Handré Pollard kicked the winning penalty. James Crombie/INPHO
Rugby World Cup

South Africa survive huge scare as Pollard kick edges them past England

Steve Borthwick’s men nearly pulled off a shock but the Boks are into the World Cup final.

England 15

South Africa 16

WITH THE RAIN pouring down and the pressure on, Handré Pollard held his nerve.

His 78th-minute penalty saw the Springboks come through a monumental scare in a World Cup semi-final for which England were 14-point underdogs.

Steve Borthwick’s men largely nailed their plan, though, kicking brilliantly and repeatedly winning the ball back, bringing might up front, pestering the South African lineout, and defending ferociously. 

Captain Owen Farrell led their impressive effort, nailing a long-range drop goal at one point, but they couldn’t cling on as the might of the Springboks’ Bomb Squad told once again.

It was their scrum that saved them, with Ox Nche and co. winning a string of penalties at the set-piece to help Rassie Erasmus’ men avoid a huge shock defeat. Pollard was part of the bench impact too, sent on after just 31 minutes as Erasmus hooked starting out-half Manie Libbok when the tide was against his side.

England were so close to a remarkable World Cup win in Paris but they agonisingly fell to defeat in front of 78,098 people at Stade de France.

Instead, it’s the Springboks who advance to meet New Zealand in next weekend’s decider. As they go in search of back-to-back titles and their country’s fourth World Cup trophy, they will need to be much improved on this semi-final. 

It ended in acrimonious fashion as the two teams tangled after the final whistle but the Boks have survived.

owen-farrell-kicks-a-penalty Owen Farrell kicks a penalty. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

With the rain coming down steadily, it was always likely to be a kick-heavy battle and England started strongly in that regard, with an early aerial win by wing Elliot Daly under an Alex Mitchell box kick leading to Franco Mostert being pinged for going off his feet at the breakdown. Farrell happily slotted three points in just the third minute.

The English lineout applied pressure too, with Maro Itoje making a steal at the very first lineout of the game and then Boks hooker Bongi Mbonambi uncharacteristically throwing crooked, one of two such errors in the opening half.

The first of them resulted in England adding another three points, with captain Kolisi penalised under this team’s posts for hands in the ruck. Farrell tapped over the penalty for a 6-0 lead in the 10th minute.

The English pack muscled up in impressive fashion in the 10 minutes that followed, winning three maul turnovers in quick succession as the Boks looked to their traditional weapon to get them into the game.

22-year-old George Martin was key to the defensive destruction, with the third maul turnover coming just metres out from the English line. The men in white followed it up immediately with a scrum penalty.

Manie Libbok was able to get the Boks onto the scoreboard just after the quarter mark when England skipper Farrell was punished for not dropping the ball after a penalty went against his side. O’Keeffe marched England a further 10 metres and the Boks finally opted for the posts after the unsuccessful string of maul attempts.

manie-libbok-leaves-the-field-after-being-substituted Manie Libbok was replaced in the 31st minute. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

But more kick pressure from England gave Farrell another chance to kick at goal soon after. Boks fullback Damian Willemse threw a loose offload as opposite number Freddie Steward harried him, Courtney Lawes dove on the scraps, and the South Africans failed to roll away. 9-3.

The Boks nearly broke through with a clever lineout play that saw Kurt-Lee Arendse bursting into space right through the set-piece, but Mitchell made a superb tap tackle and Lawes pounced for the breakdown turnover.

Unhappy with the relative lack of control, Erasmus and Nienaber hooked Libbok in the 31st minute. But really it was a case of England losing some control in the next few minutes. Daly fumbled a high ball, then Billy Vunipola – just on as a blood sub for Tom Curry – knocked on in his own 22. Joe Marler was caught offside and Pollard took the three.

However, England finished the first half on a high as Pieter-Steph du Toit was done for obstruction under another English kick and Farrell smashed over the penalty for a 12-6 lead at the break.

