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How England can beat South Africa – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
Sam Cane of the All Blacks congratulates Owen Farrell of England after losing the Rugby World Cup 2019 Semi-Final match between England and New Zealand at International Stadium Yokohama on October 26, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

England are rightly significant underdogs against South Africa but they were four years ago as well against New Zealand in the semi-final and they have to believe an equally special performance is within them.


A lot of the talk this week has been about what happened in the final in 2019 against the Springboks and how England underperformed but I think it’s the semi-final everyone should be harking back to and remembering how they upset the odds.

Of course, that England side had lost just two games all year and looked in better shape than this one to the outside world but they’d had a bad period in 2018 and weren’t expected to overturn the All Blacks, far from it.

That performance in Yokohama remains probably the best from an England team over the past couple of decades and there have maybe been too many comparisons back to that day in this four-year cycle but now is the time to draw on the memories of that victory over New Zealand.

As many as 13 of today’s match day 23 played in that one and the muscle memory is there to do it again, with youth and potentially game-changing impacts from the likes of Ben Earl, George Martin, Freddie Steward and others to add into the mix now as well.

The problem is there are plenty of South Africans still knocking around who were there four years ago as well and they have gone from strength to strength. Nobody is under any illusions as to the size of the task but England have to believe they have another Yokohama-esque semi-final in them.


There are major differences in style between the 2019 All Blacks and 2023 Springboks and the game plan won’t be the same but England have to bring a level of physicality that we haven’t seen from them before they even get started with tactics.

Steve Borthwick’s team selection reflects that, particularly with Martin coming in for Ollie Chessum, who hasn’t done much wrong. They’re both of a similar physical stature but you definitely get a bit more dominance in collisions from Martin, whereas Chessum excels in other areas.

Martin <a href=
Leicester England” width=”1024″ height=”577″ /> (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The set piece fell apart in the final in Japan and that has to be on point and then the likes of Earl and Tom Curry will have to have a hell of a day at the breakdown and be allowed to by Ben O’Keeffe.


Joe Marler was a part of that struggling England scrum, albeit off the bench four years ago, and I think the decision to start him has as much to do with the impact of others coming on in the second half as anything else.

We’ve seen it from South Africa for years with the ‘bomb squad’ or replacements sometimes better than the players they’re coming on for and the expectation will be that Ellis Genge is more destructive than ever when he does enter the field.

I do think that is where the Springboks could have the biggest edge though. Their starting XV is better on paper as well but, while it may not be the stereotypical forward-heavy bomb squad, the ability to bring the scrummaging power of Ox Nche, the size of RG Snyman, the work rate of Kwagga Smith, the organisation of Faf de Klerk, the game management and kicking of Handre Pollard and the nous of Willie le Roux on is ridiculous.

Ollie Lawrence has made big impacts off the bench in attack and defence during this tournament and Billy Vunipola, Danny Care and George Ford have experience in abundance and no lack of quality but there is a gulf.

We know England are going to kick the leather off the ball and that’s the right thing to do against South Africa but they have to be smart with their kicking game as anything even slightly loose and Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Damian Willemse will tear them to shreds.

As usual, Borthwick will want his men to rack up the kicking metes and win the territory battle, whilst utilising the boot to give his forwards as much of a breather as possible, but we should see more contestable kicks than ever.

Steward England Leicester verdict
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Kolbe and Arendse have shown themselves to be more than adept aerially, and the Boks certainly got the better of France in the air last week, but they are still giving up a number of inches against the likes of Steward and Jonny May.

We’ll never know whether Marcus Smith would have started had it not been for his concussion and I’d like to think that Steward would have come in for May on the wing instead had the Quins man been fit but the reality is this may well have been the side Borthwick would’ve picked anyway.

Now the chosen ones have to go out and put in the sort of 80-minute performance we haven’t seen from them in a long time. They beat the Boks a couple of years ago at Twickenham and Ireland have shown them the template for how to do it at this tournament so it obviously isn’t beyond the realms of possibility by any means.

South Africa had the oldest squad going into this tournament, while England had the most caps, and experience counts at major tournaments. Both have around 900 caps in their starting XV and there is almost nothing to choose between them in the experience stakes.

Farrell England Rugby World Cup
(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

England need to draw on the positive experience of their semi-final four years ago though, rather than the disappointment of the final, and you just never know what might happen.

It could be the last meaningful game at a World Cup and maybe even in an England shirt for the likes of Jamie George, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Kyle Sinckler, May, Marler, Care, Ford, Vunipola and desperate men are dangerous.

Nobody is expecting them to win, my heart says England by a couple but my head says South Africa by 15, and that combined with a concoction of desperation, experience and nous means the dream of another performance for the ages like the one at this stage of the tournament against the All Blacks four years ago is still alive.


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Chris_uhdfs7f09dsgfsdg43 244 days ago

👍 almost managed it but jesus that’s a boring way to play rubgy. Yawn.

Bob Marler 245 days ago

An antagonizing bot. But why…?

Ben 245 days ago

Headline from SA vs England World Cup ………cricket
“Utter demolition. South Africa complete a mauling. This wasn't a chase, it was a lot of squirming and whimpering” Omen of things to come?

Drew 245 days ago

Never seen so many articles about how to beat South Africa. How Scotland can beat South Africa. How England can beat South Africa. How Ireland can beat South Africa. Don’t remember a single article about how anyone can beat a different team than South Africa. You NH press need to get over your beef with SA and embrace us the way you embrace NZ and Oz.

Bob Marler 245 days ago

I wonder what label I’ll get once I hit 1000 comments?

Imma gonna use 200 comments on this dumbfuck Turdmouth and find out.

Tom 245 days ago

SA are kryptonite for England it's like rock-paper-scissors.. England are rock and South Africa are a bigger, harder rock.

Marcus 245 days ago

England fan here. I lift heavy weights in the gym and the warm up sets are always horrible. However, when I get to the working sets proper fear kicks in and it gets better. By comparison England, on the weaker side of the draw, have not yet gone passed the warm up sets (no disrespect intended). And that is Englands only chance - proper fear gives them something extra.

However, to continue with the gym comparison; what is required is the equivalent of suddenly pulling a PB that is 20% higher than your last. Nearly impossible.

Good luck England, I hope you find something and shock us all.

Bob Marler 245 days ago

Pipe down you there in the back. The real contenders are playing now. For places in the final. You Missed your chances. Now shush please.

Bob Marler 245 days ago

England will also need to score the most points to beat the springboks.

Ben 245 days ago

I’ve been a little worried, as SA supporter, of this game, England do have good players. Farrell has shown to be a world class flyhalf, they have really good outside backs and pretty good loose forwards. Their tight five are their weakness though. As the day has progressed and game has come closer I’m getting more and more confident.Every article writing up England’s chances are full of if’s could’s, should’s, maybe’s and all sorts of Monty Python type referrals to past glories. No one, not even their own fans, have any belief this team can win unless there is a tear in the universe and they produce a display that is brought on by some mysterious external force, or a ghost of the past. The next article is going to be about sprinkling magic stardust on players before the game and dusting their boots with super powers. I think the writing is on the wall, Springboks to win by twenty

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