England v South Africa: Rugby World Cup 2023 semi-final – live | Rugby World Cup 2023

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Key events

72 mins. Advantage South Africa here unless England can hold their own in the scrum. The Boks show they are well aware of this as Le Roux opts for a scrum on his own 22 after calling a mark from a kick.

Huge test for the England pack right here.

Ollie Lawrence replaces Manu Tuilagi.

TRY! England 15 – 13 South Africa (RG Snyman)

69 mins. A very clever lineout drill from SA as they dummy to set up a maul before Fourie pops off early and bullets for the line. He’s held up inches out, but the next phase has Snyman crashing over to ground under much England tackle attention.

Pollard converts.

Brace yourselves for a emotionally torturous final 10 minutes.

67 mins. Leaving the enthralling tension aside, this is now a terrible game of rugby in terms of ambition. Both sides doing nothing more with the ball than whomping it up into the air off first receiver and it’s leading to multiple knock-ons in the melee to reclaim it.

The end result is lots of possession and set-pieces in the middle third, which as stated before is for more advantageous to England in terms of territory.

But, what’s not so good for the men in white is they have conceded three scrum penalties. The latest has Pollard putting his team deep into the English 22.

65 mins. An ominous blast on O’Keefe’s whistle is once more directed at Kyle Sinckler in the scrum, which is not a good sign for England’s set piece with fifteen minutes remaining.

However the other setpiece issue of the Bok lineout raises it’s head on the next play as Itoje nicks the throw.

62 mins. A frantic but scrappy few minutes with both not controlling possession. Ben Earl spilling after a trademark step and carry, then Genge snatching at a Farrell pass as he steels himself for incoming Springbok impact.

60 mins. The anticipation for the England fans comes to nought as Sinkler is pinged for boring in. The Boks are up to halfway for the lineout their cute short lineout back to Mbonambi gives Care the chance to bundle the hooker into touch.

57 mins. A rumbling carry from De Allende is rattled to a stop by Genge before Pollard’s kick is too deep which allows Steward to stride forward and claim it. A Farrell kick puts Arendse under pressure and his fingers are not up to the ball-plus-rain challenge as he agonisingly knocks-on

Kurt-Lee Arendse of South Africa knocks the ball forward whilst under pressure from Elliot Daly of England.
Kurt-Lee Arendse of South Africa knocks-on whilst under pressure from Elliot Daly of England. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

England have a scrum on the left, deep in the Bok 22.

53 mins. England have rung some changes: Ellis Genge, Ollie Chessum, Kyle Sinckler and Danny Care are on for Marler, Martin, Cole and Mitchell.

DROP GOAL! England 15 – 6 South Africa (Owen Farrell)

52 mins. South Africa’s mostly new pack absolutely marmalises the England pack, driving them back hard off the ball. They whizz the ball left through hands to Kolbe who dances a bit before Le Roux hacks the ball on to chase into an empty in-goal, but he booted it too hard and it runs dead.

From the restart, England are on it fast winning a turnover that Farrell calls for to snap a massive drop goal from nearly forty metres!

Surviving that scrum attack then turning it around into three points felt like a moment for England.

Owen Farrell of England scores a drop goal during the 2023 Rugby World Cup sem i-final against South Africa.
Owen Farrell of England scores a drop goal during the 2023 Rugby World Cup sem i-final against South Africa. Photograph: Henry Browne/World Rugby/Getty Images

50 mins. The Bok pack gets a nudge on in the scrum and it felt like a penalty was coming but De Klerk whips it away to De Allende who has his first big carry of the game. But it’s imprecise in contact as Martin dislodges the ball in the tackle.

Possession is traded via some kicks with the game fixed in the middle third of the field, which will suit England just fine.

Ox Nche, Deon Fourie and Kwagga Smith are on for Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen.

South Africa’s Kwagga Smith is tackled by England’s Alex Mitchell.
England’s Alex Mitchell gets shirty with South Africa’s Kwagga Smith. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

47 mins. For two lineouts on the bounce Jamie George has screwed the ball quite a way from straight and England will hope it’s just a couple of daft ones rather than some yips setting in.

South Africa have a scrum just in their own half from which to build an attack.

45 mins. On the 22, England have the ball and it’s being recycled quickly which allows Farrell the time to slide a grubber into the left corner that Willemse can only fumble into touch on the Bok 5m line.

