Ruthless South Africa extinguished the flames of a home fairytale to reach the last four of this year’s World Cup, beating France 29-28 in a ferocious and breath-taking quarter-final on Sunday. The Springboks’ experience made the difference against a French team playing their first knockout game since coach Fabien Galthie took over at the Stade de France in February 2014.
The South African side has essentially the same team that started the tournament and will play in the final on Saturday against New Zealand, and they know exactly what it takes to win a big game like this. The Springboks were superb defensively in the first half, sometimes arousing vast amounts of frustration from the French crowd.
A scintillating first period led to a brutal street fight in the second half as the hosts hurled themselves at the Springbok defenses. But the defending champions held on grimly to ensure that France’s hopes of a maiden World Cup title were extinguished with their most stubborn display yet.
Having played in three previous World Cup finals, the South African players’ experience was evident throughout this game. Their superiority at the breakdown was crucial, as they racked up huge penalties against a French team that struggled to get over the gainline.
The Springboks were also superb in their attack, with various deployment options if one player wasn’t available. Cobus Reinach, for example, kicked the ball skywards, and Kurt-Lee Arendse reacted quickest to accept the up-and-under and score in the eighth minute. Manie Libbok bucked his usual World Cup kicking trend to land the difficult conversion.
The French rallied after that with a series of driving mauls, the first of which saw Antoine Dupont touch down from close range in the 27th minute. A Thomas Ramos penalty put the visitors ahead at the break. Still, the pendulum swung back in the Boks’ favor after the hosts were reduced to 14 men, with Eben Etzebeth sin-binned for colliding with Uini Atonio.
Ramos pushed the Springbok lead nine points early in the second period before Handre Pollard’s penalty stretched it to 12. A superb break by wing Damian Penaud set up a frantic finish as the clock was about to run down, but his attempt hit the upright.
The game was poised at 28-27, but the final moments saw a series of bruising tackles take their toll on both sides as the referee’s whistle sent the Stade de France into raptures. Libbok, a superb goal-kicker, was the Springboks’ hero, firing over two late conversions. He is now the most successful kicker in World Cup history, having won all three attempts.