July 20th, 2024

South Africa pulls off great escape to beat England and make Rugby World Cup final

By The Associated Press on October 21, 2023.

PARIS (AP) – South Africa pulled off a great escape to come from nine points behind and beat England 16-15 at the death on Saturday, keeping alive its title defense at the Rugby World Cup and setting up a blockbuster final against its fiercest rival New Zealand.

One of them will win a record fourth Rugby World Cup and – after England’s agonizing exit – the trophy is once again set to stay in the southern hemisphere.

The Springboks trailed for the entire semifinal against England until replacement flyhalf Handre Pollard kicked a 78th-minute penalty from near halfway at Stade de France to edge them thrillingly ahead.

From there, the Boks closed out a second come-from-behind nailbiter after the one-point win over host France in the quarterfinals.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s a lot of relief in this moment,” Pollard said. “Frustrated we weren’t at our best tonight, especially in that first half. We knew we had so much more to give but fair play to England, they put us under pressure in exactly the right areas.

“But, jeez, the fight we showed never giving up, it is what we stand for as a team and as a nation.”

That 29-28 win over the French last weekend required South Africa to dig as deep as it ever has at a Rugby World Cup. The defending champion had to do it all over again to stay in with a chance of becoming only the second team after New Zealand to retain the World Cup.

The final is on Saturday, back at Stade de France.

Pollard was thrown on in only the 31st minute when it was all going wrong for South Africa.

England executed its gameplan to perfection to be in control for the first hour, sending kick after kick from the base of the ruck or from captain Owen Farrell at flyhalf down onto the Springboks, who struggled with the high bombs all day in the rain in Paris.

From those kicks, England gained the crucial territorial advantage and Farrell kicked four penalties in the first half and a long-range drop goal in the second to put them 15-6 ahead with less than half an hour to play.

South Africa’s comeback was down, once again, to its bench players. It started with a try to replacement lock RG Snyman in the 69th minute, which was only the Springboks’ second visit to the English 22 of the half. Pollard’s conversion put them two points behind at 15-13.

The Springboks’ set-piece misfired for most of the game – mostly down to English pressure – but they won a scrum near halfway in the closing minutes and replacement props Ox Nche and Vincent Koch set themselves for a huge heave.

The scrum went sideways and the Boks won the penalty they were looking for, leaving Pollard to send the highest of pressure goalkicks through the middle. Pollard was South Africa’s 2019 World Cup-winning flyhalf but joined this campaign only midway through because of injury.

Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber, who will leave after the World Cup and might have thought his time was up in the semis, put his head down on a desk in the coaches box and covered it with his hands at the end as the Springboks erupted in celebration.

England came within minutes of sweet revenge having lost finals to South Africa four years ago and in 2007, when the Rugby World Cup was last in France. The English were largely written off before this tournament but came within a whisker of a huge turn-up and making the final with a brilliantly disciplined and tactically near-perfect game until South Africa snatched it away.

“After a difficult loss like this all that stands with me is how proud I am to be English,” Farrell said. “You can always look back at things but South Africa are a top, top side. They have shown that over the course of the World Cup.”

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AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby

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