But the lineout is mangled by George not throwing in straight despite SA not sending any jumpers up. That’s a terrrible waste of a glorious position to add points early in the half.

RG Snyman is on for Eben Etzebeth. That’s a surprising withdrawal.

42 mins. England tidy and clear from the restart and again Mbonambi’s throw is not great, a little low for Etzebeth who can only shovel it past Reinach and put the possession under pressure. Eventually the ball is lost after the Boks can’t resource the ruck.

England's Courtney Lawes (left) and South Africa's Eben Etzebeth battle to catch the ball.
England’s Courtney Lawes (left) and South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth battle to catch the ball. Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP

Faf De Klerk is on for Cobus Reinach.


Pollard kicks deep and it’s time to go again.

“As an old (very old) player this is a great game of rugby.” argues Jorg or Tom Mayfield. “May not appeal to the modern fan, but as an object lesson in how to play to your strengths while limiting theirs, sublime. All over by half time was a general opinion. Well definitely not. Can England keep it up? Who knows? If it is close near the end what price a Ford drop goal?”

It’s certainly beautifully poised, Jorg or Tom.

It’s safe to say that England could not have done any more so far to give themselves a chance of reaching another World Cup final. There will be some grumblings about decisions at the ruck going their way, but given Owen Farrell has already been marched 10 metres for blaring in the ref’s ear like Brian Potter having just found out where his keyboard player is, then it’s hard to imagine Ben O’Keefe will fancy favouring his side.

South Africa have been unable to maintain anything like consistent possession, some of it due to the ruck issues above, but much of it caused by England’s kick-chase alongside a lineout that resembles a drunk basketball team trying to headbutt the moon. It will be a worry that their bench hooker, Deon Fourie, is actually a flanker.

HALF TIME! England 12 – 6 South Africa

40 mins. England win a scrum and Mitchell bunts the ball dead to end the half.

South Africa's Duane Vermeulen during a scrum.
South Africa’s Duane Vermeulen looks focused during a scrum. Photograph: Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters

PENALTY! England 12 – 6 South Africa (Owen Farrell)

38 mins. Willemse chases and claims his own kick, but he takes it too close to the line to prevent Mitchell from bundling him into touch just inside the England half. From the lineout, Mitchell puts it up for May to chase and Du Toit is penalised for blocking that chase.

It’s 35 metres out, on the angle just right of the posts, and Farrell’s kick is exquisite.

England's Owen Farrell converts his side's fourth penalty during the Rugby World Cup 2023 semi final against South Africa.
That’s four out of four for the England captain. Photograph: David Davies/PA

PENALTY! England 9 – 6 South Africa (Handre Pollard)

34 mins. The first wobble in composure from England as Daly fumbles a relatively simple catch backwards in his 22. The forwards do enough to secure possession, but Vunipola’s cold hands fumble the ball forwards on the next phase to gift the attack to South Africa in a dangerous position.

It doesn’t take long for England to drift offside and Pollard does the obvious to give his team three points.

Handre Pollard of South Africa kicks his side's second penalty during the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final against England.
Handre Pollard of South Africa kicks his side’s second penalty during the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final against England. Photograph: Adam Pretty/World Rugby/Getty Images

31 mins. This is a ruthless and heartbreaking moment for Libbok as he’s hooked off for Handre Pollard after half an hour. Rassie Erasmus has clearly decided this is a game that needs a much different fly-half approach.

Tom Curry is leaving for a blood injury, replaced by Billy Vunipola.

29 mins. Mbonambi once again can’t throw straight and this is compounded by Etzebeth running offside in his attempt to charge down Mitchell’s box kick.

26 mins. South Africa throw a lineout to the tail which is followed by a deft pop back inside to Arendse to run through the crowd of forwards and burst free. He looks to be away but Mitchell puts in a last-ditch tap tackle to send him tumbling and Lawes flies onto the ball to win a turnover.

South Africa’s right wing Kurt-Lee Arendse (left) evades a tackled from England’s scrum-half Alex Mitchell.
South Africa’s right wing Kurt-Lee Arendse (left) evades a tackled from England’s scrum-half Alex Mitchell. Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

Mitchell clears it to touch and once again, England have repelled another Springbok attack.

PENALTY! England 9 – 3 South Africa (Owen Farrell)

23 mins. More joy from the kick-chase for England has them on the 22 and South Africa are again illegal at the ruck, meaning Farrell can make an immediate amends with the boot.

