bested at their own game. England had given their all but it was still not enough, one stable scrum, one Handre Pollard slip or slice, short of stunning the world champions.
The emotional maelstrom of this defeat will swirl rather differently to the feelings that eddied after the 2019 World Cup final disaster.
By Harry Latham-Coyle in Paris
Another defeat to South Africa, but a different feeling from 2019: Steve Borthwick’s side now have reason for optimism after almost stunning the Springboks in the semi-finals
‘We are the bomb squad’: How South Africa’s not-so-secret weapon turned Rugby World Cup semi-final
“We are the bomb squad and we knew we had to play a massive role.” If South Africa’s narrow win over England in the Rugby World Cup semi-final could be summed up in one sentence, then this proclamation from Vincent Koch after the game would probably be it.
When Koch emerged from the replacements on 55 minutes to take the place of starting tighthead prop Frans Malherbe, Owen Farrell had just slotted a drop goal from downtown Paris to give England a 15-6 lead. Nine points may not seem a lot but, with the final quarter of the match beckoning and the rain and wind increasing at the Stade de France, it was a comparatively huge deficit.
Throughout the first few minutes of the second half, the Springboks had more or less emptied their bench as Ox Nche, RG Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Deon Fourie, Faf de Klerk and Willie Le Roux all entered the fray to go alongside the controversial 30th-minute substitution of starting fly half Manie Libbok for Handre Pollard.
With their World Cup title defence hanging by a thread, South Africa trusted their bench and got their reward. Koch and Nche splintered the previously effective English scrum, Snyman burrowed his way across the line for the game’s only try and Pollard nervelessly converted tricky kicks to complete the hardest-fought of turnarounds – 10 unanswered points, a 16-15 win and a date with the All Blacks in another World Cup final next Saturday.
By Luke Baker in Paris
The Springboks came from behind to dramatically beat England in Paris and had theri uniquely-styled replacements to thank
Tom Curry accuses South Africa hooker of racist comment during World Cup semi-final
Tom Curry accused South Africa hooker Bongi Mbonambi of calling him a “white c***” during England’s narrow Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat to the Springboks.
A hard-fought game finished in a fracas after an England knock-on sealed South Africa’s victory, with players from both sides scrapping at the final whistle.
But there had been plenty of other flashpoints throughout the contest.
Just after the 20-minute mark, with Owen Farrell lining up a shot at goal, the England flanker approached referee Ben O’Keeffe and alleged that Mbonambi had made a comment.
“Sir, if their hooker calls me a white c***, what do I do?” Curry inquired of O’Keeffe, in an exchange that was picked up on the ref mic.
The England flanker made the accusation to official Ben O’Keeffe in an exchange picked up by the ref mic
Danny Care hopes England have won over disillusioned fans
Danny Care hopes a heartbreaking defeat by South Africa in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final has won over any England fans who had grown disillusioned with the team.
Booing is a sound heard frequently at England games in recent times, particularly at Twickenham, but Care views the progress made in France under Steve Borthwick’s guidance as a cause to rally around.
“There was a lot of stuff said about us before and hopefully we’ve changed some perceptions, maybe got people believing in us again,” the Harlequins scrum-half said.
“Before the tournament, we understand that because of our performances people were doubting us a little bit. But then things clicked into gear a bit when we got over to France.
“We’ve shown stuff that fans can hopefully get behind and be proud of. The support we’ve had over here and back home has been amazing. This team will go on to bigger and better things, I’m sure of it.”
South Africa investigating alleged racist abuse directed at England’s Tom Curry
South Africa have begun investigating an alleged racist slur directed at England flanker Tom Curry by their hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi.
England have until Monday morning to lodge a complaint with the citing officer after Curry claimed he had been the victim of a discriminatory remark in Saturday’s 16-15 World Cup semi-final defeat by the Springboks.
South Africa on Sunday responded by confirming they are looking into the incident.
“We are aware of the allegation, which we take very seriously, and are reviewing the available evidence. We will engage with Bongi if anything is found to substantiate the claim,” an SA Rugby statement read.
When asked after the match if Mbonambi had said something he should not have done, Curry replied “yeah”, although he declined to reveal the content of the remark.
Referee ‘won South Africa the game’, claims England great Lawrence Dallaglio
England great Lawrence Dallaglio claimed referee Ben O’Keefe “won South Africa the game” after Handre Pollard’s late penalty steered the Springboks to a narrow 16-15 victory in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
Steve Borthwick’s side led by nine points in the final quarter but a place against New Zealand in next week’s final slipped through their fingers as South Africa won a series of key penalties.
The introduction of South Africa’s ‘Bomb Squad’ helped shift the momentum, especially in the scrum, while Pollard’s performance off the bench and the ascendancy of the Springboks set-piece were also key factors.
Dallaglio accepted that South Africa’s strength in depth proved too strong for England but the former World Cup winner was also made to rue the officiating of the semi-final, as he insisted he was not being a “sore loser”.
A place in the Rugby World Cup final slipped through England’s grasp
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi proud of ‘ugly’ win
“All the hard work that we’ve put in, it came off. It was ugly today, but that’s what champions are made of. Credit to England, coach Steve [Borthwick] got them ready and they showed who they are. My team, I’m really proud of the boys. England did so well in the kicking game, they outplayed us in that. Our discipline was awful in the first half, but we fought back in the second half and we showed what we can do.”
On the All Blacks, he adds: “The final? It’s going to be as big as it was tonight.”
Borthwick’s troops far outperformed expectations in the semi-final and although he was devastated to come up just short on the big stage, the coach is convinced the experience will stand his young squad in great stead for the future.
“The whole team performance was strong,” said Borthwick in his post-match press conference. “We’re disappointed. We came here with a plan to win the game but fell short. Not far but a little bit short and we’re desperately disappointed.
“But the players should be incredibly proud. We had seven players 25 or under in our squad, which was the most of any semi-finalist. South Africa had one.
“We have a great blend in the squad and there’s lots to take going forward. We put ourselves in a position to win a semi-final against the reigning world champs and world No 1.
“In adversity, there is normally a seed in there that will grow into something brilliant. It’s too early to find that seed now but we’ll make sure we find it. We’ll take what we’ve gone through tonight, grab it and make sure it makes us stronger in the future.”
Head coach Steve Borthwick was proud of his players after the narrowest of 16-15 defeats to South Africa in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals
World Cup final and third-place play-off fixtures, dates and kick-off times
Here’s everything you need to know as New Zealand and South Africa face off in the final of the 2023 Rugby World Cup:
Everything you need to know as New Zealand and South Africa face off in the final of the 2023 Rugby World Cup
More from Steve Borthwick, on England’s future
“We have a very smart group of players that are learning very quickly because we have had to do it very quickly. The opposition have had four years and we have had four months. That is why the players deserve enormous credit. I asked the players to approach the training differently and they have embraced that.
“In that 23, we have seven players aged 25 or younger. That is the most of any of the semi-finalists so we have a great blend of experience and young players. We are disappointed but immensely proud of these guys and we’ll build going forward.
“I care an awful lot about these players so I’m really gutted for them and their families but I’m proud of them. I really care deeply about English rugby and our supporters. There have been some tough times and we have work to do but you will see just how much those players care about representing their country.”
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