England and South Africa meet in the World Cup for the sixth time in Saturday’s rematch of the 2019 final.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points as the rivals battle it out for a place in the Paris showpiece on October 28.

Rising from the ashes

It was only eight weeks ago that England fell to their first defeat to a current tier two nation after Fiji had run riot at Twickenham, yet now they are one win away from a second successive appearance in the World Cup final. A kind draw has facilitated their march into the last four but they have also emerged from every challenge thrown at them – including a rematch with dangerous Fiji in the previous round – and in the process developed the vital ability to dig out victory when faced by adversity. Remarkably given the strength of Ireland and France, they are the last remaining Six Nations representative and the only unbeaten team left in the tournament.

English beef

England may have distanced themselves from the game’s billing as a rematch of the 2019 final but with eight starters from that clash in Yokohama present on each side, the historical context is undeniable. South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus expects the underdogs to have “beef” after they were flattened 32-12 on an afternoon of crushing disappointment four years ago, capitulating without firing a shot. While not the most powerful source of their motivation for Saturday, revenge would be sweet.

Score to settle

Of the survivors from four years ago, Dan Cole’s story is the most remarkable. When Kyle Sinckler was knocked out just three minutes into the final, Cole came on as his replacement and suffered a torrid time at the scrum until Joe Marler took over at loosehead early the third quarter, steadying the set piece. Leicester’s veteran tighthead became the fall guy and was cast into the international wilderness with little hope of a reprieve. But the stars aligned when Steve Borthwick took over in December and at 36-years-old the Test centurion has the opportunity to avenge that day against the Springboks by nullifying what England’s head coach views as the best scrum in the world.

Puncher’s chance

Given the way England are talking, they will not die wondering. They have a core of players capable of making dents on South Africa in different ways and several are in ‘last dance’ territory, knowing this could be their last appearance in a Red Rose jersey, providing additional inspiration. But the Springboks are overwhelming favourites, with bookmakers giving Borthwick’s men only a puncher’s chance. How much Sunday’s epic victory over France has taken out of them will only become clear at the Stade de France, but they are one of the great South Africa sides who are playing for a nation beset by challenges, as vocalised by skipper Siya Kolisi – “we’re a purpose-driven team, not a trophy-driven team”.

Rassie’s “dark arts”

Erasmus is a wily operator, a master disruptor who attempts to unsettle opponents and officials through the use of mind games or by coming up with unusual innovations to give his team an edge. Opting for a scrum when a mark was called against France in the quarter-finals is an example of the latter, while his use of social media – most notoriously during the 2021 Lions tour – is frequently controversial. Warren Gatland knows from his sparring with Erasmus when he was Lions coach two years ago of the danger of allowing him to “control the agenda” because of his skill at the “dark arts”.

England’s World Cup semi-final clash with South Africa in Paris is the latest instalment of a rich history between the two nations on the biggest stage of all.

In their five meetings in the tournament, England have won only once ahead of Saturday’s match.

Here, the PA news agency looks at their rivalry.

1999 quarter-final – Paris, France:
England 21 South Africa 44

England ran into an unlikely road block in the form of Jannie De Beer’s unprecedented haul of five drop-goals, which started landing when the game was finely poised. De Beer’s record for drop-goals in a match still stands 24 years later.

2003 group match – Perth, Australia:
England 25 South Africa 6

A tight game was ultimately settled in the 63rd minute when Will Greenwood crossed after Lewis Moody had charged down a clearance, enabling England to extend a lead that was only 12-6 on the hour mark. England went on to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.

2007, group match – Paris, France:
England 0 South Africa 36

England’s first World Cup defeat since 1999 – also against South Africa – was a calamity with the Springboks leading 20-0 against opponents who never threatened the line. A barrage of kicks and forward muscle overwhelmed England.

2007, final – Paris, France:
England 6 South Africa 15

England rebuilt following their pool debacle and gave a far better account of themselves in a tense final that saw wing Mark Cuteo touch down only for the try to be controversially ruled out because of a foot in touch.

2019 final – Yokohama, Japan:
England 12 South Africa 32

A week after demolishing New Zealand in sensational fashion, England were overpowered and contributed to their own downfall by making a series of errors. Eddie Jones’ side did not fire a shot and endured a harrowing evening at the scrum.

Marcus Smith was ruled out of England’s World Cup semi-final against South Africa because of concussion, head coach Steve Borthwick has confirmed.

Smith has been replaced at full-back by Freddie Steward after he took a series of blows in the last-eight victory over Fiji that resulted in him finishing the match with a bandaged head and fat lip.

