BLOW BY BLOW | Incredible! Boks snatch last-gasp win against England in RWC semi

21 October 2023 - 16:31
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The Springboks' Cheslin Kolbe in action in the Rugby World Cup semifinal against England at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris on Saturday night.
The Springboks' Cheslin Kolbe in action in the Rugby World Cup semifinal against England at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris on Saturday night.
Image: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

**** — 81min — Full Time — Eng 15 Boks 16 - ****

Again — unbelievable, spectacular, no plaudits can describe these Springboks who are into the Rugby World Cup final to defend their title against the All Blacks in Paris on Saturday! Breathtaking and remarkable and just damn out of this world from the South Africans! 


England knock forward! Boks have won it!!!!!! Boks have won it!!!!!! Boks have won it!!!!!!


It's past the hooter!!! England ball!


From the KO, Boks win it, ruck, de Klerk clearing kick to just past halfway!

But England run it into Boks' half!

78min — Penalty! — Eng 15 Boks 16 

Pollard lands it!!!!!! Pollard lands it!!!!!! Pollard lands it!!!!!! 


Boks win the penalty! Pollard will kick from just inside England half on the right! This is madness!!!


Boks have won two scrums to edge metres into England half. Looking for a penalty at the scrum.

70min — Conversion! — Eng 15 Boks 13

Pollard through from the right. It's game on!

69min — Try! Eng 15 Boks 11

RG Snyman immense try! From a line-out on the right Boks bulldoze through, Snyman muscles over line!


Huge kick from Pollard gets Boks well into England half. But South Africa need a passage of play without mistakes, and points!


England win SA line-out (Snyman lost out). Boks run back into their half, but concede penalty.


Can the Boks find a reset? Scrum Boks inside SA half. Penalty Boks.


This fired-up England denying a still flat Boks only showing flashes of brilliance and not often enough, is a tough situation. But yes, these subs need to find the momentum that can bring points.

Another big scrum from Nche earns penalty to Boks. Pollard clears to halfway. 


Le Roux another ball lost forward; kickahead England, Kolbe awkwardly fields and knocks on. Attacking scrum for England on the left.


Final change for SA — Vincent Koch on for Frans Malherbe.


Boks have line-out from KO in England's half. SA have to dig deep now!

53min — Drop goal! — Eng 15 Boks 6

Huge drop goal from Farrell from deep on the left puts Boks on back foot at big moment in the game!


Some bomb squad-ing from Boks looks promising — Nche big scrum, a big forward exchange involving Snyman ... Kolbe kicks through and it runs over the dead ball ahead of chasing Willie le Roux. Most promising move from Boks.


Kwagga Smith and Deon Fourie (coming to flank) on for Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen.


Ox Nche on for Kitshoff.


Another one lost forward by Kitshoff this time, as Boks were pressing into England half. The wet ball causing problems all round.


Earlier — another sub:

Willie le Roux was on for Willemse a few minutes ago.


Wet ball slips — George really, really not straight this time. 


After Pollard clears, RG Snyman on for Eeben Etzebeth.


This time England (Jamie George) not straight.


England on attack, grubber ahead awkwardly fielded Willemse, conceding line-out. Roses know a try here can really put them in command.


Faf de Klerk replaces Reinach.


Pollard kicks second half off.


Squeaky bum stuff. Can the Boks turn this around?


That was probably the most low intensity, frustrating 40 minutes, for the Boks in this RWC yet. That's in terms of the pace and openness of the match, not so much South Africa's input, though, yes, the energy has not been high. 

England really effective at stifling, physicality in the forwards, winning the ball and making crucial turnovers, and fielding the Boks' ineffective kick-aheads and high balls. Some planning and back to the drawing board needed from Nienaber and Erasmus at the break.

And yes, giving the ball away, turnovers, knock-ons, losing the ball forward, stray passes, skew throws at line-outs, penalties conceded — all those mistakes have been costly for the Boks. Wet ball not helping.

**** — 40min — Half Time — Eng 12 Boks 6 - ****

England have a lead, but not by much, at the break at Stade de France.

38min — Penalty! Eng 12 Boks 6

Farrell through the middle with his most difficult kick so far.


Penalty against Du Toit — certainly kickable from the right for Farrell.


Pollard clearly on because of the nature of a stifling game, where kicking seems paramount.

35min — Penalty! Eng 9 Boks 6

Easy points on the board for Pollard from in front of the poles.


The Boks cannot break England defence, ball spilt. The penalty applied. Pollard will kick for poles.


Now the Boks forward, keeping possession, have a penalty advantage.


