World Rugby

Handre Heroics Send Springboks To Rugby World Cup Final

Handre Heroics Send Springboks To Rugby World Cup Final

South Africa's thrilling triumph over England in the Rugby World Cup semifinals was a stunning match that kept fans on the edge of their seats.

Oct 23, 2023
Handre Heroics Send Springboks To Rugby World Cup Final

Knockout rugby is brutal. A small mistake or a subtle swing in momentum can be the difference between winning and losing.

That’s exactly what England found as it was beaten 16-15 by South Africa in the semifinals of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

The contest was a phenomenal spectacle, closely fought right to the end, which may have surprised many onlookers.

Despite being the only unbeaten side in the tournament heading into the weekend, England comfortably was the underdog.

England's form up until the semifinal had been wobbly at best, and while South Africa put in a monumental performance to brush aside the home favorite France in the quarters, England, through the luck of the draw, faced Fiji, which was the less demanding matchup.

And yet England fronted up to the challenge posed by South Africa and looked the better team for much of the contest. Their forwards dominated the contact area, bullying the Springboks, who so often are the ones dishing out the big hits.

England was happy to take the points whenever they were on offer and, for all the recent criticism of his kicking, Owen Farrell delivered, meaning his side led 15-6 with just over 10 minutes to go.

But that was when South Africa reacted. Like all great champions, the Springboks found a way back into the contest, spurred on by some huge calls from the coaching staff.

The first came in the 30th minute when Manie Libbok was pulled off for Handrè Pollard. Evidently, Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus foresaw that the game would be won on fine margins and precise goal kicking, so they turned to their veteran fly-half for support.

That decision paid off in the latter stages, as Pollard reminded the rugby world why he’s one of the most clutch players in the game.

His first crucial involvement came after South Africa won a scrum penalty on half way. Pollard coolly stepped up and launch a rocket right into the corner to give his side a line-out five meters from the England line. 

A few phases later, RG Snyman catapulted himself over the line to score the first try of the game, putting South Africa to within two of England.

The second Pollard intervention came off another scrum penalty won near the halfway line, but this time, he decided to kick for goal.

Most players would freeze with such pressure mounted on their shoulders, but Pollard thrives when the heat gets turned up. With minimal fuss, he walked up and fired the ball through the center of the posts.

It was struck as sweetly as possible and sent the Springboks through to their second final in a row, leaving the dream of winning the World Cup twice on the spin wide open, with only New Zealand standing in their way.

More staggeringly, the result was South Africa’s second consecutive win by just a point – following their 29-28 win over France.

On the final whistle, white shirts dropped to the floor in utter despair, knowing they’d left it all out on the field. There were countless players who had their best performance in a white shirt for years.

Maro Itoje was immense, forcing turnovers with some huge hits and pin-point jackaling in the rucks. 

Courtney Lawes never stopped running, and the front row was excellent in the set piece. Between them, Joe Marler and Dan Cole all but nullified the threat of Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe, meaning the Springboks struggled for momentum for large swathes of the game.

It was England that controlled the tempo, happily opting to take the points whenever they were within range. 

As the scoreboard tilted more and more in their favor, Nienaber and Erasmus were visibly worried and even decided to pull of key players, such as Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi.

In search of a spark, the side found its saving grace in Ox Nché. 

As soon as the prop came on, the South African scrum began to dominate. Nché used his power and technique to pull apart the replacement opposite him - Kyle Sinckler.

All of a sudden, the Springboks, spurred on by their new front row, began to win scrum penalties at crucial points, which turned the entire game. 

Nché was right at the forefront of both scrum penalties, which led to Pollard kicking for touch and later slotting the match-winning penalty.

The scrum was truly the fulcrum of the game. 

England was ahead on the scoreboard for almost 75 minutes, but their scrum faltered when it mattered most. 

Those are the fine margins that decide test matches. 

It wasn’t an iconic Springbok performance, far from it, but it was enough and in the end that’s all that matters.