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Handre Pollard heroics breaks English hearts in thrilling World Cup semi

By Finn Morton
Pieter-Steph Du Toit of South Africa celebrates following the team’s victory during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between England and South Africa at Stade de France on October 21, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

SAINT-DENIS – Defending champions South Africa are off to their second-consecutive Rugby World Cup final after beating England 16-15 on a rainy night north of Paris.


It came down to one moment. Handre Pollard was the hero for the Springboks on a heartbreaking night for England and their fans.

On a frigid, wet and gloomy night in Saint-Denis, the bright lights of Stade de France illuminated the French sky as a palpable sense of anticipation continued to build ahead of a blockbuster semi-final.

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With rain trickling down from the heavens, the crowd let out a deafening cheer as England captain Owen Farrell kicked off the Test.

Centre Joe Marchant won the race to the ball, but couldn’t quite batter the ball back towards his English teammates. It was an unforced error after mere seconds, but it was far from a bad omen for what was to come.

England tripped at the first hurdle against the reigning world champions but the rest of the half was forcefully theirs as they strategically bested their favoured opponents.

To the delight of the fans who made the trip across the English Channel, captain Farrell nailed a penalty goal after just two minutes to give the so-called ‘underdogs’ a slender lead.

Match Summary

Penalty Goals
Drop Goals
Line Breaks
Turnovers Lost
Turnovers Won


Moments later, halfback Alex Mitchell caught the Springboks on the back foot once again with a clever box kick that dribbled into touch. Parked inside their own 22, hooker Bongi Mbonambi failed to throw the lineout straight.

England were gifted an attacking scrum about 10 metres out from the try line, and why they couldn’t force their way over, the English wouldn’t walk away empty handed.

Farrell converted his second penalty of the night to give England a 6-nil lead inside the opening 10 minutes.

England continued to dominate the ariel battle, and Maro Itoje was especially impactful as they thwarted the Boks’ trademark maul time and time again.


But the Boks did score next.

After giving away a penalty, and then being marched 10 metres, England conceded their first points of the semi-final as flyhalf Manie Libbok knocked over a penalty.

England regained their six-point lead with Farrell converting another shot at goal midway through the half. South Africa looked worried – genuinely, you could see it in the stands.

Libbok made way for Rugby World Cup-winning playmaker Handre Pollard in an eye-catching substitution in the 32nd minute, but that proved to be a masterstroke.

Pollard added three to the score, but Farrell cancelled that out shortly after. Following a pretty uneventful opening half, England went into the sheds with a hard-fought 12-6 advantage.

The first 10 minutes of the second-half were tense. It felt like a key period for the world champion Boks as they looked to mount a comeback against their inspired rivals.


New Zealand
South Africa
11 - 12
New Zealand
6 - 44
South Africa
15 - 16
17 - 29
New Zealand
24 - 28
30 - 24
South Africa
28 - 29

But their efforts were in vain. England continued to control the Test on the back of their superior kicking game, and they eventually added to their lead through a monstrous Farrell drop goal.

England fans let out another passionate cry of support as memories of their famous semi-final win over the All Blacks four years ago began to resurface.

With 15 minutes to play, England were in control. Time waits for no man, and that was a pressing concern for a helpless Springboks outfit who looked lost for answers.

But the Springboks aren’t the defending world champions for no reason. With their best opportunity of the half, the Boks scored through RG Snyman with just over 10 minutes to play.

Almost suddenly, it was a two-point game, and the Boks had a wealth of momentum spurring them on. Thousands watched on in awe as the clock continued to tick by.

But it came down to one kick. After being awarded a scrum penalty, replacement Handre Pollard was the hero as the playmaker knocked over a long-range penalty in tough conditions.

With the eyes of the rugby world watching on, Pollard had delivered. While England fought valiantly for a comeback, the Boks’ defnece held strong.

South Africa will play southern hemisphere rivals New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final for the first time since 1995. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.


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Charlie 273 days ago

OMG!!!! Barnes is gonna be the Ref 4 All Blacks & Springboks game? What a disaster in waiting,

Jaco 274 days ago

We will not beat NZ with this starting line-up. Kitsie and Frans both looked spent. I have not seen a smile from those two for ages.
Ox, Vincent, RG, Faf, Handre MUST start. Kwagga on at the break.
A 6-2 split as before. Consider Am and Moody. We lost the aerial battle six love.

Ben 274 days ago

That was a tense game, ENgland definitely had the ascendency in first sixty minutes. SA did however look like the only team there able to score a try though and that was the difference. Together with huge pressure from England SA were put out of stride by ref’s interpretation and early penalties as well clear missed penalties in Eng red zone when SA were on attack. Farrell interfering in scrumhalf pass while on ground wrong side of scrum, Earl’s no arms grass cutter five meters out, , Earl’s tackling player while on ground. In any other game those incidents would have been carded. The final difference between teams was composure, Bok’s stayed focused on game, Engl were unravelled every time they were put under pressure. The key moment was Farrell losing the plot with ref, gave SA three points and changed ref’s attitude, also got his team unsettled, they effectively lost their captain then. RG’s try would never have been scored earlier in game with England’s defense yet with the clock running down, huge scoreboard lead Eng crumbled, two penalties given away before RG scored playing advantage. Then the scrum penalty, it was close but SA deserved to win.

Ian 274 days ago

The boks go into next weekend as favorites, but I’m picking the Abs to come out on top. A final for the ages…

Cam 274 days ago

England were on fire. Ticking all the boxes and asking questions the Boks couldnt answer; so much so that I was sure that SA were off to meet the Pumas well into the second half! Well done SA, a hard fought win at the end after all

Raymond 274 days ago

I was cussing out Rassie and calling him an idiot over the TV screen for not ordering the points to be taken on the first two penalties. Rain and wet grass cannot stop the ball from going over the poles what was he thinking. And then he kept on having the Boks kick despite England winning on the highball every single effing time. Thank God he used what little brain was left to put the blonde meisie Faf and Pollard on.

Leoni 274 days ago


Dirk 274 days ago

I’m sorry but we were extremely lucky. England took us out of that game completely. Don’t feel like a single starting plater from the boks fired.

Had England put up more point during the first 60min, we would have been out and they in.

As an aside. The heading SHOULD be including Ox Nché. His scrumming is what got us those penalties to be able to score a converted try and be able to get that penalty kick

Katz 274 days ago

The boks were lacklustre in their performance- whether it was complacency because they thought England would be an easy win, we shall never know. England played a much better game and were the deserved winners. If it wasn’t for Nche and Pollard in the 2nd half, England would be through to the finals.
O’Keefe’s refereeing was questionable too. Not once did he inquire with the TMO- too cocky and self-assured in his decision-making but the ref can’t see everything accurately with his own eyes during such a high-stakes game. He should’ve TMO’d to get clarity.

Timgrugpass 274 days ago

England turned on. Finally (apart from that last minute).

Both teams can consider themselves lucky. England because they were (as all post examinations have shown) extremely lucky to get past Fiji.

Bok were rattled & confused by the woken England. Apart from their great but desperate try, Bok only made it due to unforced English errors.

England will rue that despite having 3-4 drop goal specialist drop goalers (including substituting for it) tried to get that extra inch closer (that a mad bok were never going to give em) rather go for goal.

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