A tackle by wing Vinaya Habosi forced him to undergo an HIA which he passed, but he failed the subsequent return to play protocols and has been stood down for Saturday’s Stade de France showdown.

England have made two further changes to their starting XV with prop Joe Marler and lock George Martin coming in for Ellis Genge and Ollie Chessum respectively.

“Marcus was unavailable for selection due to the return to play protocols. He was ruled out earlier in the week,” Borthwick said.

“He took a knock in the game and passed the first parts of the HIA process, which meant he finished the game.

“Then there are subsequent parts of the HIA process and one part of that he did not pass. And then it was confirmed to me he was unavailable for selection.

“He is perfectly fine in terms of symptoms – he doesn’t feel anything. We’d expect him to be available for selection after this weekend. It’s right to reiterate that player welfare is critical and vital to us.”

Whether a fit Smith would have been retained at 15 is unknown, but it appears unlikely given the precision and variety of South Africa’s kicking game.

Smith offers a cutting edge in attack but Steward is one of the game’s most accomplished full-backs – ultra-dependable under the high ball, strong in defence and a key component of England’s kick-chase.

Captain Owen Farrell is aware of the aerial onslaught coming in Paris but is backing Steward to thrive.

“The thing about Freddie is everybody knows how good he is in the air, everybody knows what a fantastic player he is in general,” Farrell said.

“But it’s the want to do it, the want to be in those battles, the want to go and get the ball back for his team, the want to defuse what’s coming our way. He is one of the best in the world at it.

“The kicking game has been a massive weapon for South Africa for years and years now. They’ve progressed it and they go on with a lot of contestable kicks.

“We’ve done our work and we’ve come up with our plan to negate what we can from them but also looking to be able to attack ourselves.”

The adjustments to the tight five see Marler’s scrummaging prowess get him the nod ahead of Genge, with Borthwick noting that South Africa have the “best scrum in the world”.

Martin will bring physicality to the second row while Genge and Chessum will take their place in England’s answer to the ‘Bomb Squad’ – the heavyweight forward reinforcements that the Springboks summon from the bench.

South Africa this week rejected the suggestion that in their quarter-final victory over France they used HIAs to rotate forwards Mbongeni Mbonambi, Pieter-Steph Du Toit and Duane Vermeulen, enabling them to take a rest.

Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has a reputation for taking an innovative approach to the laws and testing their boundaries, but Borthwick has faith in the officials to spot any mischief.

“We have got a match officials team that’s world class, led by Ben O’Keeffe,” Borthwick said.

“I am sure everybody around the pitch as well will have every bit of process in place. There is no issues there from our perspective.”

Captain Siya Kolisi says the daily struggles endured by millions of South Africans is fuelling the Springboks’ quest to retain the Rugby World Cup ahead of a semi-final meeting with England.

Jacques Nienaber’s side are red-hot favourites to progress from a rematch of the 2019 final to set up a winner-takes-all showdown with either New Zealand or Argentina.

Flanker Kolisi, his country’s first black captain, overcame childhood poverty to lift the Webb Ellis Cup four years ago in Japan.

The 32-year-old referenced homelessness and unemployment during an impassioned answer to a question about motivation and believes failing to give 100 per cent would be “cheating” his compatriots.

“I don’t think that will ever change, who we play for, who we represent,” he said.

“When you start playing for others and start doing things for other people it’s not easy to give up, it’s much harder.

“When you think of how many people would give anything to be where we are and the majority of the people in our country are unemployed, some don’t have homes.

“For me, giving up and not giving everything would be cheating not just myself and the team but the rest of the people at home.

“The harder we play, the more we do well, the more we are able to open opportunities for others so that also drives us.

“I believe we are a purpose-driven team, we’re not a trophy-driven team; of course the trophies help you to get more people with you.

“Sometimes you can look at the struggles of what you’re going through and feel sorry for yourself. But we use that pain and those struggles and we carry them with us to drive us through the battles. It helps us to keep on going when it’s tough.”

Three-time champions South Africa defeated hosts France 29-28 in a thrilling quarter-final to keep their title defence on track.

Kolisi will lead out an unchanged team for Saturday’s match against Steve Borthwick’s side at Stade de France in Paris.

“I wish you could see all the supporters back at home,” he continued.

“This is all what people talk about, most of the time, with everything else happening.

“Kids at schools are sending clips of them singing because they know some of us like singing.

“People at work on Fridays wear their green jerseys and the beautiful thing to see is the people who can’t afford the jerseys, they wear anything that’s green, anything that represents the Springboks.