So, very interesting — Handré Pollard replaces Libbok.


Boks wining ball inside own half, win penalty. Libbok kicks for ground. Boks need to use being on the front foot.


Boks concede penalty in England half.


Injury break — Boks will want to take stock a bit, figure out how they're being edged all around the park by hungry, energetic England. Scrum England in their half.


Again Bongi Mbonambi line-out not straight


Another positive start, as Arendse gets in a run to get Boks on front foot, another loss of the ball at the ruck. England forwards winning those early exchanges.

24min — Penalty! — Eng 9 Boks 3

Farrell doesn't miss those — on the left, easy angle, through the poles.


It's been a chess game — tentative, probing and lots of kicking — start from both teams. Farrell cross-kick Farrell too far — England had penalty advantage. Farrell to go for poles.

21min — Penalty! Eng 6 Boks 3

Libbok from the middle, just inside England half confidently done. Points on the board SA.


Libbok launches high again — England again confident under the high ball. Alex Mitchell kicks into Bok half — Damian Willemse fields. Another high ball, Kurt-Lee Arendse chases. Boks penalty. This time Libbok at poles.


SA win line-out, have pressure, on attack — lost forwards. (Two kickable penalties turned down by Boks). From the scrum Steven Kitshoff concedes penalty.


Ref Ben O’Keeffe sees Manu Tuilani grabbed Reinach round the neck. Penalty to the Boks on the right. Libbok kicks again.


... but scrum to England.


Boks win line-out, try to get a maul going, ball out the side as England get possession, kick ahead, but penalty to SA — on the right. Libbok kicks to right corner. Boks Line-out in good position. 


From the kickoff Boks finally get some clean possession on the halfway line, Cobus Reinach up-and-under, England clearance. Line-out Boks just inside England half.

10min — Penalty! Eng 6 Boks 0

England on attack. Boks concede penalty in front of the posts. Farrell slots.


England tactical kick — Boks have get a line-out inside their 22. Not straight (Mbonambi) — scrum to England in a good position.


England steal a Bok line-out on halfway.


Manie Libbok kicks play off for Boks.

3min — Penalty! Eng 3 Boks 0

Farrell through, easy enough from near the middle.


England possession upfield, penalty (Pieter-Steph du Toit) to the Roses.


We are off! Owen Farrell kicks the game off for England.


More on how the teams line up:


The teams are on the field, we have the anthems, starting with God Save The Queen, followed by Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika.


Minutes to go ... Jacques Nienaber's prematch interview, on SABC Sport, and how the teams line up:


Elsewhere, in India, the Proteas of course got back on track in an immense (the blogger has realised he's been overusing the word “huge” this evening) manner thrashing England (Arena senior cricket writer Stuart Hess story here).

Will it be a huge (sorry) night for South African sport with a cricket and rugby double at World Cups on the same day?

(Interestingly, last weekend England narrowly avoided a double shock when their cricket team were stunned by Afghanistan on Sunday but their rugby side pulled it off late to beat Fiji in their quarter. But today South Africa can inflict a double blow to the Brits.)   

The Proteas' message to the Boks below:


Two lads who know a bit about winning a Rugby World Cup semifinal, or final for that matter ... John Smit and Victor Matfield pitchside at Stade de France for SuperSport:


Schalk Burger, on SuperSport TV, wants the Boks to get on the front foot and dominate from the start:


Seriously, though, can you feel it? The stomach tightens, the tension grows. More scenes from around Stade de France, Paris and South Africa as we get closer to another Monstrous (with a capital M) Rugby World Cup clash ... below: 


Wow, can you feel it? Butterflies. It's such a big build-up. Cruise social media and you get the sense of the occasion. Below is a sample:


And now, we wait ...


How previews this game:

The finalists from four years ago — and the finalists from the last time that Rugby World Cup was hosted by France — meet a round earlier in 2023.

South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber has kept faith with the starting XV and bench that beat France at the same venue last Sunday. Cobus Reinach and Duane Vermeulen keep their places at scrumhalf and number eight respectively.

Siya Kolisi, meanwhile, will captain the side for the 11th time in a Rugby World Cup match, equalling John Smit’s record.

For England, Joe Marler and George Martin come in at loose-head prop and second-row respectively, replacing Ellis Genge and Ollie Chessum, who drop to the bench. Freddie Steward is recalled at full-back in place of Marcus Smith.

In total, 26 of the 43 players from the Rugby World Cup 2019 final are back for another go in Saint-Denis in 2023 — with Elliot Daly, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and captain Owen Farrell starting for England then and now; and Mbongeni Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Vermeulen, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe and Kolisi doing the same for the Springboks.


