South Africa edge out France in Rugby World Cup classic to set up England semi-final

South Africa edge out France in Rugby World Cup classic to set up England semi-final

Pieter-Steph Du Toit and Kwagga Smith celebrate/South Africa edge thriller with France to set up England World Cup semi-final – latest reaction

Pieter-Steph Du Toit and Kwagga Smith celebrate in front of distraught France players

Credit: Warren Little/Getty Images

If anyone was in any doubt about the scale of the task facing England in Paris next weekend, it was made crystal clear on another extraordinary evening in Paris.

What a game. What drama. But in truth, what a disaster for this World Cup, which now lacks home interest ahead of what look to be, on paper at least, two extremely one-sided semi-finals.

England are going to have to hope their surprisingly slow ruck ball and one-dimensional attack disorientates South Africa because on this evidence Steve Borthwick’s men do not look anywhere near equipped for a shootout with the defending world champions.

Even France, inspired by the return of the magnificent Antoine Dupont, and roared on by a packed-out Stade de France, could not overcome the brilliant Boks. But what an exhibition of rugby both these teams served up.

After the intensity and drama of the previous evening’s quarter-final between Ireland and New Zealand in the same stadium, this was if anything even better, even higher quality. Particularly the first 40 minutes which will go down in history as one of the great halves of rugby.

Six tries, three apiece, in the space of half an hour – a record for the first half of a men’s World Cup knockout match – saw France head into the interval holding onto a narrow 22-19 advantage. But the Boks came roaring back in the second period with an Eben Etzebeth try and a monster Handre Pollard penalty giving them some breathing room before France rallied in a grandstand finale.

There will undoubtedly be question marks about Ben O’Keeffe’s refereeing. Particularly that Pollard penalty, slotted from his own half, which gave South Africa a crucial four-point lead with 10 minutes remaining. Dupont, who left the pitch in tears after giving his parents a hug in the stands, was certainly unimpressed.

They were indeed. As wondrous as France were at times, it would be churlish to say South Africa did not deserve this win. They found a weakness in France’s defences under the high crossfield kick and probed it remorselessly. Pieter-Steph du Toit was off the charts good. Cheslin Kolbe magnificent in attack. In fact, never mind Pollard’s late penalty, Kolbe’s chargedown of a Thomas Ramos conversion attempt in the first half may very well have won the match.

Ultimately France made 12 clean breaks to South Africa’s five, beat 42 defenders to South Africa’s 12, dominated possession (59 per cent) and territory (63 per cent). And still they came up short.

The build-up to the game had been dominated by frenzied speculation over Dupont’s cheekbone, which France’s golden boy had fractured during the pool stage victory over Namibia last month.

South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe charged down the conversion kick from France’s Thomas Ramos

Credit: AFP/Miguel Medina

During the warm-up the Toulouse scrum-half’s every move was cheered to the rafters by the crowds within the Stade de France. But it is fair to say there was some nervousness in the Parisian air at the possible risk of re-injury. They need not have worried. Dupont, wearing a black scrum cap, was at his glorious, sniping, creative best in a superb, see-sawing first half, continually probing the spaces in behind South Africa’s defence with clever chips.

That first half resembled a heavyweight title fight as one team landed what looked to be a knockout blow only for the other to respond in kind.

First Cyrille Baille went over in the corner. Then, after Eben Etzebeth had crucially extended a Go-Go-Gadget arm to intercept a mis-pass and break up a dangerous France attack, Kurt-Lee Arendse collected a box-kick and scampered past Ramos to dive over in the corner.

Damian de Allende was next to cross after another high crossfield kick caused chaos in the France defence. But back came the hosts, Dupont with a quick penalty and a miss-pass to Mauvaka to crash over in the right corner. It was almost impossible to keep up.

It was almost impossible to keep up. One moment Kolbe was charging down Ramos’ conversion, the next the South Africa wing was over in the corner for South Africa’s third try, collecting a grubber kick from Jesse Kriel and evading the despairing clutches of Damian Penaud.

