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England player ratings vs South Africa | Rugby World Cup 2023

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

England player ratings live from Stade de France: This was the moment of real truth for Steve Borthwick’s England. He had lived up to his promise that he would have his underwhelming team ready for the tournament start on September 9, Argentina getting squeezed 27-10 despite Tom Curry’s third-minute red card.


From there, England progressed through the easier side of the draw, winning four more games to secure their semi-final qualification.

However, as witnessed on Friday night when the Pumas were mauled 44-6 by the All Blacks, the fear was that two levels of competition had unfolded at France 2023 and that the English would similarly chewed up and spat aside. Not so.

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Try-less England were absolutely wonderful here, dominating the kicking battle in the wet conditions and tackling for their lives.

That attitude had them leading for a whopping 75 minutes of a tense, intriguing, edge-of-seat contest before getting cruelly overtaken when Handre Pollard’s long-range penalty edged the defending champions 16-15 in front to win.

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South Africa
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What gave? The loss of the excellently defiant Tom Curry with his team 15-6 clear and just 11 minutes remaining. When play restarted, South Africa pounced for the converted RG Snyman try that set up the grandstand finish that the infringing English scrum couldn’t withstand. Here are the England player ratings:

15. Freddie Steward – 8
Recalled to help defuse the Springboks’ kicking game, he was safe hands personified in the wet conditions and it was his pressure chasing a Farrell kick that forced the spill which helped England get 9-3 up.


14. Jonny May – 6.5
His involvements were few and far between but eventually contributed when his chase of a kick near the interval was impeded by Pieter-Steph du Toit, handing Owen Farrell his kick for a 12-6 lead. Couldn’t prevent the grounding of the 69th-minute try and was subbed off for George Ford when play restarted.

13. Joe Marchant – 6.5
Knocked on under the Farrell kick-off and that was about it for his first half as a brutally narrow game simply didn’t unfold down his channel. It was a similar enough story in the second period and it was his misfortunate not to get enough sight of the ball to stop Snyman from scoring the try that set up a dramatic finish.

12. Manu Tuilagi – 7
Had only slightly more first-half action than Marchant but it was still very limited. Blamed for the tangle with Cobus Reinach that set off a 15th-minute dust-up. Carried well the couple of times he was invited onto the ball. Missed the end-game, though, as subbed on 74 minutes.

11. Elliot Daly – 7
Tasted more action than May on the other flank, it was his tapback of aerial ball that was critical in the lead-up to the opening England penalty. Continued in a similar manner after the break, his chase winning England a five-metre throw after a Farrell grubber.


10. Owen Farrell – 8
Nailed his four first-half kicks off the tee to give England a sniff of an upset, but wasn’t faultless as unnecessary verbals to referee Ben O’Keeffe cost 10 metres and put Libbok in range to kick the first South African points. Got his head back on the game after the interval, executing an excellent drop goal on 53 minutes and keeping his team on the front front.

9. Alex Mitchell – 7
Started sprightly, with good ruck surveillance helping to win England their opening penalty and he followed it with a smart touch finder. Illustrated how much he has grown since his early August call-up, often calling in an extra guard to the ruck before kicking clear. On the debit side, it was his ruck infringement that gave South Africa the penalty which sparked the Farrell verbals while he also missed a number of tackles. Gone on 53.

1. Joe Marler – 8
A rare recent stat for the veteran loosehead, he was excellent when you overlooked the couple of first-half penalties he gave up. Carried regularly with England seeking added yards to make good exits. A nuggety competitor who didn’t tolerate any Springboks nonsense. Excellent 53 minutes.

2. Jamie George – 7.5
Defiant the whole way through but can’t be pleased with some of his second-half throwing and scrummaging. The most costly moment was the crooked throw on 44 minutes with England just five metres out from the line.

3. Dan Cole – 8
Rolled back the years with a fabulous 56-minute demonstration of old-school tighthead prop play, clearing out breakdowns and minding his set-piece. Won a scrum penalty on 17 minutes and had the energy to punch the air when Farrell’s drop goal put England nine points clear 13 minutes into the second half.

4. Maro Itoje – 9
Welcome back to the Maro Itoje of 2017 British and Irish Lions frame. He was brilliantly effective in igniting English momentum, stealing the first opposition lineout, being a nuisance at the maul, and going after the ball in the contact.

5. George Martin – 8
What a story. Just a four-ever Test start for the 22-year-old, he was brilliant in his 53-minute involvement. Large presence at the breakdown, his carry to a ruck also earned Engaldn their second converted penalty kick and by the time he exited, he was his team’s second busiest tackler.

