Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer


Springboks and England collide in World Cup semi: Three key battles

England will definitely have revenge on their minds having lost the 2019 World Cup final to the Boks.


The Springboks and England are set to collide in a massive Rugby World Cup semifinal clash at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis on Saturday night (kick-off 9pm).

It is a repeat of the 2019 World Cup final in Japan, which the Boks emphatically won 32-12 to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time.

ALSO READ: ‘Two more hurdles left,’ says Bok enforcer Eben Etzebeth

England will definitely have revenge on their minds having lost that game while the last time the two sides met, at Twickenham last year, the Boks also emerged as 27-13 winners.

A number of battles are set to be waged across the park on the day. Here are the key encounters in the backline, forwards and off the bench:

Backline

Damian Willemse v Freddie Steward

Damian Willemse has enjoyed a superb year, becoming the Boks’ first choice fullback and a vitally important member of their World Cup challenge. Willemse has played in four of the team’s five games and scored one try, while impressing in all facets of his play. Although his performance in the quarterfinal against France was not his best, he will be eager to be back on song in the semi against England.

Freddie Steward has been brought back into the England starting line-up after missing out on their quarterfinal win over Fiji. Steward played in three pool games, against Argentina, Japan and Samoa, scoring once, but missed out on the first knockout match with Marcus Smith getting the nod ahead of him. However, he is back for the semifinal against the Boks and his calming presence at the back will be vitally important.

Forwards

Eben Etzebeth v Maro Itoje

It is set to be a massive battle of the enforcers on Saturday and Bok lock Eben Etzebeth will be eager to make his mark. During this last week Bok captain Siya Kolisi highlighted the importance of Etzebeth in the team, while his monstrous performance in their quarterfinal win over France also showed his immense value. Etzebeth also enjoys playing against England, with it often bringing out the best in him.

Maro Itoje has the huge task of trying to contain Etzebeth in the semifinal. Many fans and pundits like to compare Etzebeth and Itoje, but the fact of the matter is that the English player has a long way to go to even come close to the Bok star’s level. Itoje will be eager to try and prove his class in the semifinal and will need to try and back up his own words after he claimed he was a better player now than in the Six Nations earlier this year.

Bench

Handre Pollard v George Ford

If the match goes down to the wire the performance of the bench could prove crucial to the outcome and Bok stalwart Handre Pollard could have a big role to play. Pollard has suffered from injury problems over the past two years, but he has settled back into the Bok side well with good performances against Tonga and off the bench against France. His goal kicking could prove to be the match winner again.

George Ford will need to be at his best off the bench if he wants to try help England upset the Boks. He started the World Cup as the starting flyhalf due to Owen Farrell being suspended, but for the Fiji quarterfinal found himself on the bench with Farrell starting. Ford played a blinding opener against Argentina, striking three drop goals and six penalties and he may be called up to kick again like that against the Boks.