“We see that and that will continuously be our motivation and we know what the team has meant in the past – not just in sport, for our country in general.

“It’s more purposeful when you don’t do something for yourself, only when you are aiding other people that you don’t even know or never even met.”

Underdogs England came into the tournament unfancied but are the competition’s only unbeaten team.

Kolisi insists Borthwick’s men will not be underestimated, despite many pundits and rugby fans feeling a final between the Springboks and the All Blacks is a formality.

“Obviously we don’t see it that way because we know how good England is in the seven previous World Cups that they’ve played,” he said.

“It would be silly to be thinking like that and we’ve never been like that.

“We’ve seen in the World Cup, teams not even in the top 10 beating teams in the top 10 so it would be silly to think like that. We’re not in that mind.

“We know exactly what we’re going to bring and the motivation we have.”

South Africa team: D Willemse; K-L Arendse, J Kriel, D De Allende, C Kolbe; M Libbok, C Reinach; S Kitshoff, B Mbonambi, F Malherbe, E Etzebeth, F Mostert, S Kolisi (capt), P-S Du Toit, D Vermeulen.

Replacements: D Fourie, O Nche, V Koch, RG Snyman, K Smith, F De Klerk, H Pollard, W Le Roux.

Ben Stokes has declared himself ready for action in England’s must-win World Cup clash against South Africa, after missing the first three games of the campaign through injury.

Stokes’ comeback could not have come at a better moment for a side whose title defence is on the rocks after a shock defeat to Afghanistan left them with a single win to their name.

The charismatic Test skipper suffered a hip injury during England’s warm-up week in Guwahati and has been sidelined ever since, but has given himself the green light to face the Proteas in Mumbai on Saturday.

Speaking before a training session at the Wankhede Stadium that will double up as a final vigorous fitness test, Stokes told BBC Radio’s Test Match Special: “It was a frustrating little niggle to get before the tournament but I have worked very hard to get back to where I am and making myself ready to be available for selection.

“We have had a few days off since the last game and first training session here in Mumbai. I’ll give it a good push but, yes, I think everything is pretty good. I am in a good place.”

It may be tempting to view Stokes as a saviour riding to the rescue – a role he has performed plenty of times over the course of his career, not least in the 2019 World Cup final – but he distanced himself from the idea.

Responding to the weight of expectation that will follow him on to the field, which has only grown with England’s struggles so far, he said: “I deal with it pretty easy to be honest, because I know I am one person in a team sport.

“No one looks to one person in this team to inspire them or anything like that. It is not the case that if I do come in then all of a sudden we are going to do well. It is just one of those things that gets spoken about a lot but I don’t read into too much.

“Everyone that walks out on to that field for England is a match-winner and can do something individually that can win us a game. We just need to tone it down a bit on me coming back in.”

Freddie Steward returns at full-back in one of three changes made by England for Saturday’s World Cup semi-final against South Africa at Stade de France.

Steward was dropped for the first time in his 29-cap Test career for the last-eight victory over Fiji, losing the number 15 jersey to the more attack-minded Marcus Smith.

But Smith finished the Marseille showdown with a fat lip and bandaged head following his defensive heroics – becoming an injury doubt – and has now been left out of the 23 altogether.

Steward provides high-ball expertise, positional savvy and solid defence and is the safer option in the position given the strength of South Africa’s kicking game.

The remaining two changes are seen in the front five where Joe Marler starts ahead of Ellis Genge and George Martin comes in for Ollie Chessum – both unexpected adjustments.

England field eight survivors from the starting XV that was overrun 32-12 by South Africa in the 2019 World Cup final, the same number picked by the Springboks who named their team earlier on Thursday morning.

Jonny Bairstow is relishing his role in a rare World Cup double as England and South Africa prepare for high-stakes battles on the cricket pitch and the rugby field within a matter of hours on Saturday.

Bairstow will be leading from the front in Mumbai, where his side look to put their creaking title defence back on track against the Proteas, before attention turns to events almost 4,500 miles away in Paris and the Rugby World Cup semi-final between England and the Springboks.

Bairstow is a huge rugby fan and was even invited to address the England squad ahead of last year’s autumn international against Argentina at Twickenham, chatting to the squad for over an hour before observing training.

Now he hopes to set the tone for a day of English celebrations by the time Steve Borthwick’s men kick off.

“I think it’s going to be a great spectacle, it’s going to be a great day for both nations,” he said.

“They’re two extremely proud nations, whether that’s on the rugby front or the cricketing front, two teams on both sides that are very passionate about playing for their countries and are excited about playing for their countries.

