We are on the horizon of the Rugby World Cup semi-finals, and England have made it into the final four of the competition. Steve Borthwick’s men take on the Springboks in Paris this Saturday night, with the two sides more than familiar with one another heading into this showdown.
This weekend’s match will mark the 46th overall meeting between the two sides, and their sixth meeting in Rugby World Cup competitions. There have been some iconic matches between the two nations in the past, with their history amongst the richest in Rugby World Cup rivalries. The Springboks are heavily favoured to win, following their 29-28 triumph over host nation France in the quarter-finals.
However, a pool stage loss to Ireland proved that the Springboks are in fact beatable, with England looking to replicate the recent heroics of their home nation colleagues. England are the last unbeaten side left at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, as the three other semi-finalists all suffered pool stage defeats, (New Zealand to France and Argentina to England).
Borthwick’s men will relish in the opportunity to dump out South Africa, and reach the Rugby World Cup Final for a shot at becoming World Champions for the second time. The Springboks are looking to make history of their own, as the first side to win four Rugby World Cup titles. They also want to become the second nation to successfully retain the title, after the All Blacks’ back-to-back wins in 2011 and 2015.
Here is a look back on the five previous meetings between England and South Africa, throughout Rugby World Cup history.
1. England 12 – 32 South Africa: 2019 Rugby World Cup Final
November 2nd 2019, International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama
The most recent meeting between the two sides at the Rugby World Cup, saw England and South Africa meet in the final just four years ago. Taking centre stage in Japan’s Yokohama Stadium, the Springboks ran out a resounding win against England, who had exhausted their offensive after a historic semi-final win over the All Blacks. England had battled tooth and nail to topple New Zealand in the final four, and ran out of steam for the culminating match against South Africa.
However, the Springboks were far from firing at the best throughout 2019, and shocked England with their emphatic performance in the World Cup Final. England reached the final a day before South Africa, and watched the Springboks scrape past Wales with a 19-16 semi-final win. Red Rose fans more concerned for a run-in with Wales, as Warren Gatland’s side had just claimed the Grand Slam in the 2019 Six Nations, whilst the Springboks had suffered a previous pool stage defeat to New Zealand.
England were arguably favourites for the final, yet had an unfortunate start to the game as tight-head Kyle Sinckler was knocked unconscious. Sinckler collided with Maro Itoje, sending the prop off the pitch after just the third minute. The only points of the first half were scored from the tee, as Handre Pollard and Owen Farrell slotted penalty after penalty, for a 12-6 score-line in favour of South Africa. England looked closest to grabbing a first half try, yet the resolved Springboks defence kept England at bay, which at one stage tallied up to a relentless 26 phases.
Pollard and Farrell each slotted a penalty after half-time, taking the score to 18-12, before Springboks winger Makazole Mapimpi found the break-through over the try-line. This 66th minute score marked the first South African try in a Rugby World Cup Final, before the ‘Boks followed up through their opposite winger Cheslin Kolbe just eight minutes later. Kolbe’s try is the best remembered moment of the match, as he used a change of pace to evade Joe Marler, side-stepped through Farrell’s tackle, before beating Billy Vunipola to the try-line, to wrap up a wonderful solo score.
Pollard slotted the 75th minute conversion, as South Africa won the Rugby World Cup for a record-equalising third time. Only the All Blacks had accomplished a trio of titles, with the Springboks making history in Yokohama, with a win once again coming at the extent of England.
2. England 6 – 15 South Africa: 2007 Rugby World Cup Final
October 20th 2007, Stade de France, Paris
England entered the 2007 Rugby World Cup in a dire situation, with no-one expecting them to reach the final in France. A poor run of form had fans reaching boiling point, with Head Coach Brian Ashton in danger of losing the support of his players for the tournament. England’s early campaign witnessed a one-sided pool stage defeat to South Africa (more on that shortly), but battled through the likes of Samoa, Tonga and the United States to book a place in the quarter-finals.
The side gelled together in the knock-out stages, and stunned the heavily favoured Wallabies with a 12-10 victory. The likes of Joe Worsely, Simon Shaw and Paul Sackey recently recalled to the Guardian, about how the match was won by England’s mentality, and in a relentless up-front battle against Australia. The semi-finals beckoned and England achieved another unexpected triumph, this time felling the hosts France 14-9 in Paris. Despite the immense support from a sea of Les Bleus fans, Ashton’s men banded together, for a re-union with the Springboks in the final.
Regarded as the best team in the world heading into the tournament, South Africa were expected to make it to the final, and impressed in their straight-forward knock-out stage wins over Fiji and Argentina. As a contest, the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final was one for the purists, with all of the points coming from the kicking tee. Percival Montgomery and Francois Steyn slotted home 15 points for the Springboks, whilst England’s 2003 hero Jonny Wilkinson could only muster up six points through the posts.
A decisive moment in the match saw England winger Mark Cueto dive to score in the Springboks corner, yet was simultaneously muscled out into touch by South African number eight Danie Rossouw. Referee Alain Rolland conferred with the TMO Stuart Dickinson, who ruled out the try-scoring efforts of the Sale Sharks legend. England’s last roll of the dice saw Wilkinson attempt a long-range drop goal after 71 minutes to re-ignite a comeback, yet the effort was unsuccessful. The Web Ellis Trophy was later awarded to the Springboks, who had ended England’s four-year reign as World Champions.