PARIS, Oct 21 (Reuters) – England played a wonderful kicking game against South Africa but their inability to score tries and their inferiority in the scrums eventually proved their undoing in their World Cup semi-final loss on Saturday.
Steve Borthwick’s team led until the 78th minute after Owen Farrell had slotted in four penalties and a long-range drop goal, but they cracked in the final minutes when RG Snyman touched down and Handre Pollard kicked the winning penalty.
At a rainy and windy Stade de France, England delivered a kicking masterclass and were perfect at receiving South Africa’s countless high kicks, but they never came close to crossing the line and also proved too soft at the scrum.
South Africa won seven of their eight scrums while England could only won three of their seven, and that eventually gave the defending champions the decisive momentum.
Jacques Nienaber’s side scored their try from a lineout but it was from a scrum that they won the key scrum that led to the 78th-minute penalty after Ellis Genge put his knees down under the Springbok pack’s pressure.
Borthwick avoided the debate.
“Now is the time to have an overall reflection,” he replied when asked about England’s scrum.
With more creativity and flair, however, England could have found a way past the try-line against a South African team who were clearly far from their physical best less than a week after their epic quarter-final win against France.
England have not scored a try against South Africa at a World Cup since the pool phase in 2003.
“They found a way to win at the end. South Africa are current world champions and world number ones for a reason,” Borthwick said.
It was the second match in a row that South Africa won by a single point after prevailing 29-28 against hosts France last weekend.
“We thought we had done enough to win,” captain Farrell said.
Nienaber said: “They had us under a lot pressure and it took something special to unlock their defence to get a try to get us back in the game.
“Like at the previous World Cup, it takes something special to unlock it. It’s always going to be tight, those two moments (scrum penalty and penalty kick) were the telling moments.”