The first game between England and South Africa was in December 1906 at Crystal Palace. It ended 3-3. The semi-finalists have played one another 44 times since. The Springboks have won 27 times, including four of five Rugby World Cup matches, of which two were finals. England have won 16 times. Their only Rugby World Cup win came in the pool phase of the 2003 tournament.


England started as favourites against South Africa in the final of Rugby World Cup 2019. But it was Siya Kolisi who lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, after a clinical and controlled Springbok performance built on forward power and Handré Pollard’s boot, and finished with the magic of wingers Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe.


South Africa’s kicking tactics so far. Manie Libbok and the Springboks have enjoyed notable success with their high bombs this tournament — particularly against France last Sunday. England clearly expect more of the same — it’s in part why Freddie Steward has been recalled to England ranks for this match: to combat an expected highball threat and chew-up ground in reply.


Maro Itoje v Eben Etzebeth. Itoje has missed just 10 minutes of game-time across his total career tests against the Springboks for England and the British and Irish Lions combined. He tests himself, again, here against arguably the best second-row in the world right now, a player who is in an impressive run of form.


South Africa scored three tries in the first half of last Sunday’s quarterfinal against France, despite spending only 99 seconds of the opening 40 minutes with the ball in Les Bleus’ half.

Etzebeth scored their decisive fourth try, in the second half. It was his third touchdown in eight matches, a record that amounts to something of a spree for the second-row, who scored just three times in his first 110 tests.


Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand). Having taken charge of South Africa’s quarterfinal win over France last weekend, O’Keeffe returns for his first-ever Rugby World Cup semifinal, and his fifth match of the tournament. He was also the referee for the Springboks’ 42-39 win over England in June 2018.


Some stats and facts about the Bok team to face England:

Springbok record against England: Played: 45; Won 27; Lost 16; Drawn 2; Points for 972; Points against 769; Tries scored: 88; Tries against: 58; Highest score: 58-10; Biggest win 48 points. Win percentage 60%.


  • It will be Eben Etzebeth’s 11th Test match against England, joining Tendai Mtawarira, John Smit and Joost van der Westhuizen all in second place. Four other Springboks are on a record 12 career caps against England.
  • The loose trio of Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen will start as combination for the 15th time, putting them alone in second place on the list behind Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Vermeulen (17).
  • Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert will move into third place on the list of lock combinations with their 26th start as second row partners, behind Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha (63), and Etzebeth and Lood de Jager (39).


  • Handré Pollard has scored seven conversions (second place) in his six appearances against England but holds the record with 19 penalty goals.
  • Saturday's semifinal is the sixth RWC clash between the Boks and England. South Africa won in the 1999 quarterfinal (44-21) in Paris; the pool game (36-0) and final (15-6) in 2007, both in Paris; and the final (32-12) in Yokohama in 2019. England won the pool game in Perth in 2003 (25-6).
  • Kurt-Lee Arendse starts the match with a full-house of tries, with 13 five-pointers in 13 Tests to date.
  • This will be the fourth time the Springboks and England clash in a Rugby World Cup match in Paris, after the playoff in 1999 and two encounters in 2007.
  • England have scored just one try across their five meetings with South Africa in the RWC — during their 25-6 pool win in 2003.
  • South Africa (8.0) and England (8.6) have conceded fewer penalties per game than any other sides to have reached the semifinals of this year’s Rugby World Cup, with only France and Japan (7 each) averaging fewer overall.
  • The Springbok starting team on Saturday will be the most experienced ever selected for South Africa with a combined total of 895 Test caps — four more than the 891 against Samoa in Birmingham in 2015.
  • There are 264 caps in the backline, with 631 caps among the forwards. On the bench there are a further 367 caps.
  • The average caps per player in the backline is 37, the forwards 78, while the players on the bench average 45.

