England vs South Africa semi-final: Rugby World Cup 2023 match preview, team news, kick-off time

England will bid to make back-to-back Rugby World Cup finals when they face defending champions South Africa in the second semi-final in Paris on Saturday.

The game is a repeat of the 2019 final when South Africa, who started as underdogs, triumphed 32-12 in Japan.

The Springboks knocked out hosts France in a thrilling quarter-final and are ranked the world’s number-one team.

Steve Borthwick’s England overcame a spirited Fiji 30-24 to extend their winning run to five games in France.

Three-time world champions South Africa finished runners-up in their pool – losing to Ireland – but produced an impressive performance against the hosts in an epic Test match.

England, the only undefeated side left in the competition, has had a much smoother path to the semi-finals with pool wins over Argentina, Japan, Chile, and Samoa.

They had to dig deep to hold off Fiji’s fightback to become the only northern hemisphere side to make the last four.

England and South Africa both have eight players from the 2019 final starting on Saturday.

The winner will play New Zealand in the final at the Stade de France on Saturday, 28 October after the three-time champions thrashed Argentina 44-6 on Friday.

Team news

Freddie Steward’s aerial ability and Joe Marler’s scrummage power have won them starts in England’s team.

Steward replaces Marcus Smith, who failed the return-to-play protocols after suffering a facial injury in the quarter-final win over Fiji.

George Martin comes into the second row in place of Ollie Chessum.

Vice-captain Ellis Genge drops to the bench alongside George Ford as Owen Farrell retains his fly-half role.

South Africa have named an unchanged side, which means scrum-half-Cobus Reinach and fly-half Manie Libbok retain their places in the starting XV, with Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard both on the bench.

Head coach Jacques Nienaber has opted again for a 5-3 split of forwards and backs among his replacements.


England: Steward; May, Marchant, Tuilagi, Daly; Farrell (capt), Mitchell; Marler, George, Cole, Itoje, Martin, Lawes, Curry, Earl.

Replacements: Dan, Genge, Sinckler, Chessum, Vunipola, Care, Ford, Lawrence.

South Africa: Willemse; Arendse, Kriel, De Allende, Kolbe; Libbok, Reinach; Kitshoff, Mbonambi, Malherbe, Etzebeth, Mostert, Kolisi (capt), Du Toit, Vermeulen.

Replacements: Fourie, Nche, Koch, Snyman, Smith, De Klerk, Pollard, Le Roux.

View from England’s camp

England head coach Steve Borthwick: “There is always belief that is strong in this team. There are players that have performed at the very highest levels. They can’t wait for this.

“Through this tournament the team has progressed, with the players repeatedly finding a way to win, sometimes in challenging circumstances. We will once again need to be at our very best this weekend.”

Captain Owen Farrell on the occasion: “We’ve just talked about embracing it. About trying to get the best out of ourselves on these occasions. It’s not necessarily anything new, anything out of the ordinary. There are a lot of players in this team who know how to win big games.”

View from South Africa’s camp

South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber: “Someone asked me the other day, ‘Are the guys who are not selected unlucky?’ No, they’re not unlucky. The guys who got selected are not lucky. They got selected because they deserved it but I can tell you there wouldn’t be a big difference if Andre Esterhuizen or Jasper Wiese or Faf de Klerk starts.”

Captain Siya Kolisi on England: “The rivalry has been around long before my time. It’s a big country and a big team, it’s always special to play against them at Twickenham. They play hard. Even after the World Cup final, we lost the next game [27-26 at Twickenham in November 2021] so it’s always tough to play against them.”

‘A chance for retribution and revenge’ – expert view

England’s 2003 World Cup winner Will Greenwood on BBC Radio 5 Live: “South Africa go in as red-hot favorites and everyone is already planning for a South Africa-New Zealand final but England have overcome them many times in the last 10-15 years and a bit of expected rain in Paris with the high pressured environment of a semi-final are variables you can throw into the pot.

“It is one of the ultimate tests but England has been building towards this. A lot of the 2019 lads walked off the field four years ago in Tokyo utterly dejected as they got that close and fell short. So many have a chance for retribution and revenge. It is a team that denied them glory.

“They will not go quietly into the night. If South Africa wins it they will have to be fabulous.”

South Africa will ‘not underestimate this England team’

South Africa’s 2007 World Cup winner Bobby Skinstad on the BBC’s Rugby Union Daily podcast: “There are a number of areas where England can be smart enough and physical enough. They have had a different route to the semi-finals – but not easier.

“If you go man to man with South Africa you see outstanding rugby players. Off-field machinations have got in the way of them being as organised as they have been in the past but a couple of performances and this team could be absolutely outstanding.

“For me, the trio in England’s back row would be competing to start in South Africa’s team to a man. I don’t think in any instance South Africa underestimated this England team in any way whatsoever.

Match officials

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)

Assistants: Mathieu Raynal (France) and Paul Williams (New Zealand)

TMO: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)

Match facts

Head-to-head stats

  • South Africa have won four out of their five games with England at World Cups, the last being the 32-12 victory in the 2019 final in Japan
  • England have won three out of their last five Test matches against South Africa
  • Overall in 45 games between the sides South Africa lead with 27 wins to England’s 16


  • England are on a five-match winning run having come into the tournament with one win in six games
  • They have scored just one try across their five meetings with South Africa at World Cups

South Africa

  • The Springboks have won 11 of their last 13 Test matches averaging 4.8 tries per game
  • Only New Zealand (4.3) has scored more points per 22 entry than South Africa (3.3) in this year’s World Cup

What happens if it’s a draw?

If the scores are tied after 80 minutes, we will have extra time for two 10-minute halves. If there is still no winner, the game will go to sudden death, in which whoever scores the first points in the 10 allotted minutes wins.

Should we still be unable to separate the two sides, the game will finally go to a kicking competition.

Only five players from each side who were on the pitch at the end of the match can take a kick. If both sides are successful with their five attempts, this will continue on a sudden death basis until someone misses.

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