West News Wire: A substitute fly half with a last-minute penalty kick by Handre Pollard, South Africa managed to overcome a formidable England team to win 16–15 and go to the Rugby World Cup final where they will face fellow triple winners New Zealand.
On a rainy Paris night, England’s kicking strategy kept the reigning champions pinned in their own half and gave them a 15–6 lead in the semifinal. However, they rallied with a try by RG Snyman before being replaced. To steal the win, Pollard scored a penalty kick from nearly on the halfway line.
After defeating France 29-28, the Springboks won by a single point for the second straight game, indicating that the two superpowers of the sport will meet in the final for the second time, after South Africa triumphed on home soil in 1995 in their first appearance at the tournament.
“It was really ugly but that is what champions are made of,” said Springboks captain Siya Kolisi.
“Credit to England. They were written off before the World Cup but pulled themselves together and showed who they are. They are not a team you take lightly but to my team, we found a way to fight back into the game.”
For most of Saturday’s match, it looked as if it would be the 2019 runners-up returning to the final. Coach Steve Borthwick had promised he had a plan to unsettle the world champions but there was nothing radical about their approach as they kicked relentlessly in the rain and outplayed the Springboks in the air.
That early control earned Owen Farrell two penalty opportunities, both of which he slotted for a 6-0 lead.
Manie Libbok landed one for the Springboks but looked off the pace and was replaced by Pollard after 31 minutes, who soon scored a penalty.
England, however, maintained their disciplined approach, gaining ground from their deep kicking, and another Farrell penalty gave them a deserved 12-6 half-time lead.
England, widely written off and 5-1 outsiders despite winning five successive games from the easier side of the draw, stretched their lead to 15-6 with a brilliant 47-metre Farrell drop goal and an upset looked likely.
All of the South African replacements were on with 30 minutes remaining as their coaches urgently tried to establish some momentum, but England would pay dearly for their inability to convert their dominance into any additional points.
Even though England has lost five straight World Cup games without scoring a try against South Africa since defeating them in the group stages in 2003, one more penalty could have changed the outcome on Saturday.
Before Snyman could charge over for the game’s lone try, Pollard’s excellent touch-finder had the Springboks barely out of their half.
Pollard converted to close to within two points 10 minutes from time but it was still England making most of the running until they conceded a scrum penalty with three minutes to go.
Pollard, called up to the squad midway through the tournament to replace injured hooker Malcolm Marx, duly slotted it with minimum fuss.
It was the first time South Africa had led and they defended England’s final assaults strongly until a knock-on ended the challenge.
Pollard was delighted with his winning kick.
“It was a big moment but it is what you want as a player on this stage, to have moments like that as a fly half is what you live for,” he said.
Borthwick praised his team and said they would build for the future.
“We came here believing we would win and the players deserve enormous credit for that,” he said.
“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.”