Pollard’s late penalty gives Boks last gasp semi-final win over England
The Springboks are into their fourth Rugby World Cup final after beating England 16-15 in the semi-finals.
South Africa 16 (6) England 15 (12)
They did it again! Somehow the Springboks emerged victorious in an almighty arm wrestle to beat England 16-15 to set up a date with the All Blacks in next week’s Rugby World Cup 2023 final.
Handre Pollard stepped up to land a 49-metre penalty three minutes from time after the Boks won a third scrum penalty. It underlined Pollard’s ice-cool temperament and the Springboks’ never-say-die attitude.
They still had to fend off a sustained England attack in those final, desperate three minutes and they clung on. When the slippery ball squirted from Billy Vunipola’s grasp, Bok players fell to their knees.
This was the definition of winning ugly, yet beautifully.
For almost the entire 80 minutes it felt like it wasn’t going to be the Boks night. They just couldn’t build momentum until they started winning the scrum battle in the second half.
In the 69th minute the Boks won a scrum penalty and Pollard found a great touch close to the England goalline. The Boks secured the lineout ball, Deon Fourie burst at the line but was stopped short. The recycled ball went to RG Snyman who drove and twisted his way over.
Pollard converted and the Boks were where they struggled to be all match – in striking distance with 10 minutes to play. The rest, as they say, is history.
The bench was deployed early and changed the game with Ox Nche and Vincent Koch’s scrumming, helped by the brilliant Snyman, Kwagga Smith and Deon Fourie, the effervescent Faf de Klerk, who provided needed energy and of course the Zen-like calm of Pollard.
Despite the Springboks producing their worst performance in the Rassie Erasmus/Jacques Nienaber era when they could least afford it, they still displayed the mettle to win when it mattered most. Had they lost – and they came close, it would have hurt for years because they hardly fired a shot.
It was an error-strewn performance that lacked the same energy they’d displayed so stirringly against France a week earlier. The effort of that match clearly told as the performance lacked the obvious verve from six days earlier.
England also deserve credit as they played effectively in the conditions, with fullback Freddie Steward having an outstanding evening. He held every high ball that showered down on him while everyone’s favourite villain, Owen Farrell was highly effective with the boot.
The Boks were staring down the barrel at the break with England leading 12-6 in treacherous conditions.
It was a nervy, jittery performance from the men in green – a far cry from their strutting performances throughout this tournament – even when they lost to Ireland.
The rain and swirling wind certainly made the game a bit of a lottery. But losing three of their own lineouts in the first half, conceding a scrum penalty and getting on the wrong side of referee Ben O’Keeffe at the breakdown didn’t help the Boks.
By halftime, Farrell had landed four penalties, while the Boks had spurned a few kickable chances early in the game and never managed to get their maul working.
Flyhalf Manie Libbok struggled in the conditions with many of his up-and-unders being too short. Coach Jacques Nienaber eventually hooked the unfortunate flyhalf in the 32nd minute and brought on Pollard.
It was another example of the bold coaching approach by the Bok mentors, but they had issues all over the field despite enjoying 71% territory in the first half.
It told the story of the opening 40 minutes – England coming away with points with every opportunity they had while the Boks squandered possession and were outmuscled in the tight exchanges.
Initially, the Boks also failed to deal with England’s aerial bombardment from scrumhalf Alex Mitchell, which led to the early penalties.
Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi both gave away two first-half penalties. Both were unlucky with their first two infringements in early breakdowns when they appeared to have won the ball legally, but O’Keeffe saw it the other way.
The referee suffered a torrent of booing when he did his warm-up and every time he appeared on the big screen. He, of course, was the man in the middle during the Boks’ epic quarterfinal win over France.
After finally gaining a foothold in the game the Boks decided against shots at goal for their first two kickable penalties, instead kicking for the corner. England defended the mauls well and eventually escaped.
After halftime with the rain teeming down and conditions becoming more difficult by the minute, Nienaber threw on almost all his reserves between the 45th and 5oth minutes to bring an energy that was lacking, but the mistakes kept piling up.
In fact, England might have put the game away just after halftime when they had two lineouts five metres from the Bok line and lost both through a skew throw and then when the ball slipped out of hooker Jamie George’s hands.
Farrell hit an outrageous 54th-minute drop-goal from near the halfway line to stretch the lead moments after the Boks’ best attack after they pushed England off their own scrum ball.
That put nine points between the sides, which in these conditions was more than daylight; it was a solar flare.
It felt hopeless for most of the match, but then the bomb squad and Pollard exploded.
The dream of back-to-back titles is still alive. DM
South Africa – Try: RG Snyman. Conversion: Handre Pollard. Penalties: Manie Libbok, Pollard (2)
England – Penalties: Owen Farrell (4), Drop-Goal: Farrell.