England produced a brilliant effort to push South Africa all the way. For 78 minutes they played the perfect game and it looked like it would be enough.
To lose at the death was beyond cruel, just so painful. The scrum penalties England conceded in the final quarter killed them and gave the Springboks the opportunity.
And they took it. I felt like the game would be decided by the impact off the benches, and the South African replacements were outstanding to a man.
Their coaches reacted early to make tactical changes and it worked. Ox Nche got on top of Kyle Sinckler, who was penalised on several occasions. And the fact it was my Leicester team-mate Handre Pollard who kicked the match-winning penalty showed Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber were right to take off Manie Libbok in the first half.
England will be beyond gutted. They only fell behind for the first time with two minutes to go. But that’s all that matters. They can still be hugely proud of their efforts. They came so close.
England players leave the pitch gutted after going so close to making the World Cup Final
Handre Pollard’s late penalty gave South Africa a 15-16 win over England in the semi-final
The England players are dejected at the end of the game after missing out on the final
England had a dream start. They won the kicking battle and all the early exchanges, which is exactly what you want to do when you play against South Africa.
Ben O’Keeffe refereed South Africa against Ireland and France, so he went into this game knowing the Springboks very well. England had O’Keeffe onside in the first half.
That was key. Aside from Owen Farrell being marched back 10 metres and Manu Tuilagi also giving away a penalty, O’Keeffe gave plenty England’s way.
But that was because of how well England played. Their physicality was outstanding. England won the kicking game, the breakdown and also the set-piece, too.
South Africa were under big pressure. South Africa’s line-out was poor, with Bongi Mbonambi struggling with his throws. It was very unlike the Springboks, who pride themselves on the basics of their forward game.
Maro Itoje looked pumped before kick-off, and so did Freddie Steward. You sensed a big England performance was coming and the players delivered in the first half.
To a man they were outstanding. It was the strength of England’s performance which led to South Africa struggling but I didn’t see them replacing Libbok so early in the game.
Owen Farrell should be proud of his England team for an outstanding performance
Steve Borthwick’s side played the perfect game for 78 minutes before South Africa’s winner
It was a huge call for them to hook the No 10 after just 31 minutes. I was part of England sides in which Luther Burrell and Teimana Harrison were both substituted before half time.
To do that can have a big impact on a player, and I felt for Libbok, but I thought the decision to being on Pollard was the right one.
South Africa needed some stability and calmness. Pollard is known as ‘Polly’ at Leicester. He is a very composed character and one of the best around in terms of a territory kicking game.
In the end, the game-defining kicks actually came from Pollard. His incredible penalty to touch gave South Africa a line-out five metres out which led to the first and only try of the game.
Sinckler was struggling at the set-piece. The momentum was all with South Africa after Pollard converted Snyman’s try to bring the South Africans within two points of England at 15-13. At that point you sensed trouble.
It was no surprise to me, knowing Pollard, that he nailed the kick to win it. He does that all the time in training.
Pollard going from playing in the Premiership Cup for Leicester against Sale to kicking the winning goal in a World Cup semi-final just shows how times can change very quickly in professional sport.