World Rugby

World Champions Collide, As South Africa And England Meet At RWC 2023

World Champions Collide, As South Africa And England Meet At RWC 2023

Get ready for an epic showdown, as South Africa and England clash in the Rugby World Cup semifinals. Don't miss the action and analysis.

Oct 19, 2023
World Champions Collide, As South Africa And England Meet At RWC 2023

For an outsider looking in, the upcoming World Cup semifinal clash between England and South Africa simply is an exciting matchup between two tournament heavyweights. But for the teams involved, it means a lot more.

For England, it offers a chance to make amends for the heartbreak of 2019. 

After bulldozing past New Zealand in the World Cup semifinals four years ago, England had all the momentum and was tipped to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for a second time. However, all that optimism slowly crumbled away, as the Springboks systematically ripped apart their opponents in Yokohama to win their second consecutive World Cup final against England.

Flash forward four years, and the sides meet again, albeit at a different stage in the tournament. This time, England is comfortably the underdog, and with such little pressure, the team may be at its most dangerous.

Ten of England’s starters this weekend experienced heartbreak in Japan and will want nothing more than to finish the job they failed at before.

Yet South Africa will have its own fire brewing ahead of this clash of titans. 

When appearing on the Big Jim Show, Jasper Wiese revealed New Zealand and England were the two biggest rivals for the Springboks.

“England versus South Africa has always been massive,” he said. “The emotion around it is just huge; you know it comes down to who wants it more on the day.”

While Wiese will not feature this weekend, his clubmate Handre Pollard will start on the bench, eyeing the opportunity to come on and not only make a difference for his nation, but also best his fellow Leicester Tigers teammates lining up for England.

Following South Africa’s thrilling 29-28 win over France last Sunday, head coach Jacques Nienaber has named an unchanged side to face England, retaining the halfback combination of Cobus Reinach and Manie Libbok.

Last week, Nienaber said Reinach was better placed to deal with the French kicking game, and he evidently feels the same is true this weekend, as regular starter Faf de Klerk remains on the bench.

The inclusion of Libbok leaves question marks over South Africa’s goal kicking, meaning the Boks may have to rely early on breaching the whitewash.

By comparison, tries have been a scarce commodity for England this tournament, placing added pressure on goal kicking, though both Owen Farrell and George Ford have shown their mettle when kicking from the tee.

Farrell has been picked to start Saturday following his impressive performance against Fiji, which means the crucial battle for overall game management and control of the scoreboard will end in a tussle between Farrell and Libbok.

If the latter falters early, we can expect Pollard to be brought on to stabilise the ship. However, for what South Africa lacks off the tee, it makes up for in attacking creativity, with Libbok and fellow Stormers teammate Damian Willemse in tow at fullback.

Together, the duo can open holes to unleash their unruly talent on each wing.

To temper the strengths of the South Africans, Steve Borthwick has made a few changes to the side that beat Fiji just under a week ago. 

Marcus Smith is out of the squad entirely after sustaining a likely concussion Sunday and is replaced by Freddie Steward, who, up until his omission last weekend, had started 29 of England’s previous 30 tests.

The inclusion of the Leicester Tigers fullback feels like a necessary move regardless, given the quality of the South African kicking game from hand.

Much of their territorial game centers around box kicks and lofty aerial clearances, which are meant to fluster the opposition back three and give the Springbok wingers the chance to compete for possession in the air.

Steward’s imperious ability under the high ball will, therefore, be imperative for England, and he’ll need to be entirely watertight to nullify that threat fully.

Elsewhere, Joe Marler and George Martin have been promoted to the England starting XV in place of Ellis Genge and Ollie Chessum to give the scrum some added weight.

Everyone knows how formidable the South African scrum is – you only need to look at the size of some of their forwards for clarification – so evidently, Marler and Martin have been called upon to bolster the English scrum and give them a chance to thrive in the set piece.

The line-out also will be an interesting battle point, as both teams are fairly slick in that area of the game. 

South Africa has the skills of Franco Mostert and Eben Etzebeth to lean up, whereas, for England, the line-out is Borthwick’s baby, carefully cultivated to trick opponents.  

So, where does this leave the teams heading into the weekend? 

England still is the underdog and will need to build on the platform it set against Fiji if there's hope of toppling South Africa, which is riding high after a pristine performance against France.