Reigning World Champions South Africa tackle 2003 winners England in the second of this weekend’s Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
Despite being the only undefeated team remaining at the semi-final stage, England entered the match as underdogs against the World’s number one ranked team.
Tale Of The Tape
England confirmed their place in the final four with a nervy 30 – 24 win over Fiji in Marseille in Sunday’s early kick-off. Taking a commanding 24 – 10 lead, Steve Borthwick’s side appeared to have done enough to see off the Fijians midway through the second half.
Fiji would come roaring back into the contest to level the scores 24 – 24 as the match entered its final stanza. Despite being firmly in the ascendancy, Fiji couldn’t crack the English.
Captain Owen Farrell would slot a drop goal and late penalty to secure the win, but the match was the second week in a row where England struggled to put away their opposition.
South Africa entered the contest having closed out what will quite possibly go down as the greatest-ever Rugby World Cup match as they defeated hosts France 29 – 28 in Paris.
In the face of immense adversity, the Springboks recovered from an early French try to come racing back into the contest and trail by just three points at halftime.
Playing at an unsustainable breakneck speed, the Boks settled down in the second half, taking a lead they would never relinquish in the 66th minute.
England head coach Steve Borthwick has made three changes to his side that won in Marseille.
At fullback incumbent, Freddie Stewart returns in the place of the injured Marcus Smith, who missed out on selection to the 23.
Speaking on the dropping of Smith, Borthwick said, “Marcus was unavailable for selection due to the return to play protocols. He was ruled out earlier in the week.”
In the pack, Borthwick made two unexpected changes, with veteran prop Joe Marler starting ahead of Ellis Genge, whilst George Martin starts ahead of Ollie Chessum in the second row.
On the other side, Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber has made no changes to the team that beat France.
As ever with a World Cup semi-final, there are crunch head-to-heads at every corner. Yet one area that stands out is the clash of the centres.
Given the remarkable efficiency of the Springboks’ rush defence, England needs carriers that are capable of going into the belly of the beast. Historically, teams that have managed to have success against the Boks have been those who carry hard straight into the rush whilst mixing a clever short to mid-length kicking game.
In this respect, the 10,12,13 axis of Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant will be crucial if England are to trouble the World Champions.
Facing them are the red-hot trio of Manie Libbok, Damian De Allende and Jesse Kriel.
Libbok is a magical playmaker with the ability to rip open a game at a moment’s notice, whilst the two centres are powerful strike runners with an appetite for big hits in defence.
No doubt the clash of the packs will prove crucial, but this battle will go a long way to deciding which side wins those crucial try-scoring moments.
In reality, last weekend’s quarterfinals had more of a semi-final feeling, given the nature of this tournament’s seedings.
Both New Zealand and South Africa come into their respective clashes as heavy favourites, having defeated the top two Six Nations teams in France and Ireland.
Whilst England certainly have it within them to put in a top-notch performance given their quality operators. It is tough to look past the Springboks in this instance.
Realistically, the Bok pack should get on top, and their backline just has too much pace and spark for this England outfit. South Africa by 18.
England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Jonny May, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 George Martin, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Ollie Chessum, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Ollie Lawrence
South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Willie le Roux