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South Africa edge France to reach World Cup last four

South Africa players celebrate after beating France. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

Defending champions South Africa edged hosts France 29-28 in a thrilling encounter on Sunday to reach next weekend’s Rugby World Cup semi-finals. 

The Springboks kept their hopes of a record fourth title alive thanks to fly-half Handre Pollard’s second-half points, setting up a last-four meeting with England back in Paris next Saturday.

In-form France were knocked out at the quarter-finals despite leading at the break in a huge disappointment for the expectant home support.

France captain Antoine Dupont made his return from a cheekbone fracture he suffered last month as the host nation eyed a first semi-final spot since they finished runners-up for a third time in 2011.

French President Emmanuel Macron was present among the 79,500 crowd expecting a match of the highest quality between Fabien Galthie’s France team, third in the world rankings, and Jacques Nienaber’s Boks, in second place.

Eyes were all on the returning Dupont and the 26-year-old was involved as the hosts opened the scoring.

He fed Damian Penaud who found prop Cyril Baille with a deft pass in the corner to send the Parisian crowd into a frenzy.

Full-back Thomas Ramos made it 7-0 with the conversion and despite France seeming to be in control the Springboks reacted quickly as Kurt Lee-Arendse made the most of a bouncing box kick.

Manie Libbok, inconsistent from the tee so far this World Cup but picked ahead of World Cup-winning fly-half Handre Pollard at fly-half, then brought things level after 10 minutes capping off a thrilling start to the game.

The Boks settled into proceedings after quarter of the match and benefited from another high ball as centre Damian de Allende crashed over a few phases after collecting a Libbok up-and-under.

Libbok missed the extras and Dupont was instrumental again as he set up Peato Mauvaka in the same corner as Baille earlier in the game for the hooker’s third try of the tournament.

Ramos’ difficult conversion was surprisingly charged down by Cheslin Kolbe to make it 12-12 before the Boks took the lead again, which would prove costly in the final result.

Lock Eben Etzebeth hassled Dupont at a ruck before centre Jesse Kriel set up Kolbe with a grubber kick before Libbok slotted the extras with the clinical Springboks leading 19-12.

An outstandingly open first 30 minutes was wrapped up with the sides level at 19-all as Baille claimed his double with the French pack on top at the breakdown but Nienaber’s side efficient with their possession.

South Africa went in at the break down a man with Eben Etzebeth having been shown a yellow card for making head contact with Uini Atonio as he tackled the mammoth prop.

Redemption for Etzebeth

Ramos slotted the resulting penalty to leave France 22-19 up at the interval.

After just five minutes of the second half Cobus Reinach and Libbok were replaced by Faf De Klerk and Pollard as the hostile home fans whistled the pair’s entrance to the field.

Etzebeth was given the same treatment as he returned from the sin bin with an enticing half an hour in store.

France were controlling territory and possession as Ramos extended his advantage as the tournament’s top scorer with a penalty to make it 25-19.

But the momentum swung back South Africa’s way as Etzebeth made up for his earlier misdemeanour by crashing over for a try, Pollard’s conversion putting the Boks back in front at 26-25 going into the final 15 minutes.

Pollard, from his own half, traded a penalty with Ramos in a nerve-racking ending.

France had possession with the clock in the red, but De Klerk came up with a crucial rip of the ball from the grasp of Reda Wardi, Kurt-Lee Arendse bootingthe ball out to end French dreams of a first World Cup triumph.

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