Then Dupont kicked behind again and France were able to send Baille crashing over for his second and France’s third try, Ramos converting to level the scores at 19-19.

A breathless first half ended with Etzebeth sent to the bin for direct contact with Uni Antonio’s face and Ramos slotting the resulting penalty for a narrow 22-19 lead.

The second half, almost inevitably, could not live up to the heights of the first, but South Africa eventually ground down and broke French hearts with Etzebeth scoring from close range before Pollard’s monster penalty. Ramos cut that deficit to one point after de Klerk strayed offside following a breakdown. But they were unable to score again. England are going to have to pull something extraordinary out of the bag in Paris next weekend to stand any chance whatsoever.

Match details

France: T Ramos; D Penaud, G Fickou, J Danty, L Bielle-Biarrey; M Jalibert (Y Moefana, 73), A Dupont; C Baille (R Wardi 50), P Mauvaka (P Bourgarit, 65), U Atonio (D Aldegheri, 58), C Woki, T Flament (R Taofifenua, 50), A Jelonch (F Cros, 51), C Ollivon, G Alldritt (S Macalou, 69)
Unused replacements: M Lucu
South Africa: D Willemse (W Le Roux, 51); K Arendse, J Kriel, D De Allende, C Kolbe; M Libbok (H Pollard, 45), C Reinach (F De Klerk, 45); S Kitshoff (O Nche, 51), B Mbonambi, F Malherbe (V Koch, 63), E Etzebeth, F Mostert (RG Snyman, 45), S Kolisi (D Fourie, 47), P Du Toit, D Vermeulen (K Smith, 51).
Yellow card: Etzebeth, 39
Scoring sequence: 5-0 Baille try, 7-0 Ramos con, 7-5 Arendse try, 7-7 Libbok con, 7-12 De Allende try, 12-12 Mauvaka try, 12-17 Kolbe try, 12-19 Libbok con, 17-19 Baille try, 19-19 Ramos con, 22-19 Ramos pen, 25-19 Ramos pen, 25-24 Etzebeth try, 25-26 Pollard con, 25-29 Pollard pen, 28-29 Ramos pen.

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South Africa win: How it happened

The moment the ball comes loose as Faf de Klerk (right) strips French prop Red Wardi

Credit: Getty Images/Warren Little

South Africa’s Kurt-Lee Arendse gathers the ball and kicks it out to secure victory

Credit: Reuters/Saray Meyssonnier

South Africa players, including Handre Pollard, centre, celebrate

Credit: Getty Images/Brendan Moran

Jubilation for South Africa

Battered and bruised: Jesse Kriel leaves the field to celebrate with team-mates

Credit: Getty Images/David Ramos

Eben Etzebeth shares a smile as the Springboks celebrate victory

Credit: Getty Images/Warren Little

Pieter-Steph du Toit points to the sky in celebration

Credit: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

Pieter-Steph Du Toit (left) embraces Kwagga Smith

Credit: Getty Images/Warren Little

France’s World Cup dreams shattered

Eben Etzebeth: ‘That was an incredible test match’

That was an incredible test match. We came out in the first couple of minutes. They score, then we score and it went on like that. What a test match. It could have gone either way. We are obviously so happy it went our way. I know the French are heartbroken, so spare a thought for them.

South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber

Playing the French quality team and they’ve been consistent here over the past couple of years. Playing them here in Paris was always going to be a massive challenge for us, and credit to our team.

Having a lot of players who’ve been here before. I think calm heads helped us through in the end.

That’s what world cup knock-out rugby is all about. You are never comfortable. 

Heart-break for Dupont and France

France’s scrum-half and captain Antoine Dupont looks inconsolable after the final whistle

Credit: AFP/Anne-Christine Poujoulat

France’s flanker Charles Ollivon (right) looks dejected after the final whistle

Credit: AFP/Franck Fife

France’s Antoine Dupont hangs his head after his side are eliminated from the World Cup

Credit: EPA/Yoan Valat

Siya Kolisi:

South Africa’s Siya Kolisi celebrates

Credit: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

It was a hard game. We knew how tough it was going to be with the French team at home. I just want to say well done to them for what they’ve achieved and how hat they have worked.