“You’ll have people in South Africa, I’m sure, having a few brandy and Cokes and a couple of braais (barbecues), and you’ll have a few in England popping down the pub and watching – any excuse for them to just pop down there!

“It will be great – and hopefully both results go our way.”


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Bairstow can only directly impact one of them, of course, and the importance of his role at the top of the batting order is shaping up to be a key one.

Defeats to New Zealand and Afghanistan, either side of victory over Bangladesh, have put England firmly on the back foot and cranked up the stakes on their visit to the Wankhede Stadium.

Head coach Matthew Mott has called for more aggression in the first 15 overs of both innings and Bairstow has the track record and firepower to oblige.

But he is clear that swinging blindly for the fences is not on the cards, with conditions in India calling for more nuance.

“I don’t see anyone else in the world going out and scoring at nine runs an over. You look at India, they don’t go out and just go balls to the wall in the first 10 and they’re the host nation,” he said.

“They don’t just go out and go from ball one. So the importance of the first 10 is to yes score quickly, but also score in a way that’s sustainable over a long period of time, because we’re not playing a T20 game, we’re playing a 50-over game.

“Playing cricket in India compared to playing cricket in England is different. There’s different styles that work all around the world. I don’t think there’s one thing that fits all.”

While England are licking their wounds after being upset by the Afghans, South Africa are nursing a similar blow to their pride after defeat the Netherlands. That has added another layer of intrigue to the clash as both sets of players desperately try to reset the narrative.

“We know it’s a big game, we know they’re a strong nation and they’ve been playing well, but we also know now they’re coming off a loss as well,” Bairstow said.

“That was a great result to wake up to. But we’re actually just focusing on ourselves. That’s what we do.

“The confidence is there – it’s unwavering. There’s no lack of belief within this group. It isn’t something that’s been questioned one bit.”

England second row Ollie Chessum insists revenge is not a motivating factor for Saturday’s World Cup semi-final against South Africa.

The rivals collide for the sixth time in the tournament’s history with the most recent of those meetings taking place in Yokohama four years ago when Eddie Jones’ side were toppled 32-12 in the final.

Having demolished New Zealand a week earlier, England were expected to topple the Springboks but instead they were off the pace from the start and overwhelmed as a consequence.

There should be at least eight survivors from that starting XV who take the field for the rematch at Stade de France, but Chessum denied there was a score to be settled.

“It hasn’t been mentioned much, certainly by me anyway. I wasn’t here in 2019 so it doesn’t motivate me,” the Leicester second row said.

“We have got a new group of players now who are quite happy to leave that in the past and focus on what we can do as this new England group.”

Predictions of the semi-finals being comprised entirely of Six Nations sides have failed to materialise with England the sole European representative and the only unbeaten team left in the competition.

They face one of the great South Africa sides who have been installed as strong favourites to emulate New Zealand by winning back-to-back World Cups in the wake of their victory over France in the previous round.

Defence coach Kevin Sinfield has said that England were “in awe of the physicality they brought” against the hosts and Chessum insisted the Springboks must be matched in the forward exchanges.

“These are the games you want to be a part of – against the biggest teams on the biggest stage in the biggest competition,” Chessum said.

“They have some unbelievable players in their pack. They bring an exceptional level of physicality. It’s up to us to go out on the weekend and compete against that.

“South Africa are unbelievable across the board and we have got to be the same, if not better.

“We are definitely hoping for another step from us. That’s been the nature of the competition. Week by week we have grown as a group and got better in various aspects of our game.

“It’s important that we bring the physicality, but also the level of execution as well.”

England have a settled team and will make only minimal changes to the starting XV that overcame Fiji in the quarter-finals.

The biggest area of debate is at full-back where Steve Borthwick is weighing up the high ball and positional expertise of Freddie Steward against the cutting edge in attack provided by Marcus Smith.

Smith, a converted fly-half, has made only two starts and three replacement appearances in the position and his lack of experience could be exposed by South Africa’s accomplished kicking game.

Owen Farrell’s impressive display against Fiji appears to have brought his duel with George Ford for the number 10 jersey to a conclusion, but Kyle Sinckler could return at tighthead prop.

Fly-half Handre Pollard says the pressure of representing South Africa at the World Cup is a privilege as he bids to inflict more misery on England.

Pollard kicked 22 points in the 2019 final to guide the Springboks to glory with a 32-12 win and still remembers the disappointment etched on the faces of Eddie Jones’ men.

The fit-again Leicester playmaker is competing with Manie Libbok to start Saturday’s Paris semi-final after initially being overlooked for his country’s squad due to a calf injury.