PENALTY! England 6 – 3 South Africa (Manie Libbok)

20 mins. Mitchell is penalised for being off his feet at a ruck after Daly makes a big catch from a kick-chase. Owen Farrell is not happy about the decision and wangs on at the ref so much about it that he and the team are marched back ten metres. This puts it in Libbok’s range and he duly bangs the ball over.

I cannot stress how stupid that was from the ENGLAND CAPTAIN!

South Africa's fly-half Manie Libbok watches the ball after taking a penalty kick during the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final match between England and South Africa.
South Africa’s fly-half Manie Libbok watches the ball fly towards the posts. Photograph: Antonin Thuillier/AFP/Getty Images

17 mins. Another catch and drive from the Boks, this one on the 5m line, is handled by England and then the ball is spilled in a huge tackle by Jamie George. The stress of tricky defensive scrum for England is alleviated by Kitshoff being penalised for not driving straight.

This is scarcely believable resilience from England.

14 mins. England’s worst nightmare manifests as a Bok rolling maul starts rumbling on the 10m line. It’s eventually stopped and South Africa do a poor job of recycling so the ball is turned over, allowing Farrell to clear it – but May is offside chasing the kick. Gah!

The Boks tee up another maul from the next lineout, but again England are amongst it, prevent the ball coming out and win a scrum. Outstanding defence that is immediately ruined by Itoje getting into a ding-dong with Reinach, so O’Keefe awards a penalty to South Africa.

South Africa's lock Franco Mostert (C) stretches to catch the ball as he is lifted into the air for an England lineout.
South Africa’s lock Franco Mostert (C) stretches to catch the ball as he is lifted into the air for an England lineout. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

“Rightly, England seem very content to take the penalty points, here. I had considered SA running rings around them, but Farrell and co have come out with the intention of getting a stomp on, and that they have.” reflects Bill Preston.

12 mins. More proficient stuff from England as they calmly claim and clear the restart. The Springbok lineout finally wins some possession around halfway, but England hold the maul attempt and force them to start playing phases, which end with a Reinach box kick.

PENALTY! England 6 – 0 South Africa (Owen Farrell)

9 mins. The troubling start for Mbonambi continues as his throw 8 metres from the Bok line is squint. From the scrum platform on the left Ben Earl digs it out from the base to carry up to the five metre line before on the next phase Kolisi is pinged for not releasing.

Farrell adds another three from close in.

A dream start for England so far.

England's Owen Farrell (right) kicks and scores a penalty.
Owen Farrell’s trusty right boot is not going to miss from there. Photograph: Themba Hadebe/AP

7 mins. South Africa finally have some ball and run their familiar one pass out followed by a big kick up from Libbok that caused France so much bother. However, Steward flies and claims it with the usual proficiency to give Mitchell the chance to kick to touch deep into Bok territory.

5 mins. England have a clear kick-to-compete strategy and so far it’s been rewarded with three points and then both Kolbe and Arendse being beaten to a high kick. It’s not quite perfect as the white chasers have knocked on each time, but it has certainly rattled the Boks early.

This is reinforced when Mbonambi loses his first lineout throw to a climbing Itoje.

PENALTY! England 3 – 0 South Africa (Owen Farrell)

2 mins. Farrell switches his kick-off to the left and puts a cute one up that Marchant very nearly regathers. South Africa do enough to scrape it back and clear, but on the next attack Du Toit is penalised for not supporting his weight at the ruck.

New Zealand referee Ben O'Keeffe (let) awards a penalty to England.
New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe (let) awards a penalty to England. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

The captain calls for the tee and gets the first points of the match!

Owen Farrell of England kicks his side's first penalty during the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa.
Owen Farrell gets some early points on the board. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images


Owen Farrell sweeps the ball up in the air to get this semi final is underway

The teams are out on the field. The pumping music fades as they take up the usual linear position for the anthems.

General view of both teams and match officials lined up before the match.
The team take their positions for the national anthems. Photograph: Stéphanie Lecocq/Reuters
Ollie Chessum, Freddie Steward and George Martin of England sing their national anthem prior to the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final match between England and South Africa.
England’s Ollie Chessum, Freddie Steward and George Martin belt out the national anthem. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
England's Manu Tuilagi, Maro Itoje, and Jamie George sing their national anthem ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2023 semi final match against South Africa.
As do Manu Tuilagi, Maro Itoje, and Jamie George. Photograph: David Davies/PA

@bloodandmud once SA unleash The Bokalypse it’ll be Goodnight Paris for England. Big boys playground & The Boks are the biggest boys. England will put up a good fight but it won’t be enough. SA by double digits they know how to get the job done

— John McEnerney (@MackerOnTheMed) October 21, 2023

“I think if England play well, we will win.” says Jamie Tennant, “England to win by 5.”

