Can England upset the applecart to beat South Africa?

England suffered heartbreak in Yokohama four years ago against the Springboks
©Photo by Clive Rose - World Rugby via Getty Images

Saturday's semi-final meeting in Paris will see the Springboks enter as heavy favourites but if there are areas where England can gain the upper hand, it could be an historic night for Steve Borthwick’s boys.

Get selection right

Four years ago, England lost the final in Japan after picking an unchanged team.

After that crushing defeat in Yokohama, then coach Eddie Jones came out and stated that in hindsight, he should have made changes.

This is the opposite of what Steve Borthwick has done this weekend where has has picked the best side for the opposition, even dropping what some may call his ‘favourites’ in Ellis Genge and Ollie Chessum.

With Joe Marler and George Martin coming into replace them, the former is interestingly someone Jones said he would have started four years ago against the Boks.

With Marler being included mainly for his expertise in the scrum, I also believe his defensive abilities are a reason he has earned a start, as Borthwick’s side will be looking to meet the Springboks on the gain line and not give up any easy metres.

The other change for England comes with Freddie Steward returning at full-back. The Leicester Tigers man - who is known for his aerial dominance - could be the perfect player for England in diffusing one of South Africa’s strengths, as seen by them scoring two of their three tries against France from forcing mistakes under the high ball.

“I think Fred’s been brilliant since he started playing for England, basically,” back three colleague Elliot Daly said.

“The confidence he’s shown since the start of the World Cup campaign has been brilliant. He’s a rock at the back under the high ball and he’s really starting to grasp the attack game now.

“He’s making really good decisions on the edge, which are usually putting me in space, which is nice. He’s a quality player and we back him all the way. The relationship between us in the back three now is brilliant; we can talk to one another on the field and make sure we’re in the right positions to try to take advantage of any space back there.”

Attack them

England need to, at the right times, let the shackles off a bit and not be intimidated. When there is the chance to go they must, rather than potentially look to kick first.

Look at England’s last win against the world champions in 2021. They were being dominated for vast portions of the game but when they got their chances, they took them.

Exciting attacking moves off set pieces could be a weapon, like the one that saw Joe Marchant slice through the Boks defence to put Raffi Quirke under the posts two years ago.

We saw last week France hurt the South Africans when they played at a quick tempo with fast hands. Whilst England may not have the attacking flair of the French, they must still look to play on the front foot as they have players who thrive when the game is played at a certain pace.

Whilst I have said England must attack, they cannot overplay. In that win in 2021, their success came off first and second phase ball when they got over the gain line. They cannot play into the South African's hands and keep running into their brick wall of a defence.

Build the score

England will not want to be in a position like they were in four years ago where just before half-time, they relentlessly attacked in the Springbok 22 for 25 phases but to no avail.

This was a crucial moment in the final, with Rassie Erasmus's side crushing England’s spirit.

They will look to not make the same mistake again.

We have already seen England select the drop-goal option during their run to the semis, with Owen Farrell last week against Fiji and then George Ford with his hat-trick in the opening game against Argentina.

This can be interlinked with England needing to attack and go for broke at times, just when it gets too frantic. Just calm it down and take the points.

Build the score, keep the pressure on the reigning champions as you can be sure the South Africans will be making life as tough as they can for England.

South Africa are heavy favourites in this game so the longer England stay in it, the more their confidence will rise and the more doubt will start to creep into the Boks' minds.

Lead by example 

England are heavy underdogs so it will be the job of fly-half and captain Owen Farrell to make sure his side are always in this game.

A man who had been questioned before and during this tournament - even getting booed by supporters before a stellar quarter-final display against Fiji - Farrell can be England’s talisman and he will need to go up another level this weekend.

He is a man for the big occasion. The semi-final in 2019, crucial British and Irish Lions Tests in 2017, big performances to win Six Nations titles as well as his significant influence on the success of Saracens.

He, this weekend, arguably needs to have his best performance in white with other experienced heads such as Courtney Lawes, Jamie George and Dan Cole also aiming to have an influence on England reaching another World Cup final.