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Pollard expects England, now led by Jones’ successor Steve Borthwick, to take their intensity and physicality to a “whole new level” but insists the heavily-fancied reigning champions are ready for it.


“You could see on their faces four years ago the disappointment and I’ve been part of a squad that’s fallen out in a semi-final in a World Cup (in 2015) and it sits with you the rest of your life,” he said.

“There’s a lot of things you look back (on) and regret and maybe think you could have done differently, and I’m sure they will come with that mindset this weekend.

“I think they will be ruthless, I think they will take their intensity and physicality to a whole new level.

“But that being said, we’re prepared for that, we’re ready for that and we enjoy that.

“That’s always a part of the game we love and if there’s going to be beef, there’s going to be beef.

“It’s Test rugby, it’s 80 minutes and we’ve just got to go out and play the game.”

South Africa are seeking to reach their fourth World Cup final, having lifted the trophy in 1995, 2007 and 2019.

Pollard believes the Springboks’ enviable ability to deliver when it really matters can partly be attributed to adversity some players face during childhood.

“It’s just the way we’re brought up,” he said. “We love it.

“It’s not always been easy for a lot of our guys in our squad growing up so when we get to this position and get to this point where there should be a lot of pressure on us, we refer back to it a lot, this is not really pressure, this is more privilege to be a part of these occasions.

“I think our game model and the way we play the game suits World Cups pretty well. We’re comfortable in this environment.

“As a group we just enjoy it, really enjoy that pressure. We always say it’s a privilege to have this pressure on our shoulders playing for our country.”

South Africa progressed to the last four by upsetting hosts France 29-28 on Sunday.

That epic contest included Cheslin Kolbe successfully charging down a Thomas Ramos conversion and Damian Willemse calling for a scrum off a mark inside his own 22.

Earlier in the tournament, the Springboks attracted attention for a bold selection of a seven-one split of forwards and backs on their bench for the Pool B loss to Ireland.

Pollard says players fully embrace the innovative tactics cooked up by director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber.

“Nothing that they do is for no reason, it’s all thought of, it’s all tick-list planned,” he said.

“We trust them because they’ve earned our trust over the years from what they’ve done and how they’ve prepared.

“So when they come up with these ideas, there are no questions asked.

“They give us a reason why we do whatever we do and then we just back it and we’re all in and we all just trust each other, players to coaches and coaches to players.”

Marcus Smith is now viewed as a “world class” option at full-back by England after Kevin Sinfield was blown away by his defensive heroics against Fiji.

England are hopeful that Smith will be passed fit for Saturday’s World Cup semi-final against South Africa after he was placed on modified training alongside Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole.

The converted fly-half ended the last-eight victory over Fiji on Sunday with a fat upper lip and bandage around his head after he was the victim of a dangerous tackle by wing Vinaya Habosi, forcing him to depart for an HIA which he passed.

Once again he is competing with Freddie Steward for the number 15 jersey and, after two starts in the position, Sinfield sees a player who has the bravery to match his attacking brilliance.

“We’d all agree he’s a world class 10, but last weekend I felt he was a world class 15 as well,” England’s defence coach said

“You’ve got to remember this guys has played around 100, 120 minutes as a full-back in Test rugby so far.

“What he’s done on the training field for us has been outstanding. You’re blown away by what he does now that he’s being given more time and space.

“If there was any doubt how brave and courageous he is then you saw it with your own eyes. The bloke got his face smashed in and threw his body into tackles.

“The guys are in full admiration for him – he’s just got his face smashed all over the place yet he wants the ball. He’s just a brave guy.

“And not just because he’s physically tough and brave, because to be put on a world stage in a quarter-final and deliver what he delivered was an absolute credit to him. What a great kid.”

Steward was dropped from the 23 against Fiji altogether and now England face the choice of reverting to his high ball and positional expertise or rolling the dice by retaining Smith in the hope he will provide a cutting edge.

South Africa possess a far smarter kicking game that could expose Smith’s inexperience at full-back, pointing to Steward’s likely return when Steve Borthwick names his team on Thursday.

“I’ve worked with Fred for some time now and thankfully I’ve not had to have many of these conversations where I’m trying to pick him up,” Sinfield said.

“Clearly he was disappointed, as anyone would be, missing out on a quarter-final, but he’s responded as we’d expect him to.

“He is a great lad, you know what he’s about, he works incredibly hard at his game, he cares and he is unbelievable full-back too.

“We are in a pretty fortunate position where we have three world class 10s and two world class full-backs.

