South Africa 16 (6) England 15 (12)
They did it again! Somehow the Springboks emerged victorious in an almighty arm wrestle to beat England 16-15 to set up a date with the All Blacks in next week’s Rugby World Cup 2023 final.
Handre Pollard stepped up to land a 49-metre penalty three minutes from time after the Boks won a third scrum penalty. It underlined Pollard’s ice-cool temperament and the Springboks’ never-say-die attitude.
They still had to fend off a sustained England attack in those final, desperate three minutes and they clung on. When the slippery ball squirted from Billy Vunipola’s grasp, Bok players fell to their knees.
This was the definition of winning ugly, yet beautifully.
For almost the entire 80 minutes it felt like it wasn’t going to be the Boks night. They just couldn’t build momentum until they started winning the scrum battle in the second half.
In the 69th minute the Boks won a scrum penalty and Pollard found a great touch close to the England goalline. The Boks secured the lineout ball, Deon Fourie burst at the line but was stopped short. The recycled ball went to RG Snyman who drove and twisted his way over.
Pollard converted and the Boks were where they struggled to be all match – in striking distance with 10 minutes to play. The rest, as they say, is history.
The bench was deployed early and changed the game with Ox Nche and Vincent Koch’s scrumming, helped by the brilliant Snyman, Kwagga Smith and Deon Fourie, the effervescent Faf de Klerk, who provided needed energy and of course the Zen-like calm of Pollard.
Despite the Springboks producing their worst performance in the Rassie Erasmus/Jacques Nienaber era when they could least afford it, they still displayed the mettle to win when it mattered most. Had they lost – and they came close, it would have hurt for years because they hardly fired a shot.
It was an error-strewn performance that lacked the same energy they’d displayed so stirringly against France a week earlier. The effort of that match clearly told as the performance lacked the obvious verve from six days earlier.
England also deserve credit as they played effectively in the conditions, with fullback Freddie Steward having an outstanding evening. He held every high ball that showered down on him while everyone’s favourite villain, Owen Farrell was highly effective with the boot.
The Boks were staring down the barrel at the break with England leading 12-6 in treacherous conditions.
It was a nervy, jittery performance from the men in green – a far cry from their strutting performances throughout this tournament – even when they lost to Ireland.
The rain and swirling wind certainly made the game a bit of a lottery. But losing three of their own lineouts in the first half, conceding a scrum penalty and getting on the wrong side of referee Ben O’Keeffe at the breakdown didn’t help the Boks.
By halftime, Farrell had landed four penalties, while the Boks had spurned a few kickable chances early in the game and never managed to get their maul working.
Flyhalf Manie Libbok struggled in the conditions with many of his u
…. to be continued
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