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UK VIEW: 'Utter heartbreak' for 'brilliant, cunning, courageous' Poms in WC semi 'undeservedly' won by Boks

22nd October, 2023
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22nd October, 2023
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English media hailed a performance that “stirred the soul” while breaking their hearts as their team suffered a one-point loss to the defending champion Springboks in the World Cup semi-final on Sunday.

The performance of referee Ben O’Keeffe was criticised by Lawrence Dallaglio – a member of the only England team to win the trophy, in 2003.

“O’Keeffe is going to be the talking point as he’s won them the game – not South Africa,” said Dallaglio on ITV about the referee’s display, a week after the Kiwi was accused of “not being up to the challenge” by French captain Antoine Dupont.

But, thankfully, there was little further chat about the ref, with the Springboks’ scrum given credit for turning around the match decided by Handre Pollard’s late penalty.

In the UK Telegraph, Gavin Mairs described it as “heartbreak, utter heartbreak for England.

“Having played the majority of their World Cup campaign in the shadows, Steve Borthwick’s side finally showed their hand in stunning and ruthless fashion, only to fall short in the cruellest of circumstances.

“Once again it was the Springbok scrum that came to their saviour, with two penalties from the set-piece providing the platform for the world champions to score 10 points in the final 11 minutes to turn a game on its head that England had utterly dominated.”

Oliver Brown, also in the Telegraph, apologised to the unfashionable coach Steve Borthwick, who replaced Eddie Jones at the start of 2023.

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“Steve Borthwick, all is forgiven. Against every expectation, the quiet coach came within two minutes of delivering the most resounding statement,” wrote Brown.

“The faces of his players were raw and red at the end, all registering the shattering impact of Handre Pollard’s last-gasp penalty. But the reality was undeniable: that 10 months after he inherited the rancour and discord of an England team in a tailspin, he was one kick away from propelling them into a World Cup final. This was a result of incalculable heartbreak, but the defiance of the performance stirred the soul.”

Willie Le Roux of South Africa celebrates at the final whistle 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 Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Willie Le Roux of South Africa celebrates at the final whistle 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 Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Andy Bull, writing in the Guardian, was also full of praise for the beaten team.

“They say a man ought to know his limitations, and England discovered theirs at the Stade de France on Saturday night. They are somewhere right out on the furthest edge of contention, as close as you can go without actually making it,” wrote Bull.

“They were, in their own tenacious way, utterly brilliant, cunning, courageous, and committed, but those qualities only get you so far when you’re up against a team as good as these Springboks, who have just as much of all of them, and more of everything else besides.

“Never wrestle with a pig,” said George Bernard Shaw, “you both get dirty, and besides the pig likes it”. Well, now Steve Borthwick knows you never try to grapple with a Springbok, either.

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“Some defeats cut deeper than others. This one, in the dying moments of a match that England led from the very first minute right through an hour and 17 minutes of brutal and excruciating rugby, will hurt more than most.”

Bull said the only thing that will salve the England players “will be the knowledge that they played so well. Which won’t have been much consolation in the minutes, or even the next days, weeks, or months, afterwards, but one day, surely, they will look back on this match with a measure of pride.”

Rob Kitson, in the Guardian, described it as “so near and yet so far.

“South Africa are into the Rugby World Cup final but this was the night when English rugby finally roared again. They were denied at the very last by a nerveless long-range penalty from Handré Pollard which took the Springboks through to a final against New Zealand next Saturday but in every other category this was one of the great English efforts.

“Because these white tornadoes were utterly unrecognisable from the England who stuttered into this tournament. They flew into everything, harried ceaselessly and played the tricky wet conditions splendidly. At times South Africa seemed to be out of answers as their opponents, spearheaded by Owen Farrell, Courtney Lawes, the youthful George Martin and Ben Earl, dragged them to the edge of reason.”

Owen Farrell of England scores a drop goal 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 Adam Pretty - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Owen Farrell of England scores a drop goal 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 Adam Pretty – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

In The Times, Stephen Jones gave high praise to the English performance.

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“An absolutely incredible match was undeservedly won by South Africa with almost the last kick of the game after a magnificent England performance, probably one of the best three or four in their history, in which they completely overturned the form book, banished every memory of their mediocre recent performances and played like the true England,” Jones wrote.

“It is a horrible thing to say, but it all stemmed from a collapse in position. England had taken all that South Africa could throw. Their starting props, Dan Cole and Joe Marler, were incredible, brilliant veterans against the massive South African pack.

“But they had to be replaced. When the England reserve front row came on they were absolutely crushed; Ox Nché turned the whole match with his scrummaging and helped win South Africa five penalties at a time when England were still on top.

“”England deserve medals throughout the team, their organisation and planning was superb and their hearts were massive. South Africa were profoundly fortunate to get through, they were shaken to their core and the sight of them in retreat will give encouragement to New Zealand in the final.

“They have never been popular in the general rugby world, they made silly replacements to try to make us think they had some kind of scientific evidence. All there was in the end was one penalty, struck from miles out by Pollard, and it was scarcely deserved.

“Those last few seconds after the kick were agonising. Perhaps England might have been a little more attack-minded when they were on top but, on the other hand, they gave it absolutely everything in heart, body and soul and you would hope that they will encourage English rugby to its core.”

Stuart Barnes was less odd but just as enthusiastic.

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“It wasn’t that England did anything unforgettable in these opening exchanges but the first ten minutes were the finest we have seen from any England team in years. They set the scene for what was so close to one of the greatest of upsets, at least among those of us who could only believe the evidence of our eyes in what has been a listless season of desperate disappointment,” wrote Barnes.

Players of South Africa and England contest the maul 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 Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

“But here we were: England, the narrow conquerors of Samoa, accurate and intelligent against the team who knocked France out of the competition in their own country. In Ben Earl they had a force of nature, whether sprinting off the base of the scrum or chopping down South Africa forwards. The man who escaped the serious interest of Eddie Jones was everywhere. Alongside him, his Saracens team-mates were squeezing the Springboks with a sequence of pressure plays and solid basics.

“South Africa did not look remotely like the side that fought their way into the semi-finals. England deserved immense credit. When the South African management decided to replace the elegant fly half Manie Libbok with the more straightforward and experienced Handrè Pollard as early as 31 minutes into the game, you knew South Africa were aware they were in a game, unlike the All Blacks 24 hours earlier.”

For an hour it was a performance way beyond anything England could have dreamed of producing even at the start of this World Cup camp.

Nik Simon, in the Daily Mail, wrote: “One thump of the ball. One dagger through English hearts. This was the cruellest way for it to end, with Handre Pollard’s 78th minute penalty robbing England of one of their biggest upsets in history.

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“They were so close. The Springboks were almost dead. They were subjected to an hour of tactical torture that almost left them ready for the old taxidermy shop down in the 3rd arrondissement.

“This England team have not got pulses racing in recent weeks, but last night they brought an intensity that sent the beats per minute of 78,000 inside the Stade de France through the roof. Owen Farrell kicked the sweetest 40-metre drop goal of his life.

“It was a proud, defiant performance that almost saw them through to the most unlikely of finals. Instead, thanks to Pollard’s kick that sent his coaching box into tears, their dream is over.”

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