South Africa crushed France’s hopes of a maiden World Cup title after withstanding a Paris storm to emerge 29-28 winners of a furious and vintage quarterfinal.
In a contest for the ages on Sunday, a scintillating first half ended in a brutal street fight and the Springboks’ experience made the difference against a French team playing their first knockout game since coach Fabien Galthie took over four years ago.
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The defending champions dug deeper than normal for one of their most resilient performances to knock the highly rated French out of their home World Cup in front of nearly 80,000 fans at Stade de France.
“For all the support we’ve had, it’s heartbreaking,” France flanker Charles Ollivon said.
France played all the attacking rugby for the first hour, and the crowd loved it, leaving South Africa to feed off crumbs and cling on before suddenly swinging the momentum in the final 13 minutes when lock Eben Etzebeth made up for an earlier yellow card by barging over near the posts.
That put South Africa ahead for the first time since a breathless, six-try opening 30 minutes.
While France came within a point of the Springboks at the end, their great hopes of a first title, and clinching it at home, slipped away when replacement prop Reda Wardi lost possession in a last, desperate attack after the clock ticked past 80 minutes.
The French were stunned, none more than brilliant scrum half and captain Antoine Dupont, who made it back from a broken cheekbone in the pool stage to lead his country.
His return was meant to be triumphant, but at the end, the world’s best player slipped down on one knee and tossed his protective scrum cap on the grass in despair.
“That will make us learn. But today, it’s hard to take,” Dupont said.
Second-ranked France had a two-year, 18-test winning streak at home and were the highest-ranked team left in the tournament, but the French are still without a title and this failure will perhaps hurt more than any of the others, even the lost finals on foreign soil in 1987, 1999 and 2011.
“We’re going to try to find something positive by saying that we have a lot of young players, a fine generation,” France flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert said.
“But the reality is that today we failed to get out of the quarterfinals of a home World Cup. That’s going to be hard to accept.”
‘We never give up’
Both teams scored three tries in that scintillating start. France’s were all the result of its magnificent attack. The Springboks’ three all came against the run of play.
France appeared world-class in those opening minutes and every inch the new favourites for the title after top-ranked Ireland’s exit to three-time champions New Zealand on Saturday, and South Africa looked a little shell-shocked.
“We scrambled a lot, especially when we were short of numbers,” Springboks captain Siya Kolisi said.
“We talk about chasing lost causes as a group, we don’t give up until they put the ball down over the try line.
“If we hadn’t done that, we would be going home tomorrow. We never give up.”
The Springboks will face England in the second semifinal on Saturday after New Zealand play Argentina in the first on Friday.
England overcame Fiji 30-24 in a tense and nervy win in the earlier quarterfinal.
Source: News Agencies