— SA Rugby


Here is the Springbok team named by Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber at about 9am on Thursday:

Springbok XV

15 — Damian Willemse (Stormers) — 37 caps, 56 pts (4t, 9c, 4p, 2d)

14 — Kurt-Lee Arendse (Bulls) — 13 caps, 65 pts (13t)

13 — Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles) — 66 caps, 75 pts (15t)

12 — Damian de Allende (Wild Knights) — 76 caps, 55 pts (11t)

11 — Cheslin Kolbe (Suntory Sungoliath) — 29 caps, 91 pts (14t, 3c, 5p)

10 — Manie Libbok (Stormers) — 13 caps, 84 pts (1t, 26c, 9p)

9 — Cobus Reinach (Montpellier) — 30 caps, 60 pts (12t)

8 — Duane Vermeulen (SA Rugby) — 74 caps, 15 pts (3t)

7 — Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz) — 74 caps, 40 pts (8t)

6 — Siya Kolisi (captain, Racing 92) — 81 caps, 50 pts (10t)

5 — Franco Mostert (Honda Heat) — 71 caps, 15 pts (3t)

4 — Eben Etzebeth (Sharks) — 117 caps, 30 pts (6t)

3 — Frans Malherbe (Stormers) — 67 caps, 5pts (1t)

2 — Bongi Mbonambi (Sharks) — 66 caps, 65pts (13t)

1 — Steven Kitshoff (Ulster) — 81 caps, 10 pts (2t)


16 — Deon Fourie (Stormers) — 11 caps, 10 pts (2t)

17 — Ox Nche (Sharks) — 26 caps, 0 pts

18 — Vincent Koch (Sharks) — 48 caps, 0pts

19 — RG Snyman (Munster) — 32 caps, 5pts (1t)

20 — Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs) — 38 caps, 35 pts (7t)

21 — Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles) — 53 caps, 48 pts (5t, 4c, 5p)

22 — Handré Pollard (Leicester Tigers) — 68 caps, 678 pts (7T, 95C, 146P, 5D)

23 — Willie le Roux (Bulls) — 91 caps, 75 pts (15t)


Here is the England team named by coach Steve Borthwick on Thursday:

England XV

15. Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 29 caps)

14. Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 77 caps)

13. Joe Marchant (Stade Francais, 24 caps)

12. Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 57 caps)

11. Elliot Daly (Saracens, 63 caps)

10. Owen Farrell — captain (Saracens, 110 caps)

9. Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, 10 caps)

8. Ben Earl (Saracens, 23 caps)

7. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 48 caps)

6. Courtney Lawes — vice-captain (Northampton Saints, 104 caps)

5. George Martin (Leicester Tigers, 8 caps)

4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, 74 caps)

3. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, 105 caps)

2. Jamie George (Saracens, 83 caps)

1. Joe Marler (Harlequins, 87 caps)


16. Theo Dan (Saracens, 6 caps)

17. Ellis Genge — vice-captain (Bristol Bears, 56 caps)

18. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 67 caps)

19. Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers, 16 caps)

20. Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 74 caps)

21. Danny Care (Harlequins, 94 caps)

22. George Ford — vice-captain (Sale Sharks, 89 caps)

23. Ollie Lawrence (Bath Rugby, 19 caps)


Here are some match details:

City: Paris

Venue: Stade de France

Capacity: 80,698 

Kickoff: 9pm (France and South Africa time)

Referee: Ben O'Keeffe, New Zealand

Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal, France; Paul Williams, New Zealand

TMO: Brendon Pickerill, New Zealand

The Stade de France (French pronunciation:[staddəfʁɑ̃s],lit.'Stadium of France') is the national stadium of France, located just north of Paris in the commune of Saint-Denis. Its seating capacity of 80,698 makes it the largest stadium in France. The stadium is used by the French national football and rugby union teams for international competitions. It is the largest in Europe for track and field events, seating 78,338 in that configuration. During other events, the stadium's running track is mostly hidden under the football pitch. — Wikipedia


To begin with, below is some of Liam Del Carme's build-up to this semifinal:

Saturday October 21 — 4.36pm

This is Marc Strydom, your football writer, TimesLIVE and Arena Holding Digital sports editor, teen oft-Shark Tank attendee and fan of Rassie and Jacques' Bok regime again bringing you your Live Blog.

This is a huge one. After seeing off France dramatically and heroically in the quarterfinals, the Springboks have to keep their nerve at Stade de France tonight (9pm) against a quite possibly underrated and dangerous England to set up the 2023 Rugby World Cup's dream final the world wants to see.

The All Blacks soundly saw off Argentina at Stade de France on Friday night. If the defending champion Boks win tonight then rugby's greatest rivals will square off in Paris this coming Saturday.

Again a disclaimer, of course I am not in the stadium, but in Johannesburg. Arena Holdings senior rugby writer Liam Del Carme is in Stade de France.

Catch his match report later, and analysis in the coming days. 

See all Liam's outstanding coverage of this World Cup, and all TimesLIVE, Sunday Times and TimeLIVE Premium's coverage, here.

All the World Cup pools, results and fixtures here.

Teams, match details, and build-up to this huge, huge clash to follow. Stay tuned ...

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