"Stop the Springboks" 3 Key Battles for England vs South Africa - Rugby World Cup Semi-Final - Ruck

“Stop the Springboks” 3 Key Battles for England vs South Africa – Rugby World Cup Semi-Final

England take on South Africa this Saturday evening, for a seismic semi-final clash in the 2023 Rugby World Cup. England remain as the only unbeaten side in the tournament, whilst South Africa proved that they are in fact vincible, after a 13-8 pool stage defeat to Ireland, just over three weeks ago.

Granted, England’s 30-24 win over Fiji was an impressive quarter-final triumph, however it can be said that Steve Borthwick’s side have had a more straight-forward run to the semi-finals, than their Springbok opponents. South Africa bounced back from their defeat to Andy Farrell’s men to progress as Pool B runners-up, before beating France 29-28 in what was the match of the tournament, so far.

We are now down to just four teams, with New Zealand and Argentina the additional semi-finalists on the opposite side of the bracket. England will have to fight tooth and nail against the Springboks, if they want to be set for a run-in with either the All Blacks or Los Pumas on October 28th. Historically, Rugby World Cup encounters between England and South Africa have favoured the Springboks. South Africa have beaten England in four out of five previous Rugby World Cup meetings, including the 2019 and 2007 Rugby World Cup Finals.

The odds seemed stacked against England, yet Borthwick’s men could well relish in their underdog status, and pull off an incredible upset for a spot in the Rugby World Cup Final. However, if they want to do just that, they will have to win some key battles across the full 80 minutes in the Stade de France. Here are our picks for the three key battles between England and South Africa.

1. FLY HALF: Owen Farrell vs Handre Pollard / Manie Libbok

Owen Farrell, Captian of England scores a conversion during the Autumn International Series match between England and Japan at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on Saturday 12th November 2022 | Photo: James Fearn/PPAUK.

Both England and South Africa have undergone fly-half selection sagas, throughout their 2023 Rugby World Cup campaigns. However, both sides now seem to have a clear halfback as their go-to, with the battle lines all but drawn for this showdown between two of the world’s best number 10s. Starting with South Africa, the Springboks suffered a heavy injury blow ahead of the competition, as Handre Pollard was side-lined with a calf problem.

Stomers’ star Manie Libbok took centre stage in Pollard’s absence, yet drew unwanted attention with poor performances from the kicking tee. Libbok’s inaccuracy at the posts drew heavy criticism, and was targeted as a contributing factor towards the Springboks’ defeat to Ireland. However, an unfortunate injury to ‘Boks winger Makazole Mapimpi opened up the door for Pollard’s return, and the Leicester Tigers man happily obliged.

Handre Pollard of South Africa during the Autumn Nations Match between England and South Africa at Twickenham Stadium on 20 November 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Pollard made a key replacement appearance against France, took the reins from Libbok, and slotted the match-winning penalty in the do-or-die quarter-final. Regardless as to whether Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber utilise Pollard from the off, or add him into their explosive substitute ‘bomb squad’, the halfback will bring a cool head and ice-cold skills to the fiery semi-final clash, with all eyes on him to see his Springboks through to victory.

Expected to go tee-to-tee with Pollard is England captain Owen Farrell. The Saracen emerged above the halfback parapet with a stunning quarter-final performance, with George Ford now expected to take a seat on the bench for this weekend’s semi-final. Farrell brings an added level of physicality to the fray, and is more comfortable in contact than either of Libbok or Pollard. With his Northern Rugby League grit, Farrell is a born leader of men, and won’t hesitate to put his body on the line for the win.

Manie Libbok of South Africa celebrates after winning during the Autumn Nations International Series match between England and South Africa at Twickenham, London on 26 November 2022 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

The lesser of two evils for England fans would be to see Manie Libbok start the match, as Farrell will have the edge in terms of place kicking and shots at goal. Libbok’s 2023 goal kicking record ahead of the Rugby World Cup was just 65.7%, and throughout the tournament he’s kicked 6 out of 12 penalties (50%) and 2 out of 5 conversions (40%). Comparatively to Farrell, the Saracen has slotted 10/15 conversions (66%) and 7 out of 9 penalties (77%). Farrell also proved that he possesses Ford’s skills at the drop goal, as he sent a nice three-pointer through the posts against Fiji.

In how the Springboks have Pollard and Libbok at their disposal, Borthwick has plentiful options for fly-half with Farrell, Ford and Marcus Smith all capable of stealing the show against South Africa. Rugby World Cup semi-finals often come down to the finest margins, and all three of England’s fly-halves have the skillset to find an opening. Also, never count-out Elliot Daly to send a long-range match-winning effort sailing through the uprights for England .