South Africa edge England to book final v New Zealand

South Africa will have the chance to defend their Rugby World Cup crown in next Saturday's final against New Zealand after edging England 16-15 in a gripping second semi-final at Stade de France.

The reigning champions were never in front until a long-range penalty from replacement Handre Pollard with just two minutes left on the clock.

Under unrelenting rain, scrum-half Alex Mitchell and fly-half Owen Farrell went to the air again and again for England, whose defence and breakdown work were ferocious as the Springboks had few answers.

Four Farrell first-half penalties to one from Manie Libbok and one from Pollard - who replaced Libbok after just 30 minutes - put England 12-6 up at half-time lead, which Farrell extended to 15-6 with a thumping drop-goal.

But with the Springboks bench exerting increasing influence, replacement second-row RG Synman crashed over after 69 minutes and Pollard's conversion brought them to within two points. 

But another scrum penalty after 78 minutes gave Pollard the chance to break England's hearts and send South Africa into their fourth RWC final. 

"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, it was fun," said Pollard, who was named the Mastercard Player of the Match.

"It's unbelievable, it's a lot of relief in this moment. 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, I think 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."

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi paid tribute to his team's never-say-die attitude.

"It was really ugly today but that is what champions are made of," he said. "Credit to England, they have worked hard. They were written off before the World Cup. Coach Steve [Borthwick] and Owen [Farrell] and the team pulled themselves together and showed who they are. They are not a team you take lightly, all credit to them for being in the semi-final today.

"It was ugly today like it was last week but we found a way to fight back and get back into the game. Well done to the boys. I am really proud of the fight that was showed, especially the guys who came off the bench once again."

England head coach Steve Borthwick saluted South Africa's ability "to come back and find a way to win".

"Great credit to them, they are the number one side in the world," he said. "They are the world champions for a reason. Secondly, I want to say thank you to the incredible supporters that were here tonight and the millions watching back home who have been cheering this team on. Thirdly, my players, who were incredibly well led by Owen. They showed what it means to play for England.  They played their hearts out.”

Captain Farrell, who scored all England's points, said he was "unbelievably proud" of his side, despite the agonising nature of the defeat.

“After a difficult loss like this, all that stands with me is how proud I am to be English," he 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. 

“We have been on a different journey over the course of this and I’m just proud of where we’ve been at these last couple of weeks and where we’ve built to and where this team can go from now on.”

 

Story first published on rugbyworldcup.com

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