“Our team has changed every game throughout the World Cup and Steve selects the team he thinks it will give us the best chance of winning that game.

“Just because Fred wasn’t selected last week doesn’t mean he does anything wrong, he has actually done a lot of great things and a lot of things right, but Steve and the coaching team thought it was the right thing to go with Marcus against Fiji.”

Manie Libbok admitted South Africa will be loaded with confidence going into their World Cup semi-final with England after coming through one of the greatest rugby matches in living memory with a one-point victory over hosts France.

In a titanic quarter-final in Paris on Sunday, the Boks twice came from behind to eke out a 29-28 triumph, ending Les Bleus’ 18-game winning run on home soil and ruining their talismanic captain Antoine Dupont’s much-hyped return from injury.

Having pulled off such a momentous victory, the defending champions are now hot favourites to see off Steve Borthwick’s England at Stade de France next Saturday and reach the final for a second tournament running.

“Obviously we’re going to take a lot of positives out of the game because France are a quality team who have done well over the past few years,” said stand-off Libbok.

“We’ve still got a lot of stuff to work on and rectify for the semi-finals but we can take a lot of confidence from beating France.

“They put us under pressure from the word go and it was really hard. I am very proud of the guys for sticking in there and sticking to our game.

“It definitely felt like a game that could go either way and we came out on the right side of it.”

While supporters inside the stadium and watching on television on Sunday were gripped by a captivating showdown that ebbed and flowed at breakneck pace, Libbok found it a thrill to play in.

“Most definitely it was one of the best games I have ever been involved in,” he said. “It was big, obviously with the crowd as well, it was an amazing atmosphere. I really enjoyed it.”

The drama of the quarter-final showdown was highlighted by a moment in the six-try first half when South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe bolted out to successfully charge down a conversion attempt from Thomas Ramos.

“Cheslin doing that was insane, actually,” said Libbok. “We were very happy for what he did because it took two points away from them and when you look at the result, there was only one point in it, so it was massive from Cheslin.”

Libbok is adamant South Africa will not treat England lightly even though they have been struggling in recent years and are widely deemed to have reached the semi-final mainly due to being in the half of the draw that featured none of the five top-ranked teams in the world.

“England are also a quality team and it’s a play-off so anything can happen,” said the number 10. “It’s important for us to focus on ourselves.

“Recovery is massive now. We have to recover well and prepare well so we are ready to play to the best of our abilities.”

Saturday’s semi-final represents a rematch of both the 2007 and 2019 finals and South Africa scrum-half Faf de Klerk insisted Borthwick’s side should not be underestimated.

“We have played against England a lot. Obviously they have been struggling before the World Cup but they have definitely started to turn things around,” said the 31-year-old, who came off the bench on Sunday to help the Boks see the job through.

“It is going to be a very big, tough challenge, especially with a six-day turnaround. We just have to focus on recovery and make sure we are ready for that.”

Danny Care is ready for the biggest game of his life when England face South Africa in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.

A repeat of the 2019 final will see England arrive at Stade de France on Saturday as the tournament’s solitary remaining unbeaten team.

Four successive pool-stage victories and a quarter-final triumph against Fiji have combined to confound the critics who predicted an underwhelming tournament for Steve Borthwick’s team.

And while reigning world champions South Africa are firm favourites, resilient England remain in the fight.


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“We have got two more weeks and a massive game to fly into, which will be the biggest game of my life. I can’t wait,” England scrum-half Care said.

“I think the character of this team was questioned before the World Cup and whether we had anything in us to come out here and do anything.

“Hopefully, we have quietly gone about our business and ticked off a few wins. Four from four in the pools, a fifth in the quarter-final against a team who everybody was saying was going to surprise us and beat us.

“It clicked when we got over here, training went up a notch, perhaps because of the severity of where we were and the realisation that we were at a World Cup – the last one for a few of us, the first for others.

“That mixture came together and we gave it our all. We feel like we deserve to be here. We are going to give it our all next weekend and try and make everyone at home proud.

“We have got a lot of lads who played in the World Cup final four years ago, a lot of lads who have won big trophies, won big games. We will use all of that next week to hopefully get another big win.

“We are delighted to be in the semi-final of this World Cup – one step closer to the dream.”

At 36, Care might be in the twilight phase of a Test career that began 15 years ago, but he has showcased every bit of experience gained from winning 94 England caps.

He followed up scoring the winning try in England’s tense victory over Samoa by being at the forefront of the impressive finale in Marseille that repelled a thrilling Fiji fightback and closed out a 30-24 win.

