England boss Steve Borthwick has revisited Saturday night’s agonising one-point Rugby World Cup semi-final loss in Paris. His team were leading 15-6 and looking poised to reach the final versus New Zealand until a 69th-minute converted RG Snyman try and a 78th-minute Handre Pollard penalty kick dramatically altered the scoreboard and saw South Africa win 15-16.
The ferocious contest produced multiple talking points, including the scrum where South Africa gained last-quarter momentum, a shift that culminated in sub England loosehead Ellis Genge getting penalised at the final set-piece to present Pollard with his kick from near the halfway line to seal the comeback result.
There was also an allegation made by England’s Tom Curry in relation to the use of discriminatory language by Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi, and the full-time whistle also ignited a dust-up between the teams with England taking exception to the way that Willie le Roux, in particular, celebrated in their faces.
First the scrum battle and the general level of officiating by referee Ben O’Keeffe. “Clearly that [the scrum] was one of the key factors,” admitted the England boss. “As I have discussed with the team over these few months, as we start building our understanding of the game, everything in rugby is connected.
“Everything has some kind of knock-on effect in some sort of way, shape or form. What you have got to do is be tactically smart and adaptable. I credit South Africa for how they found a way to get a result from being down on the scoreboard. They are the number one side in the world for a reason.
“I have studied the game a couple of times since it finished, as you would expect me to, to fully understand what our learnings are from it. In terms of the individual decisions, I want to make sure we build a team that can ensure we get the results we want. That is our job. From our point of view, I’ll control that.
“I’m not going to be sitting talking about referees. I think we have a great standard of officiating at this tournament. I think Ben refereed well and I think his whole team did a good job. I’ll concentrate on how I can make my team stronger.”
Regarding the allegation made by Curry that he was subjected to discriminatory language, a claim that World Rugby confirmed on Monday they were formally investigating, Borthwick said: “I am not going to comment on anything regarding that incident.”
As for the aggravating way some South African players celebrated when the full-time whistle was blown by O’Keeffe, the England coach added: “They will handle themselves as they decide to.
“I believe the England rugby team can have such a positive effect on people. It had a huge impact on me, I have seen it have an impact on a whole host of people and communities.
“I’ll talk to players about that almost on a daily basis. I want them to have a positive impact everywhere they go. I think I am proud of the way the team has played. I am proud of the way they train and I am also really proud of the way they conduct themselves, that is what we will continue to do.
“I thought it was a great test match. I think both teams gave everything they had in that game. We approached the game with the belief that we were going to win the game.
“Unfortunately, we fell just a little bit short. From that experience, as painful as it is – and it is very painful – we will be better in the future.”