The Springboks will have to knock out another unbeaten side at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, England in Saturday night’s semi-final to reach a second consecutive final and take one step closer to winning the title for a record fourth time.
Although the reigning world champions hold an imposing record over England in World Cup matches – winning four of their last five meetings in the tournament – they will be wary of the trickery that Steve Borthwick’s side can produce at the Stade de France in Paris (9pm kick-off) to unsettle the apple cart.
And, warned Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick, they can switch on with one button to put teams under immense pressure, especially in a play-off match.
England haven’t lost a match at the French tournament, and they are on a similar unbeaten journey to the final as they were back in 2003 in Australia, when they became the first champions from the northern hemisphere.
They defeated the Boks in the group stages of the 2003 event, and in November next month, it will be the 20-year celebration of that famous triumph.
That could be another little inspiration and motivation for the England side under coach Borthwick to rewrite history. They’ve lost two finals, in 2019 and 2007, and one quarter-final against the Boks.
Stick said yesterday from Paris that the South Africans can definitely not look back at 2019 to give them any help if they want to win tonight.
The Boks outclassed the English 32-12 in Yokohama in 2019. In the 2007 final, they also beat England 15-6, while romping to a 36-0 win in the pool stages at that same tournament.
“One thing I know for sure, without even going too deep to 2019, in the past year, they are a totally different team,” said Stick.
“I know they started slow under the new coaching staff with Borthwick, because we analysed them, and we go deep into how they do things and what they stand for.
“To be honest, there have been a lot of changes in how they do things. They are getting the results they are looking for, and you can see a shift in their mindset … they are really physical.”
But Stick also warned that England, much like France, are a very good kicking side, and they won’t hesitate to put the Springboks under pressure by looking for territory with the boot.
Every kick of flyhalf Owen Farrell, scrumhalf Alex Mitchell, fullback Freddie Steward, or the left boot of wing Elliot Daly will be chased with vigour – whether it’s a box kick, a chip over the defence, as Frenchman Antoine Dupont did in the quarters, or looking for territory with a 50-22 kick.
“If you look at the way they are kicking, you know (they are) probably the closest team to France, the amount of kicks you get in a game. We analysed some of the games, and even when they played against teams like Chile, they will probably go over 40 kicks in a game,” Stick said.
“That shows you there’s a bit of tweaking in how they do things.”
The biggest question on the Boks’ side is if the unchanged 23 players can repeat the performance from last weekend against France.
It was a physical test, and the Springboks had to claw their way out of a bunch of tricky situations that could’ve taken the game away from them.
The same is expected tonight, and captain Siya Kolisi and his team will have to dig deep to secure the win.
“One thing I can tell you for sure about us is that every game we’ve played in this World Cup, our boys – even with all the changes we sometimes make in our squad – always pitch up.
“And I know one thing for sure, they’re going to be up for this because of the history between the two sides.
“For sure, we are not going to disappoint. But like I said, England at the moment, they’re in a good space.
“I think it’s going to be the same tomorrow. Whoever is going to pitch up and execute their plan very well, and also play the conditions very well, will stand a chance to win.”
Teams For Paris
Springboks: 15 Damian Willemse 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse 13 Jesse Kriel 12 Damian de Allende 11 Cheslin Kolbe 10 Manie Libbok 9 Cobus Reinach 8 Duane Vermeulen 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit 6 Siya Kolisi (captain) 5 Franco Mostert 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Frans Malherbe 2 Bongi Mbonambi 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Bench: 16 Deon Fourie 17 Ox Nche 18 Vincent Koch 19 RG Snyman 20 Kwagga Smith 21 Faf de Klerk 22. Handré Pollard 23 Willie le Roux.
England: 15 Freddie Steward 14 Jonny May 13 Joe Marchant 12 Manu Tuilagi 11 Elliot Daly 10 Owen Farrell (captain) 9 Alex Mitchell 8 Ben Earl 7 Tom Curry 6 Courtney Lawes 5 George Martin 4 Maro Itoje 3 Dan Cole 2 Jamie George 1 Joe Marler.
Bench: 16 Theo Dan 17 Ellis Genge 18 Kyle Sinckler 19 Ollie Chessum 20 Billy Vunipola 21 Danny Care 22 George Ford 23 Ollie Lawrence.