Nothing wrong with a bit of optimism, Jamie. But we would do well to remember that France played very well and lost.

England supporters cheer on their team from the stands ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final match between England and South Africa.
Speaking of optimism. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

An England fan here offering an opinion

Have to say while I hold little hope of a win, I think we’ll do ok tonight @bloodandmud. While the lack of a second playmaker is a concern, I think our gameplan will be so specific it may be a moot point. Kick. Chase. Keep away from scrums. Drop goals and penalties. Fight for 80.

— Guy Hornsby (@GuyHornsby) October 21, 2023

Can’t disagree with the gameplan, Guy. What else do England have, really?

Less convinced on the “they’ll do OK” bit. But I said the same at this stage four years ago so what do I know?

Match Officials

There’s been too much chat about refs in recent weeks, but for those interested here is the panel of officials for the match

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)

Pre-match reading for you all…

Ugo Monye has some theories regarding what England need to do

And Jonathan Liew talks about the remarkable Rassie and his team

What are your thoughts on England’s chances? Are South Africa not as terrifying as many (e.g. me) make out? How will the game play out?

Let me know what you reckon about all that and much more on the Email or you can even use that website run by a famous South African


Steve Borthwick has made changes in the pack, with the stronger scrummaging of Joe Marler preferred to Ellis Genge at loose-head, while George Martin starts ahead of Ollie Chessum in the second row. In the backs Freddie Steward returns to the fullback berth, replacing Marcus Smith who is unavailable after his head injury vs Fiji. Owen Farrell captains from the 10 shirt once more.

South Africa’s coaching team took a short look at the team that defeated France and determined, “that’ll do”. They name and unchanged squad, maintaining the lesser-spotted Springbok 5-3 bench.

Freddie Steward; Jonny May, Joe Marchant, Manu Tuilagi, Elliot Daly; Owen Farrell (captain), Alex Mitchell; Joe Marler, Jamie George, Dan Cole; Maro Itoje, George Martin; Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Ben Earl

Replacements: Theo Dan, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler, Ollie Chessum, Billy Vunipola, Danny Care, George Ford, Ollie Lawrence

Damian Willemse; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Manie Libbok, Cobus Reinach; Steven Kitshoff, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe; Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert; Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Duane Vermeulen

Replacements: Deon Fourie, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Faf de Klerk, Handré Pollard, Willie le Roux


From a pre-tournament position with little hope of triumph England have bloody-mindedly scrapped, drop-goaled and fought their way to being one game away from a consecutive final appearance and possibly – maybe – winning the whole thing. Could it be that like with Jamal Malik, for this achievement “it is written”? Hope springs infernal.

But hope is a dangerous thing for Steve Borthwick, his players and the fans. As for every admirable occasion of England’s scrapping and the rest, South Africa will point out that during their run to this stage they have done the same or better only backwards and in heels. An electric France have been despatched in a febrile home atmosphere, while the defeat to Ireland in the group stages featured some of their greatest hits in defence and up front. It’s not unreasonable to point out that England have not faced anything of equivalent intensity thus far.

Borthwick will take inspiration from being the only undefeated side remaining, and reflect that many of the killer Boks points in the first half vs Les Bleus were the result of home side errors or failing to deal with some towering kicks – largely the only attacking pattern South Africa had. Steward et al will fancy their chances of diffusing more bombs here. And it was in the semis four years ago that they arrived much unfancied and smashed a powerful New Zealand into a fine paste.

However, both sides will also recall what happened a week later as South Africa closed out a one-sided final with much ease delivered by their physical dominance and astuteness. Eben Etzebeth and the rest of the pack will be bringing this to mind along with the recent awkward time that the England forwards had in the scrum vs Fiji.

Whatever happens in this match the RFU annual statement will speak of achievement in this tournament, and given the form coming in a win here would be one for the ages; while South Africa would now consider reaching the final no better than par.

Upset or expected victory? Not long to wait to find out.

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