6. Courtney Lawes – 9
Started with a lazy-looking offside but that mishap was a short-lived blip as he was sublime thereafter. There was one smart grasp of a loose ball, a turnover that led to an England penalty at the next ruck, and other smashing turnovers along the way had England in a driving seat where he also carried often and intelligently.

7. Tom Curry – 9
England’s defensive linchpin was unfortunately in the wars. Needed off-field treatment late in the opening half and his limping departure on 69 minutes after a chart-topping tackle effort was pivotal, South Africa scoring off the next play.

8. Ben Earl – 8.5
Tipped the scales 13kgs lighter than his opposite number Duane Vermeulen, but that mattered not a whit as he exploded into this and had the time of his life.

16. Theo Dan – No Rating
An unused replacement for the third match in a row.

17. Ellis Genge – 5
Given the closing 27 minutes to bring it home but came unstuck at the scrum.

18. Kyle Sinckler – 5.5
A 56th-minute sub, it was his infringement at a scrum five metres out on an England put in at 15-6 that proved immensely costly.

19. Ollie Chessum – 6.5
Kept England firing when introduced on 53 minutes, enjoying a different role to being a regular starter.

20. Billy Vunipola – 3.5
A short first-half cameo for Curry ended in a spill that sparked defensive panic and a concession for South Africa’s second penalty kick. Sent back on in the 69th minute for Curry again, England ‘losing’ the next 11 minutes 10-0 and the game ended with another fumble from him.

21. Danny Care – 7.5
Arrived on to give Farrell a drop goal pass and thrived from there.

22. George Ford – No rating
Sent on with two minutes to go for May with England a point down.

23. Ollie Lawrence – No rating
Introduced on 74 minutes, he carried twice in the game’s final play but to no avail.


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Gerhardt 234 days ago

The` bottom line is slightly tongue in cheek - England at their best wasn’t good enough to beat the Bokke at their worst!

Troy 235 days ago

Typical bloody Poms, only ones who would give themselves 9s and 8s even though they lost. No wonder everyone loves to see them lose.
But Courtney Lawes is a world class second tower.

mel 236 days ago

Kicking away possession with ten mins to go and two scores reqd from SA wasn’t smart rugby.

S 237 days ago

It always puzzles me how someone of Billy V’s size can have so little impact. He should be ending people. Instead all that happens is the odd handling error and negative yards. 22st of empty shirt.

David 237 days ago

You jest,of course, if you think O’Keefe is the best. On a good day ,the best would be 7/10, as in this game, he is never better than6

Tom 237 days ago

Sinks isn't up to it in terms of scrummaging against the Boks. They persist with him because he adds a lot in the loose and against any other team his scrummaging is probably good enough…I don't blame him for what happened, not many can withstand the SA scrum, even the French props struggled BUT! After what happened to Mako Vunipola in the last world cup final to see it all happen again was very frustrating… Borthers recognised it in picking Marler and Cole and then threw the game in bringing on a prop who wasn't up to it. England need to pick props who scrummage. Anything else is a bonus. Genge I think is just about a good enough scrummager and is a world class ball carrier for a prop but Sinks I'm afraid isn't either, at least not anymore.

You could say Faz not giving Reinach the ball in the first half cost us the game or some silly offside penalties. We gave away 6 points in the first half through indiscipline.

Vunipola was appalling. Every game he's been involved he's been appalling. What the fuck were they thinking bringing him on when both Curry and Ludlam have played 8 for England.

Mark 237 days ago

These games always come down to small margins, a call here or there.
However the fact remains that Englands ongoing inability to fashion an attacking game beyond kick to compete is costing them dearly.
We simply don’t score enough tries to put teams under sustained scoreboard pressure.
Beyond defensive duties yesterday, we woukdn’t have known our centres or wingers were playing at all.
And it must now surely be recognised that neither sinckler nor genge are proficient enough scrummagers at this level, add to that the inexplicable decision to go with Vunipola over Ludlum, and that was the game.

Katz 237 days ago

Only one missing and worth a mention is Borthwick. He gets a 10. He managed to turn around a team after just 18 months of coaching. Seemingly down-trodden, Borthwick gave the English team a sense of self-belief and played to their strengths. This team certainly deserves their place in the top 5 world rugby rankings.

Jacque 237 days ago

Give Steward 9 and Earl 6.
Earl was nowhere in the last 10.

Francis 237 days ago

Poor form to blame the ref.
I thought he did an excellent job in a hard fought semi
England's poor shape in the scrum was the main reason they lost.
Up till then they had the game won but the Bokke reserve players broke the poms hearts.
Okeefe was very even handed

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