South Africa were relieved to emerge with the narrowest of victories over England in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final, bemoaning an error-filled performance and admitting their unfancied opponents outplayed them for large parts of a nail-biting contest.
Skipper Siya Kolisi and coach Jacques Nienaber said the defending champions had to dig deep for their come-from-behind 16-15 victory at the Stade de France to book their place in next weekend’s final against New Zealand.
“It was ugly today, really ugly, but all the hard work we have put in paid off and that is what champions are made of,” said Kolisi amid the celebrations at the end.
“All credit to England, they were written off but they came together to show who they are. But we found a way, so well done to the boys, and we are really proud of the fight that we showed, especially the boys who came off the bench.”
Flyhalf Handre Pollard, who was brought on early in the first half for Mannie Libbok as South Africa struggled in the early stages, kicked over a long-range kick to win the game for the Springboks.
“It was amazing, we won the scrum penalty for the opportunity and credit to the forwards for that. And then those are the moments that you live for as a player,” said Pollard of his 48-metre effort to seal success.
“We needed some energy and that’s why we decided to bring on the bench early,” explained Nienaber.
“We are fortunate that there’s not a lot of difference between the guys who started and those on the bench.”
But he was effusive in praise of England, who belied their status as underdogs and will feel they missed a massive opportunity for an upset win.
“Credit to England, I thought they were outstanding on the night and they really had us under a lot of pressure. It really took something special for us to unlock their defence, to get a try near the end and us back in the game.”
Nienaber held his head in his hands in relief at the final whistle in the coach’s box while his assistant celebrated around him.
“Like in the previous World Cup, the semi-final is always going to be tight and it was always going to take something special to unlock it,” he added
Nienaber said that if South Africa did not get close to or around 35 points in next Saturday’s final against the All Blacks, “we won’t be in the mix”.