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”.
“I just think in the final analysis we couldn’t build scoreboard pressure,” Dallaglio said on ITV. “We had a couple of opportunities in the 22, one scrum, one line out that went missing.
"The bomb squad came on, four penalties given away in the last 10 minutes. I’ve got to say, not as a sore loser but independently, that’s a questionable penalty that wins the game.
"Ellis Genge goes down on one knee. Ben O’Keeffe is going to be the talking point because he’s won them the game, rather than South Africa.
"So I think England can feel heartbroken but South Africa deserved it because, a bit like France, the quality in depth on the bench was enough to get them over the line."
England led for all but five minutes of the semi-final and were nine points ahead until RG Snyman went over in the 70th minute at a time when the Springboks’ scrum was taking control through the introduction of the ‘Bomb Squad’.
Jonny May said England’s heroic effort against the world champions was fuelled by the belief that they had been dismissed as a serious threat by South Africa.
"I’ll be honest I don’t think necessarily the South Africans respect us," May said.
"Some of the things their coach has openly said about us in their documentaries and stuff probably just adds fuel to the fire.
"We touched on their documentary and we’ve got staff who were with them and they gave us insight of how they feel about us."
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