Owen Farrell’s drop goal and penalty confirmed a semi-final ticket, and Care said of the England captain: “Owen was brilliant, as George (Ford) has been brilliant for four games.

“I have played with Owen for 10-12 years now. His levels never dip, both on the field and off the pitch. He is an unbelievable person, an unbelievable player.

“I still think he won’t get the recognition he properly deserves until he stops playing, which I still find incredible. He is showing again and again what a wonderful world-class player he is. He is a top bloke.”

Antoine Dupont criticised the standard of refereeing after France crashed out of their home World Cup with a heartbreaking single-point defeat to reigning champions South Africa in Paris.

The Springboks edged an epic contest at Stade de France 29-28 to set up a semi-final showdown with England.

Les Bleus captain Dupont suffered major disappointment on his highly-publicised return from a fractured cheekbone and felt substandard officiating was partly to blame.

Asked about the performance of New Zealand referee Ben O’Keefe, the scrum-half replied: “Well, what did you think of it?

“It’s hard to talk about things because there is a lot of disappointment, a lot of frustration.

“There were a few clear things where the whistle wasn’t blown.

“I don’t want to be a bad loser and moan about the refereeing but I’m not sure the level of refereeing was up the level of the game today.”

A disconsolate Dupont was pictured with his hands on his head at full-time and was later in tears as he was embraced by his parents.

The 26-year-old was back in action just 24 days since sustaining the serious facial injury which threatened to prematurely end his tournament, donning a scrum-cap for added protection.

France flew out of the blocks and led 22-19 at the end of one of the most exhilarating opening 40 minutes in World Cup history in which the two teams shared six tries.

Eben Etzebeth returned from the sin-bin to help South Africa over the line with the only touchdown of a tighter second period, while Les Bleus were left to rue one of Thomas Ramos’ three conversion attempts being charged down by Cheslin Kolbe.

France head coach Fabien Galthie revealed prop Uini Atonio and lock Romain Taofifenua, the two oldest members of his squad, will retire and confirmed he intends to remain in his role.

French President Emmanuel Macron provided solace to his country’s players in the dressing room after the match.

“For four years we wrote a beautiful page of French history that the players can be proud of,” said Galthie.

“We can also be sad tonight because of the result.

“No regrets. You’re allowed to lose like we did today. We did everything to optimise our potential.”

Asked if there was a chance he may step down, the 54-year-old replied: “Well, no, I’ve got a contract to June 2028.”

Tournament hosts France bowed out of the World Cup in agonising fashion after losing by a point to defending champions South Africa as the Stade de France hosted another epic quarter-final that hung in the balance until the very last moment.

Just 24 hours after New Zealand edged out Ireland in a six-try thriller in northern Paris, the other two members of the world’s top four served up a last-eight showdown that somehow eclipsed it for drama and scintillating rugby.

On a frenzied night when France’s talismanic captain Antoine Dupont made his much-hyped return following a broken cheekbone – sporting a scrum-cap – Les Bleus were defeated 29-28 as the defiant Boks held on to set up a semi-final showdown with England at the same venue next Saturday.

Having experienced the hostility of the French crowd when they lost narrowly in Marseille last November, South Africa had been training with background noise blaring through speakers in the lead-up to the quarter-final.

The Boks’ efforts to combat the impact of the partisan home support looked futile in the early moments, however, as the French started like a train and threatened to blow their opponents away.

Les Bleus – eyeing a 19th consecutive home win – signalled their intent from the outset and Louis Bielle-Biarrey was desperately close to scoring in the second minute but he was just unable to get a firm enough hand on the ball to force it down after getting himself over the line on the left.

The French kept their foot to the floor, though, and they had their supporters in raptures in the fourth minute as prop Cyril Baille dotted over for an easy finish on the right following a ferocious maul towards the line after a quickly-taken lineout. Thomas Ramos added the extras.

South Africa, summoning the resolve of champions, managed to stem the blue tide and get themselves a foothold in the game. They levelled things up out of nothing as a high ball over the top bounced kindly for Kurt-Lee Arendse, who burst over the line, with Manie Libbok adding the conversion.

Ramos attempted to edge the French back in front with a penalty attempt from just shy of the halfway line but it lacked the required distance.

Remarkably, it was the Boks who got themselves ahead in the 18th minute when Damian de Allende forced his way over at the second attempt. Libbok – whose inconsistent kicking has become a talking point in this tournament – was off target with the conversion.

The frenzied start continued when French hooker Peato Mauvaka forced his way over on the right for the fourth try of the evening in the 22nd minute. Adding to the drama, Ramos’ conversion attempt was brilliantly charged down by Cheslin Kolbe.

