The Springboks are strong favourites. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
demi finale

The World Cup needs a better semi-final. England must live with the Boks

The Springboks have more variety to their play and are strong favourites tonight.

YOU WONDERED WHETHER it was just a bit of Irish bitterness or begrudgery but no, everyone seemed to be in agreement about last night’s game.

The French and South Africans and English who were at Stade de France were all of the same mind – it was a World Cup semi-final only in name. There was a lack of contest on a night when some of the energy was sucked out of the tournament.

Even in the post-match press conference, it seemed as if Ian Foster and Sam Cane were struggling to get too excited about it. They knew that their New Zealand team hadn’t needed to be at their best to earn a place in the World Cup final.

While he was annoyed about the refereeing, Argentina boss Michael Cheika was otherwise philosophical about his side’s heavy defeat. You almost felt sorry for the Pumas that they now have to hang around for another week to play in the Bronze Final.

With all of that in mind, tonight’s second semi-final between South Africa and England [KO 8pm Irish time, Virgin Media] is important for this World Cup. South Africa are 13-point favourites and very few people expect England to join New Zealand in the final, but this tournament needs an engaging contest.

Following up last night’s breeze for the All Blacks with something similar for the Springboks would be disappointing and only add to the sense of deflation that some people felt last night. Losing hosts France last weekend was obviously a big blow for the competition, while the colour and noise that Irish fans brought will also be missed.

A genuine battle would be restorative but England will need to go to a level they haven’t got to in a long time if that’s to be the case. 

Steve Borthwick’s men have done well to reach the World Cup semi-finals but they haven’t had to face one of the elite teams until tonight. Wins over Argentina, Japan, Chile, Samoa, and Fiji have earned them this spot but there’s no doubt they will be tested on a different scale in this semi-final.

ben-earl-celebrates-after-the-game England back row Ben Earl. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The last time England met a top-level team in a meaningful game, they lost to Ireland in Dublin. The time before that, they were obliterated by France in Twickenham. 

Realistically, you have to go back to November 2021 for the last time England won against one of the very best. They beat the Boks in London that month.

So things need to go up several notches at Stade de France. They probably need the likes of Maro Itoje and Manu Tuilagi and captain Owen Farrell to be at their peak, but also for the likes of George Martin, Freddie Steward, and Alex Mitchell to go to a level they’ve never hit before. 

It seems certain that the Boks will be good, even if it might be a challenge to be quite as good as last weekend in their win over France. Backing up performances like that can be difficult but the South Africans seem to manage the emotional side of the World Cup in a smooth manner.

A completely unchanged team is a major rarity under Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber but they clearly like the formula they’ve settled on.

This Boks side has a few strings to its bow. They kick as well as ever, defend with utter ferocity, can break out from deep with ball in hand, and are hugely physical. It’s a potent blend and that’s why it’s hard to see how they won’t grab the second spot in the final.

But here’s hoping for a real contest this time.


  • 15. Freddie Steward
  • 14. Jonny May
  • 13. Joe Marchant
  • 12. Manu Tuilagi
  • 11. Elliot Daly
  • 10. Owen Farrell (captain)
  • 9. Alex Mitchell
  • 1. Joe Marler
  • 2. Jamie George
  • 3. Dan Cole
  • 4. Maro Itoje
  • 5. George Martin
  • 6. Courtney Lawes
  • 7. Tom Curry
  • 8. Ben Earl


  • 16. Theo Dan
  • 17. Ellis Genge
  • 18. Kyle Sinckler
  • 19. Ollie Chessum
  • 20. Billy Vunipola
  • 21. Danny Care  
  • 22. George Ford
  • 23. Ollie Lawrence

South Africa:

  • 15. Damian Willemse
  • 14. Kurt-Lee Arendse
  • 13. Jesse Kriel
  • 12. Damian de Allende
  • 11. Cheslin Kolbe
  • 10. Manie Libbok
  • 9. Cobus Reinach
  • 1. Steven Kitshoff
  • 2. Bongi Mbonambi
  • 3. Frans Malherbe
  • 4. Eben Etzebeth
  • 5. Franco Mostert
  • 6. Siya Kolisi (captain)
  • 7. Pieter-Steph du Toit
  • 8. Duane Vermeulen


  • 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

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe [New Zealand].

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