RWC 2023 semi-final between England and South Africa, during the national anthems; Credit:

On Saturday 21 October 2023, the second of the two semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2023 took place at the Stade de France in St Denis on the outskirts of Paris.

England, the only northern hemisphere team left in the tournament, were up against South Africa, the holders and heavy favourites to win the game, particularly because of England's poor form earlier this year and in the run-up to the tournament, as well as being viewed as being in the weaker half of the draw.

England had got there courtesy of winning Group 4, and then defeating Fiji in the quarter-final last Sunday in Marseille, while South Africa's journey had seen then come second in Group B having lost to the then #1 ranked team in the world, Ireland, and then stunning hosts France last Sunday at the Stade de France which went down to the wire.

In the lead up to the match, it had been a wild evening with the rain pelting down and the wind swirling around the stadium but, by the time the match kicked off, the rain was only falling lightly; as the teams were being announced, it was the South Africans in the crowd who were much more vocal than their English counterparts, apart from the singling of the anthems, that is. After the countdown, referee Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand) blew his whistle and Owen Farrell kicked off for England who had won the toss and were playing from right to left in the first half. Both teams tried high "up-and-under" kicks in the opening minutes. England were awarded a penalty and Owen Farrell duly obliged to put them 3-0 up after just three minutes. South Africa lost their first line-out to an England steal. The ball was bouncing in England's favour and they pushed the ball into the Springboks' 22, winning a scrum, and then a penalty on the 5m line. Owen Farrell duly obliged to double England's early lead on ten minutes. England were disrupting South Africa's play, at scrum time and also in rucks, being much quicker. South Africa had the territory, though, and were awarded a penalty ten metres outside England's 22 and decided to kick for touch instead of kicking the three points; England disrupted the line-out and were awarded a scrum. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" rang out from the English supporters around the stadium. The decision was reversed with South Africa awarded a penalty again; from the resulting line-out, South Africa won possession but England were awarded a scrum. Two chances lost. The referee then awarded England a scrum penalty. Both teams continued to use the high ball, with both defences coping well. South Africa were awarded a penalty on the half-way but the referee moved it ten metres into England's half when they complained. This time Manie Libbok decided to kick the penalty, which was successful. 6-3 after 21 minutes. England immediately applied pressure and won back possession in South Africa's 22, forcing South Africa into conceding another penalty. From the 22, Owen Farrell succeeded in regaining England's six-point lead. South Africa's right wing, Kurt-Lee Ardendse, then danced through the English defence in a moment of magic, but was brought down. South Africa wasted a line-out when the referee adjudged the throw-in to be crooked, then they were penalised for off-side. But then they stole and English line-out, only for England to turn the ball over a couple of phases of play later, and then concede a penalty. On 31 minutes, Handre Pollard replaced Mattie Libbok due to an injury to South Africa's out-half. Almost immediately afterwards, Billy Vinupola replaced England's Tom Curry due to a blood injury. Wing Elliot Daly spilled a high ball under pressure and South Africa took advantage, piling on the pressure in England's 22, before being awarded a penalty ten metres from England's try line. Handre Pollard lined up the kick and slotted it through the uprights, reducing the deficit to three points again. With two minutes of the first half left, England were awarded another penalty, eight metres inside their opponents' half; again, Owen Farrell was successful. Would South Africa have time to close the gap before half-time whistle blew? No was the answer. HT England 12, South Africa 6, just after Tom Curry returned to the pitch.

At the start of the second half, Willie Le Roux and Faf de Klerk came on for South Africa in the backs, and RJ Synam on for Eben Eztebeth in the forwards, but it was England who had the first attacking opportunity, pushing South Africa back onto their 5m line; South Africa managed to clear the ball to their 22. But the rain and wind were creating more difficulties for both teams in the second half. Both teams were either coughing up possession or winning turnovers, and both were continuing with high-ball tactics as the majority of the play was taking place around the half-way line. South Africa did have a great opportunity in the 51st minute, when Cheslin Kolbe caught a cross-field kick and kicked through only for the ball to go over the dead-ball line. After South Africa had emptied their bench, England were now bringing on on their replacements. Out of nowhere, Owen Farrell was successful with a long-range drop-goal to stretch their lead to nine points. South Africa were winning possession but could not make it count and were committing unforced errors. On 57 minutes, South Africa dropped a high ball and then Cheslin Kolbe fumbled joust outside South Africa's 5m line, for an England scrum; however, South Africa were awarded a scrum penalty to take the pressure off and get play back to the half-way line. Johnny May intercepted a cross-field kick by South Africa and England were awarded a scrum, from which they were awarded a penalty. But England were one step ahead and stole the line-out only to cough up possession, with the referee awarded them a penalty for South Africa holding onto the ball on the ground. It was not the prettiest of rugby games, with the weather conditions having a large influence on the style and tactics being deployed, but England had negated the South African threat. Fourteen minutes left to play ans South Africa were running out of ideas and their grip on the Webb Ellis trophy. The referee awarded them a penalty and Handre Pollard kicked for touch, earning them a line-out around ten metres from England's line. A couple of phases later and RG Synam dived over the game's first try. Handre Pollard slotted the conversion between the posts to narrow the gap to just two points. Suddenly, the game had come alive with just ten minutes left. England had possession on the half-way; Owen Farrell continued with high kicks; Freddie Steward tried too, but knocked-on his own kick-and-chase. From the resulting scrum, South Africa were awarded a penalty just inside South Africa's half, which Handre Pollard - despite the round of boos from part of the crowd - slotted home, putting the Springboks into a one-point lead with just over two minutes of the match left to go. England had a line-out on the half-way line, won it and started to play a passing game, spreading the ball wide. The clock went into the red and suddenly it was all over. FT England 15, South Africa 16.

For 70 minutes, it looked like England were going to spring one of the biggest surprises of the tournament, but eventually their lack of creativity showed and their defence leaked just the once, but that was the only invitation South Africa needed to squeeze them out at the final whistle

So South Africa will meet New Zealand in the RWC 2023 Final to be held next Sunday back at the Stade de France, with England contesting the match nobody aspires to play in, the 3rd-place play-off, on Saturday evening, also at the Stade de France, against Argentina.