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South Africa v England - Tale of the Tape

STAT ATTACK: New Zealand has booked their place in the World Cup Final. We now look at the numbers ahead of the second semifinal – South Africa against England to see how they match up.

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We also bring you the views of retired England and British & Irish Lions wing Ugo Monye and South Africa’s World Cup winner Bobby Skinstad on where Saturday’s face-off at Stade de France in Paris will be won and lost.

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* Retired England and British & Irish Lions wing Ugo Monye and South Africa World Cup winner Bobby Skinstad on where the second semifinal on Saturday will be won and lost

What do you think of the South Africa and England line-ups and how they match up?

Bobby Skinstad (BS): “I think England have put a great team up. I’ve said all along they’re a great team not playing particularly well in this tournament. They really remind me of England teams of old. They’re very dangerous.

“South Africa, it’s a good side. It is getting towards the end of the tournament and they’ve played a lot of minutes. They will be tired.

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“I really think it’s honours even, in terms of where they come from and what they’re doing.”

Ugo Monye (UM): “I am an England fan, I don’t mind saying that at all and I am happy with the line-up. There’s a lot of individuals who have been playing some really good rugby. But this game is about peaking and what I have seen in England is them gel together, building confidence. I have seen them progressively get better. Steve Borthwick and this England team will need a near-complete performance to beat the world champs.”

All the coaches and players insist the 2019 final is not a factor, but in reality, it has to be, doesn’t it?

BS: “I genuinely don’t think it will. The important thing is where and how they last played each other. You don’t need to worry about a game from four years ago. When they last played South Africa emptied the well and were comfortable with the game (a 27-13 win in November 2022). That’s definitely more front and centre than four years ago.”

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UM: “Along your career, you pick up some scars from some matches that can last… losing a World Cup final is awful, absolutely awful. You think of all the sacrifice, all the hard work that goes into it and then to come away to stand at the side of the pitch and applaud and be a spectator while Siya Kolisi and his men hold aloft the Webb Ellis Cup. That’s a tough experience.”

What are the key areas that will decide the game?

BS: “Accuracy in goal-kicking as well as a bit of accuracy in implementation. South Africa had accuracy in counter-attack, and accuracy in defensive sets against France but they can’t say that they built tries from nowhere or they built tries from set-piece and they will need some of that to be able to score when they want to score or when they are in a position to score.”

UM: “There’s always three, even more so in semi-finals. Actually, there are four. Set-piece, the aerial game, the gainline and discipline. They’re absolutely massive. You have to keep 15 people on the pitch.”

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Any danger that it will be hard for South Africa to find their intensity again?

BS: “It will always be difficult but these guys are warriors, they are men who have stood up every time they’ve been asked. They will roll around and say ‘right, another battle, we’ve got the chance to prove ourselves, let’s go for it’.

Are the tags of favourites and underdogs relevant to players?

BS: “Let’s think about it in terms of an individual sport, tennis or golf. When you go to the first stage of the knockout and you’re playing number 400 in the world, do you turn up and say ‘Oh good, I’ll be nice to you’? It just doesn’t happen. I don’t think these guys [South Africa] will take their eye off the ball at all.”

UM: “A lot of people have had England as underdogs and understandably so, they’re playing against the world champ that has just knocked out the hosts. So, then where’s the pressure? The pressure is on South Africa to perform, they are the world champions, defending their crown. Pressure is a massive aspect in elite-level rugby, everyone feels it, and no one is immune from it, it’s how you convert that pressure into performance.

“This England team stand a better chance than what they’ve been credited for this week. The pressure is not on them.”

How do you fill those endless final hours leading up to the game?

BS: “It’s absolutely terrible. I feel it now. I’ve been out of the game for three bloody World Cups and I am tired all day. I can’t imagine what they are going through. Just the tension, the build-up and the number of people who think and know that it’s all so important. They are probably ready to play on Thursday let alone Saturday.

What is the one message you would give if you were parachuted into the dressing room?

UM: “When you get to a semifinal, the one thing that you often overlook is what a privilege. I mean, how good? You’ve got the eyes of the world watching you. There are 16 other teams that wish they were in your position right now. Sold-out Stade de France, against the world champions, in Paris. Don’t forget to enjoy it.”

Finally, a score prediction, please?

BS: “I’d say South Africa could edge it by a try or so. If they both play 100 percent then South Africa could edge it.”

UM: “I think there’s going to be a seven-point difference between the two sides… you’re pressing me… I wouldn’t want to say. I know it’s my job to say…”

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