South Africa 16
A gameplan perfectly suited to disrupting South Africa in rainy conditions was two minutes away from lifting England into the Rugby World Cup final this morning (NZT).
The English just couldn’t hold up their last scrums, however, and another resulting penalty kick doomed them just before fulltime at Stade de France.
Having led from the third minute of the semifinal, England lost it in the 78th to a penalty kick from halfway by Springboks marksman Handre Pollard.
England never looked like scoring a try but four penalties and a drop goal by captain Owen Farrell had them 15-6 ahead with 11 minutes to go.
Then the World Cup holders ran down England with a converted try and last-gasp penalty on the back of four consecutive overpowering scrums.
Until then, England’s plan to rain up-and-unders on the Springboks worked brilliantly. Freddie Steward, restored to fullback knowing what was coming from South Africa, showed his proven ability under a high and slippery ball.
The English also played the semifinal the same way they began their tournament on Sept. 9 in hot and sweaty Marseille against Argentina: Obdurate, gritty and strong in the contact zones.
In the teeming rain of late October, England got in the South Africa’s faces at the breakdown, its physicality unsettling the Boks and forcing them into sloppy mistakes.
It looked like another against-the-odds victory could be on for coach Steve Borthwick’s side. But suddenly forced to chase the win at the end, England had both of its snipers — Farrell and George Ford — on the field for a drop goal or a penalty kick but the chance never came.
Ultimately, England’s two best performances of the tournament — against the Pumas and Springboks — featured no tries.
Borthwick will deserve credit for getting the best out of a limited side in trying conditions.
But oh-so-close England has only one try in six World Cup matches against the Springboks — and one win — and will return to Stade de France on Friday to fight Argentina for third place.