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‘Purpose-driven’ Springboks braced for England showdown

South Africa's lock Eben Etzebeth (centre) breaks through a tackle from France's fly-half Matthieu Jalibert. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/ AFP

For most rugby players the glory of getting your hands on the Webb Ellis cup would be motivation enough to lay your body on the line in a World Cup semi-final.

For South Africa captain Siya Kolisi, however, whose side takes on England at the Stade de France in Paris on Saturday, the inner drive comes from another source: the people at home.   

“That is the one thing that will never change, who we play for and who we represent,” he said on Thursday.

“I wish you could see all the support back at home.”

Kolisi, 32, takes his place in the back row in a South Africa side that is unchanged from that which edged France 29-28 in the quarter-finals. 

Another appearance in a World Cup final, having beaten the English in Yokohama four years ago, would be a great way for the Racing 92-bound flanker to sign off but he insists winning is not just about the rewards for him or his team.

“I believe we are a purpose-driven team, not a trophy-driven team,” he said.

“It is more purposeful when you are not doing something for yourself only, when you are aiding other people you have not even met. 

“When you are doing things for other people, it is not easy to give up, it is much harder. 

“The majority of the people in our country are unemployed (32.9 percent for the first quarter of 2023 according to official figures) and some have no homes.

“The harder we play, the more we do well, the more we are able to open up opportunities for others, so that drives us. 

“For me, giving up and not giving everything would be cheating.”

It is an extra layer of inspiration that their English opponents could do without. 

Unlike four years ago, when Eddie Jones’ England team powered past the All Blacks in the semi-finals and appeared to be a shoe-in for the trophy, it is the Boks who will start as favourites on Saturday. 

It is true they lost 13-8 to Ireland in the pool stage but their response was a magnificent, nail-biting win over the hosts which has seen them bump the Irish as the top-ranked team in the world. 

All parts of the machine appear to be in top working order and meshing superbly; the forwards with the backs, the finishers with the starters.

‘ Everything to gain’

The management team of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have kept faith with Cobus Reinach and Manie Libbok over the 2019-winning half-back duo of Faf du Plessis and Handre Pollard, both of whom are on the bench and will play a big role in the closing quarter. 

Nienaber has suggested the English are relatively predictable in their play but much less consistent in their execution. 

And although improving, their discipline is a weak spot which is likely to open up penalty opportunities for the Boks. 

Despite an underwhelming record since Steve Borthwick replaced Eddie Jones last December they have grown in confidence at the tournament, winning all their pool matches before edging Fiji 30-24 in the quarter-finals. 

“The more time they have spent together, the more comfortable they are with it,” said Nienaber.

England have lost their X-factor player Marcus Smith, ruled out following a head injury against Fiji. 

But his replacement at full-back Freddie Steward is expert under the high balls that troubled the French last week and lends ballast to a back division that, on paper, has serious strength and wheels.

The game, however, is likely to be won up front, making the solid presence of Joe Marler at loosehead prop all the more important.

“Every piece of information has them (South Africa) as the best scrum in the world,” said Borthwick on Thursday. 

“We know we are going to need to scrum well throughout the game.” 

England expects but for both sides this is the point of no return. 

As Nienaber said: “If you lose this game, you are out, so there is everything to gain.”

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