Borthwick’s men had a big chance early in the second half after Farrell won back a Mitchell kick, then rolled a clever grubber in behind Willemse in the left corner, with the Boks fullback spilling the ball into touch. But having earned a five-metre lineout, hooker Jamie George threw in crooked. He followed up with another one just minutes later as the rain continued to pour.

duane-vermeulen-wins-a-high-ball-ahead-of-courtney-lawes Duane Vermeulen claims a high ball. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The Boks had sent on experienced scrum-half Faf de Klerk and fullback Willie le Roux in the opening minutes of the second half, but England who continued to win moments.

Maro Itoje stripped Steven Kitshoff of the ball, while Daly’s aerial pressure forced a knock-on from Duane Vermeulen, who he had already emptied with a big tackle in the first half.

Yet from that scrum, the Boks’ Bomb Squad bench forwards made their presence felt with a huge turnover against the head, from which Pollard and Cheslin Kolbe kicked beautifully to give le Roux a chance. The sub fullback nudged ahead on the ground but his second touch was just too heavy and the ball beat him to the deadball line.

England responded brilliantly, with Farrell restarting long and Daly hammering Arendse in the tackle, sparking a counter-ruck turnover. Off the back of that, England carried into the Boks half, replacement scrum-half found Farrell in the pocket and he hammered over a quite brilliant 45-metre drop-goal.

England lead 15-6 with 25 minutes left and their kicking game continued to cause havoc. Right wing Jonny May won back yet another box kick, Farrell grubbered into the left corner again, and this time Arendse knocked on to have them a five-metre scrum.

The Boks needed a big moment and replacement loosehead prop Ox Nche came up with the goods as he won a penalty against English sub tighthead Kyle Sinckler.

faf-de-klerk-and-elliot-daly Faf de Klerk under pressure from Elliot Daly. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

With the game now into its final quarter, the Boks pack delivered another penalty a few minutes later but Lawes got up for a steal at the ensuing lineout.

England continued to defend aggressively, with wing May earning a superb breakdown turnover in the next passage of play when Kolbe ran straight into him.

But the scrum was now a huge issue for the English, with sub loosehead Ellis Genge pinged in the 69th minute, allowing the Boks to kick down into England’s 22. 

It felt like a huge moment and it proved to be. This time, the Boks broke off a dummy maul, replacement back row Kwagga Smith bursting off the back of it in remarkable fashion, getting stopped only a metre out. From there, sub lock RG Snyman used his size and strength to finish the job. 

Pollard’s conversion left the Boks trailing by two points with 10 minutes remaining.

owen-farrell-is-congratulated-on-kicking-a-drop-goal-by-joe-marchant Owen Farrell after smashing over a drop goal. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

England continued to kick into Boks territory and the South Africans responded by calling for a scrum when le Roux marked the ball, as they had done against France last weekend. 

There was no penalty that time but when O’Keeffe called for a scrum upfield just moments later, you sense that it was the Springboks moment.

The penalty duly arrived and Pollard blasted them into the World Cup final.

England scorers:


Conversions: Owen Farrell 

Penalties: Owen Farrell [4 from 4]

Drop goal: Owen Farrell

South Africa scorers:

Tries: RG Snyman

Conversions: Handré Pollard [1 from 1]

Penalties: Manie Libbok [1 from 1], Handré Pollard [2 from 2]

ENGLAND: Freddie Steward; Jonny May (George Ford ’78), Joe Marchant, Manu Tuilagi (Ollie Lawrence ’74), Elliot Daly; Owen Farrell (captain), Alex Mitchell (Danny Care ’53); Joe Marler (Ellis Genge ’53), Jamie George (Theo Dan ‘), Dan Cole (Kyle Sinckler ’56); Maro Itoje, George Martin (Ollie Chessum ’53); Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry (blood – Billy Vunipola ’32 to ’40, permanent ’69), Ben Earl.

SOUTH AFRICA: Damian Willemse (Willie le Roux ’44); Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Manie Libbok (Handré Pollard ’31), Cobus Reinach (Faf de Klerk ’43); Steven Kitshoff (Ox Nche ’49), Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe (Vincent Koch ’56); Eben Etzebeth (RG Snyman ’46), Franco Mostert; Siya Kolisi (captain) (Deon Fourie ’51), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen (Kwagga Smith ’51).

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe [New Zealand].

Written by Murray Kinsella and posted on

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