Springboks pull off great escape against England in nail-biting World Cup semi-final

Springboks pull off great escape against England in nail-biting World Cup semi-final

The Springboks somehow managed to turn the tables with a superb late rally as they held on for a 16-15 win over England to keep their Rugby World Cup dream alive.

For the large majority of the match, it looked like the Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus era was going to come to a bitterly disappointing end - as was the Boks' defence of their World Cup trophy - but they came up clutch when they needed it most, and when the final whistle blew to signal the narrowest of Bok wins, the emotions ran particularly high for the Springbok coaches on the sidelines.

It was a very different story earlier on, as South Africa simply failed to turn up at the Stade de France and allowed themselves to get outplayed by an England side that were more disciplined and clinical in their approach.

The Boks definitely battled in the wet northern hemisphere conditions, with their forwards failing to impose themselves in the setpieces or rucks until late in the game, and their backs offering little more than a barrage of high balls lacking the necessary distance and accuracy to cause the England defence any real problems.

And because they were playing so little rugby, it meant England could sit on their lead and grind the clock down, taking advantage of the South Africans' ill-discipline to keep themselves ahead on the scoreboard.

Yet, when it mattered the most, the reigning World Cup champions showed tremendous strength and grit to turn things around, with the substitutes in particular breathing new life into the team in the second half, allowing them to overturn a nine-point deficit late on and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Match report

The game started with an early penalty for hands in the ruck from the South African forwards, allowing Owen Farrell to settle his nerves from the kicking tee and hand his side the lead.

England were also winning the early aerial battle, with the Boks looking a little shaky under the high ball, while the men in green and gold also surprisingly lost both of their opening line-outs.

The second lost line-out handed England an attacking scrum inside the South African 22, and when another breakdown penalty right in front followed shortly after, a dominant England side took a 6-0 lead.

When the Boks won a kickable penalty, they opted for the corner but couldn't control their rolling maul as England turned the ball over.

A few minutes later, the Boks had another kickable penalty after some foul play from England; again they opted for the corner, and again they couldn't control their own ball, as they continued to look erratic and out of sorts.

The Boks needed a way back into the game, but they continued to immediately kick any possession they got high into the air, and England continued to win the ball back every time.

When another penalty went their way for England sealing off, some backchat from Owen Farrell saw England marched back 10, bringing the Boks in range and finally prompting Siya Kolisi to point to the posts, with Manie Libbok converting to put South Africa on the board.

Unfortunately, the Boks' problems continued as a wild pass from Damian Willemse handed possession back to England inside South Africa's 22, leading to the Boks immediately giving away another penalty which Farrell converted to restore their six-point lead.

Bongi Mbonambi then lost another line-out to spoil some more good ball from the Boks, before Eben Etzebeth gave another breakdown penalty, as the danger signs intensified.

Meanwhile, Libbok was also looking out of sorts, struggling to get either his up-and-unders or touch-finders right, and that led the Bok coaches to take swift action, bringing Handre Pollard onto the pitch with just half an hour gone.

When Billy Vunipola coughed up the ball inside his own 22, it led to a penalty advantage and an easy kick first up for Pollard to bring South Africa back to within three.

But with time running out in the half, the referee pinged Pieter-Steph du Toit for obstruction under a high ball, and that allowed Farrell to restore England's six-point lead as the Boks headed into half-time in serious need of a talking-to.

The second half started with another breakdown penalty against the Boks, and when a little kick in behind saw Damian Willemse slip right by his own line, it handed England an attacking line-out just metres out. Luckily, the throw wasn't straight and the Boks were able to clear their lines.

Meanwhile, Nienaber and Erasmus were continuing to bring on more replacements, as RG Snyman, Ox Nche, Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk joined the party, with Kwagga Smith and Deon Fourie following not too long after.

When the Boks finally created a decent chance to score after 50 minutes of toil thanks to a solid crossfield kick and some good work from Kurt-Lee Arendse on the outside, Le Roux kicked the ball dead to allow England to escape.

It would turn out to be a costly error as England took the ball up to the other end of the field shortly after, where Farrell kicked a beautiful drop goal to put them nine points clear.

With the clock beginning to wind down, things were starting to look desperate for the Boks, but needing something to start going their way, they finally started to gain the upper hand in the scrums, which would lead to a pivotal change in momentum, as well as several penalties and, eventually, a kick to the corner.

It was now or never for the Boks, and from the ensuing line-out, Deon Fourie peeled off the maul and drove towards the line, allowing Snyman to crash over for the try following a quick recycle. Pollard converted the extras to bring the Boks to within two points with 10 minutes to play.

With time running out, England were starting to look more and more shaky on defence, and when another scrum penalty went South Africa's way, Pollard came up clutch from just inside the half to put the Boks in the lead for the first time in the match with just a couple of minutes left on the clock.

The Boks now had a few nerve-jangling moments to hold on, with England needing just a penalty or a drop goal to go back in front, but they stayed strong on defence until an England knock-on brought the match to a dramatic - and somewhat ill-tempered - end.

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