‘England ready for Springbok semi-final challenge’2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final: England v South AfricaVenue: Stade de France, Paris Dates: Saturday, 21 October Kick-off: 20:00 BSTCoverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app.
Freddie Steward’s aerial ability and Joe Marler’s scrummage power have won them starts in England’s Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa.
Steward replaces Marcus Smith, who failed the return-to-play protocols after a knock in the quarter-final win over Fiji.
George Martin comes into the second row in place of Ollie Chessum.
Vice-captain Ellis Genge drops to the bench alongside George Ford as Owen Farrell retains his fly-half role.
Thirteen of England’s squad played in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, when South Africa, who started as underdogs, triumphed 32-12.
The two sides have met twice since with England taking a narrow win in 2021 and South Africa comfortably claiming victory a year later at Twickenham – a match that marked the end of Eddie Jones’ reign as England coach.
England line-up: Steward; May, Marchant, Tuilagi, Daly; Farrell (capt), Mitchell; Marler, George, Cole, Itoje, Martin, Lawes, Curry, Earl.
Replacements: Dan, Genge, Sinckler, Chessum, Vunipola, Care, Ford, Lawrence.
“This feels like a new challenge and a new opportunity,” said captain Farrell when asked what lessons he and his team could take from the Japan 2019 final defeat.
“In four years a lot happens in rugby, a lot happens in a week here.
“We feel like we have changed as a team and I imagine South Africa feel they have changed over four years as well.
“We understand what the task is in front of us and what a good, well-drilled team we are playing against. We are excited to get out there.”
Earlier on Thursday, South Africa named the same starting XV that beat France in the last eight for their return to the Stade de France, with Manie Libbok holding on to the fly-half shirt ahead of Leicester’s Handre Pollard.
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South Africa’s first three tries in their victory over the hosts last weekend came via kicks into the backfield and Steward’s ability to defuse that danger will be key if England are to overturn the odds and make a final against either New Zealand or Argentina.
The Springboks’ trademark scrummage strength was also obvious in their win over France, with full-back Damian Willemse opting for the set-piece from a free-kick inside his own 22m, rather than kicking straight to touch, on one notable occasion.
Ollie Chessum (left) is on the bench with Leicester team-mate George Martin (right) making the starting line-up
Former England head coach Jones has previously said his decision not to start Marler, considered to be one of the country’s best scrummaging props, against the Springboks was one of his selection mistakes in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final defeat.external-link
Martin, with eight previous caps, including three starts, to his name, is the least experienced of England’s starting line-up. However, head coach Steve Borthwick knows both his and club team-mate Chessum’s game well through his previous role as Leicester head coach.
“I have known him for a few years, from a young man, and to see him now, he looks at home on the international stage,” said Borthwick of Martin.
“He has come on to the pitch in the second row and at six in this tournament. Every minute he has been on the field, he has performed and at some big, key moments as well
“He embraces getting onto the pitch and giving everything he can for the team. He is a real team man.”
While Ford excelled while Farrell was suspended for England’s first two matches at the World Cup, he has been demoted upon the captain’s return.
The pair were picked as a 10-12 combination for the pool-stage meeting with Samoa, but Ford was substituted after 50 minutes as England struggled to fire in attack.
South Africa have replaced Ireland as Test’s rugby number one side and are considered the tournament favourites by the bookmakers. They beat New Zealand – their nearest challengers in both – by a record score in August.
England, ranked fifth in the world, are the only unbeaten team left in the tournament and the only pool winners to have reached the semi-finals. South Africa were runners-up in their pool following a 13-8 defeat by Ireland in their third game in France.
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