That would ultimately prove crucial and the jet-heeled Kolbe had another big impact at the other end of the pitch five minutes later as he outpaced two French chasers to reach a clever kick through from Jesse Kriel and bolt over on the left. This time Libbok was on point with his conversion.

The French levelled things up again just after the half-hour when prop Baille pushed over for his second score, with Ramos converting.

The Boks suffered a blow at the end of the first half when lock Eben Etzebeth was yellow-carded for a head-on-head tackle on Uini Atonio. Ramos kicked the resulting penalty to ensure the French went in with a 22-19 lead at the end of one of the most exhilarating 40 minutes in Rugby World Cup history.

South Africa changed their half-back pairing early in the second half as they sent on Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk for Libbok and Cobus Reinach, shortly before Etzebeth returned with no further damage done on the scoreboard in his absence.

With the pace of the game having subsided, Ramos stretched the French lead to six points with another penalty in the 54th minute.

However, the topsy-turvy nature of this titanic encounter continued and – just as France looked to have some control – the Boks got themselves a point ahead in the 67th minute when Etzebeth forced over for the seventh try of the night, converted by Pollard. And two minutes later, Pollard put his team four points to the good with a penalty.

Ramos reduced the deficit to a point with a kick of his own in the 72nd minute, setting up a grandstand finale, but the French were unable to muster one final score as their dreams of a first World Cup on home soil died.

Captain Antoine Dupont has declared himself “fully ready” to lead France in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against South Africa as he prepares to return to the starting XV just over three weeks after a broken cheekbone had him fearing his involvement in the tournament was over.

The 2021 world player of the year underwent surgery after going off injured following a head-on-head tackle from Namibia captain Johan Deysel in Les Bleus’ third pool match in Marseille on September 21, leaving the host nation fretting about their talisman’s availability for the remainder of the competition.

After resuming full training this week, Dupont has satisfied medics and coaching staff that he is ready to start Sunday’s box-office Stade de France showdown with the world champions.

“I feel very well,” said the 26-year-old scrum-half, speaking at Les Bleus’ team announcement press conference at Roland Garros on Friday.

“At the time, I didn’t know how serious the injury was so I thought the competition was over for me.

“I had to wait to get my hope back. I was lucky enough to have several weeks to rejuvenate and repair and have a full training week with the group.

“Today I am fully capable to be ready for this game on Sunday.”

Dupont admitted coming through training unscathed this week was a big thing for his mindset as he dismissed any suggestion that he has been rushed back into action ahead of schedule.

“It was quite progressive,” he said of his return to play. “I started low-intensity running and went up and up – and the same with contact. I started in the middle of last week.

“This week I was able to train fully and get back into game and contact situations which enabled me to get my confidence back.

“I’m fully ready and fit and had no pains. It was important to validate each stage of my recovery.

“I didn’t feel any pressure from the staff. It all happened quite naturally.

“I have the surgeon’s approval. Nothing was forced. We have all been working for four years to get to this stage so not to play with the handbrake on is the main thing.

“I knew if I wasn’t able to play, I would be replaced.”

Dupont has been experimenting with various forms of facial protection since his injury and he confirmed on Friday that he would wear a scrum cap against South Africa.

“It’s the surgeon’s wish, he suggested it,” said the captain. “Actually, he more than suggested it! I tested a scrum cap this week and it doesn’t bother my vision so I will be wearing it.”

Dupont has no concerns about returning to action against arguably the most physical nation on the planet.

“In these games there will always be a little bit of pain either physically or mentally,” he said. “Every time we play against big nations and when the stakes are high, they are always hard and physical.

“We need to be ready to suffer. We have high goals. We know it will be very hard and if we’re not ready for that, then I don’t think we’re ready for where we want to get to.”

Head coach Fabien Galthie was content that Dupont was fit enough to play.

“We treated the subject in a very relaxed way,” he said. “We were comfortable because we had some time and never pushed things. We took things step by step. Antoine has had time to recuperate.”

France have not lost on home soil since Scotland defeated them in a Six Nations match behind closed doors two-and-a-half years ago. Galthie is relishing the challenge of trying to prolong that run by ending the Springboks’ defence of the Webb Ellis Cup.

“To play such an opponent, who are world champions and beat the (British and Irish) Lions, they’re a team that’s all conquering and a team that inspired us a lot,” said the head coach.

“For us, what’s at stake is to simply play rugby with pleasure as a team and with ambition. We want to meet this challenge as we always have done.”

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