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France 28-29 South Africa: Hosts dumped out of Rugby World Cup by holders in thriller

Defending Rugby World Cup champions South Africa will face England in the quarter-finals after Kurt-Lee Arendse, Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende and Eben Etzebeth tries knocked hosts France out in Paris; Cyril Baille (two), Peato Mauvaka scored tries for France in defeat

Etzebeth
Image: Eben Etzebeth scored the match-winning try - after a first half sin-binning - as South Africa stunned hosts France to knock them out of the World Cup

South Africa remain in the hunt to retain their Rugby World Cup title as they knocked out hosts France 29-28 in a titanic clash at the Stade de France in Paris.

A thrillingly crazy first half saw six tries shared between the sides, as the lead swung one way and then the other. Loosehead Cyril Baille (two) and hooker Peato Mauvaka struck for France, while backs Kurt-Lee Arendse, Cheslin Kolbe and Damian de Allende replied for the Springboks.

The boot of full-back Thomas Ramos had France three points up at the half-time whistle, but an altogether different second half - filled with errors and tight exchanges - saw only three further France points added until Eben Etzebeth struck for a fourth South Africa try with 13 minutes to go.

Replacement out-half Handre Pollard then struck a penalty from inside his own half for a four-point lead, and though Ramos narrowed it back, Les Bleus just couldn't strike again.

France 28-29 South Africa - Score summary

France - Tries: Baille (4, 31), Mauvaka (22). Cons: Ramos (5, 32). Pens: Ramos (41, 54, 73).

South Africa - Tries: Arendse (8), De Allende (18), Kolbe (26), Etzebeth (67). Cons: Libbok (10, 28), Pollard (67). Pens: Pollard (69).

South African players celebrate as they defeat France at the end of the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match between France and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Image: South Africa are into a sixth Rugby World Cup semi-final in their history

A little over three weeks after suffering a fractured cheekbone, France skipper Antoine Dupont was heavily involved, with two kicks in the opening two minutes almost culminating in a try: Matthieu Jalibert doing superbly to regather the first after outpacing Franco Mostert, and 20-year-old wing Louis Bielle-Biarrey almost reaching the other in the corner, with Arendse just getting there.

Regardless, the hosts hit the front early after a stunning sequence of attack backed by a raucous home following, as a monstrous rolling maul ran 20 metres up to the try-line, with quick ball following out to the waiting Baille for him score by the corner flag inside four minutes.

France's Cyril Baille celebrates after scoring a try during the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match between France and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Image: France's Cyril Baille scored two first-half tries in front of a raucous home crowd

Ramos nailed the tough touchline conversion too, and a stunned Springbok side were very nearly 14-0 down when Mauvaka charged up the middle, play was shipped left and Gael Fickou was dragged down just short. In the end, under intense pressure, Etzebeth did just enough to get in the passing channel and bat the ball down, with his play of the ball ruled back to the fury of the home support.

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Out of nothing, Arendse then went in untouched for South Africa's first try in the eighth minute when Fickou failed to deal with a high-hanging Cobus Reinach box-kick, letting it bounce back off him towards his own try-line under pressure from Etzebeth. Manie Libbok bucked the trend of his World Cup kicking form to land the difficult conversion.

South Africa's Kurt-Lee Arendse (left) breaks away to score a try during the Rugby World Cup 2023 quarter final match at the Stade de France, Saint-Denis. Picture date: Sunday October 15, 2023.
Image: Kurt-Lee Arendse replied with a Springbok try in the eighth minute, scoring out of nothing

France regathered themselves to come straight back onto the attack, but though the impressive Mauvaka displayed his quality and dynamism again, he just knocked on in the 22. Minutes later, Ramos was well short with a penalty shot from distance after Steven Kitshoff had gone in at the side of a breakdown.

A little under 10 minutes after their first try, enterprising play from Kolbe then gave SA a platform to attack, and after another aerial ball wasn't dealt with by France - an uninventive Libbok bomb bobbled and spilled by Cameron Woki this time - De Allende took on the pill and charged for the line. He was stopped just short in the first instance, but was soon over a couple of phases later.

Damian de Allende
Image: Damian de Allende charged over to put South Africa into a first half lead

Libbok missed the conversion - a far easier kick than his first successful effort - and France were soon level, as relentless attack and near-outrageous skill under pressure saw them get within five metres, and after South Africa conceded a penalty, Dupont quick-tapped and fired out for Mauvaka to collect and spring over.

France's team celebrate after Peato Mauvaka scored a try during the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match between France and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Image: Peato Mauvaka scored Frances's second try as part of a standout display individually

Ramos' conversion was then, quite unusually, charged down by the rapid Kolbe - a potential two points which would make all the difference by the end - before the latter raced over for a third SA try down the other end in no time, sprinting onto a clever Jesse Kriel grubber-kick into space on the break.