I thought we really wanted it and I knew how tough it was going to be. I must give credit to the guys who came off the bench, but also to the people back at home. They can’t afford to be here. But the videos, the schools who send pictures of them watching our games – that’s who we play for. 

How crucial was this Cheslin Kolbe charge down?

80 min FRA 28 SA 29

France slow it down. They are walking up in attack. Wardi looks to get over the gain line, but the ball is stripped by de Klerk and rolls forward! Kurt-Lee Arendse pounces on it and launches the ball into touch. South Africa win!

It’s all over. France are out of their own World Cup. South Africa will progress to a semi-final against England in a week’s time.

80 min FRA 28 SA 29

France are just inside thee opposition half with the clock in the red. Penaud breaks and is collared. France look dead on their feet though, and the breakdown is as hotly contested as ever.

79 min FRA 28 SA 29

Bizarrely, de Klerk opts for a high bomb which France gather, giving them one more roll of the dice with 20 seconds on the clock.

78 min FRA 28 SA 29

The ball goes in, and France hook it back, moving it right to Bielle-Biarrey. He offloads to Penaud who tears up the touchline, and France could be on here. But South Africa dig deep, hurtling back to force a turnover. And again it’s that man Kwagga Smith.

77 min FRA 28 SA 29

The scrum re-sets again, and South Africa won’t mind that at all. 

77 min FRA 28 SA 29

The scrum re-sets. Do France have enough time to get back up-field and score again? The clock is running out.

76 min FRA 28 SA 29

France rush Vincent Koch to send South Africa backwards, but the Boks rally. France are awarded a scrum for accidental offside. De Klerk tried to play for the penalty by passing it straight into a French player who was in an offside position but on his knees. Ben O’Keefe has no time for it, and de Klerk looks incensed.

75 min FRA 28 SA 29

South Africa put the squeeze on at the scrum, but France hold firm. The Boks go left to de Allende, then hit back in-field through du Toit. It’s lung-busting stuff.

74 min FRA 28 SA 29

Poor mistake from Thomas Ramos, whose boot misfires for more or less the first time this game. He kicks out on the full, and that could prove very costly indeed. South Africa scrum on the opposition 22. This is a fantastic attacking opportunity, and the Boks may well yet turn it into a penalty.

73 min FRA 28 SA 29

After France clear their lines, South Africa get their driving maul marching forwards. Kolbe picks up at nine just outside the opposition 22 and opts for an opportunistic drop goal. Fantastic quick thinking from the winger, and my word, it’s not far wide. Play will re-start with a 22-metre drop out. 

72 min FRA 28 SA 29

A risky late play by France, who bring off Jalibert for Moafana. Perhaps they want his carrying power for these closing encounters as they go in search of one more score.

72 min FRA 28 SA 29

A brilliant dink kick up the middle from France is expertly gather by Jalibert, who steps the first defender then shows the presence of mind to reach back, placing the ball out of reach of the Springbok defenders. 

France win a penalty for offside from de Klerk at the following breakdown, and they decide to go for the three. It’s a simple kick for Ramos, but France still trail by one. 

Matthieu Jalibert (left) is tackled by South Africa’s Jesse Kriel

Credit: AP/Thibault Camus

68 min FRA 25 SA 29

France look rattled as they go again. The ball comes loose from Dupont, and as France retreat to gather, Kwagga Smith wins a penalty at the breakdown. It looked a little generous as he appeared to put an arm down, and the crowd make their displeasure known. Pollard steps up to the mark from halfway and sends his kick between the posts. France lead by four points.

Handre Pollard lands a clutch kick from half-way to stretch South Africa’s lead

Credit: Getty Images/Franco Arland


South Africa go for a big game play, opting to quick tap rather than go for the corner. Tu Toit blasts into the French defence. They then move it right to the behemoth Etzebeth, who charges like a bull, carrying three defenders with him as he bundles over the line.

South Africa convert to go ahead. 

