South Africa emerged victorious in a thrilling quarter-final clash at the World Cup against France on Sunday in Saint-Denis (29-28). They will now face England in the semi-finals, following England's victory in a less intense match against Fiji (30-24) in Marseille.
The match scheduled for next Saturday at the Stade de France already appears to favor the defending champions on paper, as does the other semi-final, which saw New Zealand, making a resurgence, face off against Argentina the previous day.
The Springboks decisively pulled ahead in the final quarter of a match filled with intense moments. They secured their lead with a powerful try, their fourth of the game, thanks to second-row Eben Etzebeth. Despite the support of their 80,000 spectators, the French team narrowly missed out.
The first half was an action-packed spectacle with no fewer than six tries, three by the French (Baille twice and Mauvaka) and the same number for the South Africans (Arendse, De Allende, Kolbe). With a 22-19 deficit at halftime, the Boks, who had been initially dominated, capitalized on the French's mistakes, particularly in handling high balls.
The elimination is a massive disappointment for the French team, who had aimed for their first-ever World Cup title. Their hopes had been further bolstered by their impressive victory in the opening match against the All Blacks.
However, the outcome isn't entirely surprising, given the pedigree of their opponent, a three-time world champion (1995, 2007, 2019), and now the top favorite for a fourth title.
While the South Africans suffered one loss in the pool stage to Ireland (13-8), it was mainly due to issues with their kicker, which they didn't face on Sunday.
The French, boosted by the return of their scrum-half and captain Antoine Dupont, who played just three weeks after surgery for a fractured cheekbone sustained during the match against Namibia, entered the game with confidence. They also remembered their victory over the South Africans in a test match last November.
However, the presence of their star scrum-half was insufficient against the overpowering might of the Springboks, who physically dominated towards the end of the match and nearly extended their lead.
- Farrell's Kicking Boots -
The South Africans will be the clear favorites against England in the semi-final next Saturday at the Stade de France. This match will be a repeat of the final from the World Cup in Japan four years ago, but the balance of power has shifted significantly in their favor since then.
For England, reaching the semi-finals is an unexpected outcome, considering the state of the team before the World Cup.
The Rose's XV was unconvincing in the pool stage, narrowly avoiding a loss to Samoa. On Sunday, they didn't provide much reassurance, especially against Fiji, another Pacific nation, who gave them a tough time.
Steve Borthwick's team had scored two early tries through their centers, Tuilagi (14) and Marchant (23), but the Fijians also scored three (Mata, Ravai, Botitu), with the latter two completely reigniting the suspense just fifteen minutes before the final whistle.
Owen Farrell's kicking was the difference-maker. However, much more will be required to challenge the Springboks.