Kolbe
Image: Cheslin Kolbe darted in for South Africa's third try of the first half

Libbok converted for a seven-point Springbok advantage, but a helter-skelter first period was level past the half-hour as Baille picked and bulldozed his way over, after a probing Dupont kick had been carried out by a diving Kolbe to hand France a five-metre lineout.

France would head into the break with a slender lead, as Kitshoff was penalised for failing to release before a jackal attempt and Ramos drove over from distance, with Etzebeth sin-binned just prior for glancing head-to-head contact in a tackle on Uini Atonio.

That meant South Africa faced the opening nine minutes of the second period with 14 men, but a combination of strong Springbok breakdown defence and a number of small French errors in possession critically saw no scores added.

South Africa's Eben Etzebeth,
Image: South Africa lock Etzebeth was sin-binned for a high tackle, but France couldn't make that period count

Indeed, Jalibert and Damian Penaud had both knocked on within the French half, while attacks which saw magnificent link-up play between Charles Ollivon, Mauvaka and Jalibert, and then Dupont display his world class ability down the short side - darting and kicking ahead in no space, before turning over breakdown ball in the 22 - both came to nothing.

France continued to put immense pressure on the Boks in the South Africa third of the pitch, and further points were finally added 14 minutes into the second period when a scrum penalty was converted into three points by Ramos in the 22.

Ramos
Image: France full-back Thomas Ramos kicked three penalties in the Test, but they proved not enough

With Pollard and Faf de Klerk having made their entrance, back-row Kwagga Smith made a break for South Africa's first attack of the half, only for Mauvaka to win a huge breakdown penalty. However, Jalibert sliced wickedly into touch, keeping France on the back-foot.

A jinking Kolbe break at pace saw the Boks in scoring range again, but France's defence rose to the occasion once more when Mauvaka forced a Bongi Mbonambi knock-on in the 22.

In the 67th minute, it was South Africa who struck for the lead, as Etzebeth surged through Jalibert and charged over by the posts with French bodies hanging off him, after Kriel and Pollard had linked up to create the initial break, and Smith won a penalty by the try-line to generate a five-metre attack.

Etzebeth
Image: Etzebeth surged for the line to score the match-winning try for South Africa

A one-point SA lead was soon turned to four through Pollard's boot - with referee Ben O'Keeffe missing Smith going off feet before onto the ball to win the penalty - but Ramos struck directly after, as France chose to take the points after a De Klerk offside rather than attack for a try with seven minutes to go.

Kolbe struck a strange drop-goal attempt wide, but Ramos then kicked the 22-dropout out on the full, handing South Africa a scrum in prime territory. The Springboks set up for a Pollard drop-goal, but De Klerk's pass hit an unknowing French player in Woki to let the hosts off the hook.

Though Penaud made breaks into the South Africa half before time was up, and South Africa appeared to infringe offside as French will reached desperation, that proved the end of the scoring, leaving the French side and support disconsolate, mirroring Ireland in the same stadium the night previous.

France

Having picked up several victories over New Zealand and South Africa in the years before this World Cup - including in the 2023 pool stages themselves - and built to a position of arguably the world's two best sides, France and Ireland were left with familiar senses of World Cup dismay, with both still never having won rugby's greatest prize.

Whether either will ever get a better chance felt like the pertinent question at the close of a stunning weekend of knockout Test rugby.

Nienaber: Our experience helped us clinch the win

South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber said...

"Yeah that was massive. Playing a French team who have been consistently quality over the last couple of years.

"Playing them here in Paris was always going to be a massive challenge for us and credit to our team.

"I thought they stuck to it and the momentum shifted a lot in the game.

"That is probably the benefit of having a lot of players who have been here before. The calm heads pulled us through."

South African players celebrate as they defeat France at the end of the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match between France and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Image: South Africa are into a sixth Rugby World Cup semi-final in their history

South Africa's Etzebeth said...

"It is right up there. It was an incredible Test match. They came out in the first couple of minutes they scored, we scored, and it went on like that.

"It could have gone either way and we are so relieved and so happy it went our way. The French must be heartbroken so spare a thought for them.

"We will celebrate tonight then prepare for England."

What's next?

The defeat means France exit at the quarter-final stage of a World Cup for the fourth time in their history, and third World Cup in a row. They exit having topped Pool A after wins over New Zealand, Uruguay, Namibia and Italy, before falling to the Springboks.

The victory means South Africa progress to the World Cup semi-finals for the sixth time in their history, and will face England at the Stade de France in Paris on Saturday October 21 (8pm kick-off BST).

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