64 min FRA 25 SA 19

France go hard in the scrum, but they are penalised for their tighthead side angling in. South Africa quick tap and release Jesse Kriel who goes flying through. He offloads to Pollard, and when the ball is recycled South Africa kick through. Dupont is back, but there is little he can do as he is pounced on. South Africa penalty.

64 min FRA 25 SA 19

France’s scrum buckles again, and South Africa win a freekick. The Boks call for another scrum, hoping to win a penalty, and Mbonambi points at his opposite man as if to lay down the gauntlet.

62 min FRA 25 SA 19

South Africa’s vision in defence has been brilliant, knowing when to rush and go hunting French attackers. This time Ollivon is tap tackled by de Klerk and knocks on as he crashes into the turf. South Africa scrum just outside their own 22. 

62 min FRA 25 SA 19

Aldricht breraks off the base, and France play quickly from the breakdown, hoisting one to the skies to test Kolbe. The South Africa winger can’t gather, and the ball spills back to France. They move it back left, with Dante riding a couple of challenges and making headway up the left flank after an offload.

60 min FRA 25 SA 19

De Allende tries to squeeze an off-load out the back to Le Roux who knocks on. Scrum France around their own 10-metre line. 

59 min FRA 25 SA 19

Dreadful line-out blunder from South Africa. The ball is overthrown and all RG Snyman can do is flap at it. France gather and clear their lines. The Springboks are back up and running again though, hurtling into the guts of France with a series of ferocious carries. 

58 min FRA 25 SA 19

Ox Nche gets under his man in the scrum, popping him up to win a penalty. That could prove a crucial penalty for South Africa. They kick for a line-out on the French five-metre line. 

57 min FRA 25 SA 19

France can’t make touch, and Kolbe runs it back. Like a coiled spring, he puts in a step before exploding through a gap. South Africa spin the ball out to Etzebeth on the left touchline, who puts in a monstrous hand-off to ride the challenge. As the Springboks come back in field though, the ball is knocked on, and France will have the chance to clear their lines. Both sides have had opportunities this half, but the defensive efforts of both has been up to the test.

56 min FRA 25 SA 19

Almost a horrific blunder from Jalibert. The French fly-half somehow manges to slice the ball backwards. Luckily for him, it just makes touch. he holds up his hand in apology. It’s rare to see that on an international field. 

55 min FRA 25 SA 19

South Africa carry brutally in-field, with Kwagga Smith making metres propelled by Etzebeth. He gets detached from his support though, and Mauvaka latches onto the ball this time to force a turnover penalty. The breakdown has been fiercely contested all game.

55 min FRA 25 SA 19

Pollard hoists it into the air for Kolbe to chase, and the electric winger slips in ahead of Bielle-Biarrey to win the ball.

55 min FRA 25 SA 19

Off the re-start, France kick to touch before putting pressure on the Springbok line-out. South Africa move it out to the left wing and carry through du Toit on half-way.

53 min FRA 25 SA 19

France win a penalty advantage and feed Jalibert, who shows his twinkling feet on the blindside, dummying a kick that sends Pollard sprawling to the floor. South Africa’s defence reacts in a frenzied fashion and they latch onto the ball. Play is called back for a French penalty, and Ramos opts for a shot at goal.

France extend their lead to six.

50 min FRA 22 SA 19

Provided France’s scrum stays solid, they have a great attacking platform from which to mount an attack.

50 min FRA 22 SA 19

France truck it up the middle, and South Africa look to strip it. The ball is knocked on though by the Springboks, and the France juggernaut keeps rolling on to breach the 22. South Africa are choosing their moments to rush up and stymie France’s attacking efforts, and it’s working effectively. Kitshoff knocks on though as he tries to pinch the ball out of the hands of Dupont, and that will be his last action this game as he is subbed off. France have a central scrum inside the opposition 22.

49 min FRA 22 SA 19

France make scrum changes, with Wardi coming on for Baille and Taofifenua coming into the second row. 

49 min FRA 22 SA 19

Etzebeth comes back on. France haven’t managed to capitalise

…. to be continued
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