Rugby World Cup: England in awe of semi-final opponents South Africa

Red Rose team big underdogs as they prepare for showdown with Springboks

England head coach Steve Borthwick, left, and defence coach Kevin Sinfield. PA
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England defence coach Kevin Sinfield said his side were "in awe" of South Africa's Rugby World Cup quarter-final performance before the teams meet in the last four this weekend.

The Springboks edged host nation France by a single point last weekend in a thrilling encounter to set-up Saturday's semi-final between the reigning champions and England at the Stade de France in Paris.

"We saw the game on Saturday evening and were in awe of the physicality that they brought," Sinfield said. "It was a great showcase for what rugby is about.

"We have the utmost respect for them," he added.

The game in the French capital will be a rerun of the 2019 World Cup final in Japan, which the Springboks dominated to win 32-12. England have changed their coaching staff with Steve Borthwick now in charge after Eddie Jones was sacked last December.

For South Africa, Rassie Erasmus has moved up to a director of rugby role with Jacques Nienaber promoted from his assistant to head coach.

Many of the Springboks' 2019 squad also remain, including emblematic captain Siya Kolisi, fleet-footed winger Cheslin Kolbe and experienced half-backs Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard.

"I think some will use it and I think some won't be bothered at all because a lot has changed in four years," Sinfield said of the defeat in the 2019 final.

"I know they have a lot of continuity in their coaching team and a lot of their players, but we're in 2023 now.

"We're in France, in Paris, and we look forward to this weekend," he added.

England are considered underdogs for the game. Despite being the only unbeaten side left in the tournament they emerged from one of the easier pools and failed to impress during last Sunday's quarter-final win over Fiji.

"I'm not too bothered. It doesn't matter to me," Sinfield said. "Our focus is trying to support, help and influence our players to be the best they can be at the weekend."

"We know we need to improve again for the weekend to try and get the job done," he added.

A positive for England during the World Cup has been the performance of No 8 Ben Earl, who has kept Billy Vunipola out of the starting line-up, and the likes of Alex Dombrandt and Zach Mercer out of the squad entirely.

"He has been one of the standout players across the tournament," Sinfield said. "If you named a world 15 at this time he would be close to getting in it. The minutes he has played for us, the ground he has covered, he has done a great job for us," he added.

Updated: October 17, 2023, 5:08 PM