Being the underdogs in a Rugby World Cup semi final is nothing new for England's men, reports Steve Scott
Four years ago, in Japan, England were very much the semi-final underdogs against everyone’s favourites, three times winners New Zealand, who’d not lost a world cup game in 12 years.
Eddie Jones’ team were superb that day and won in what is still perhaps England rugby’s greatest ever performance, but that victory left them physically and emotionally spent, and they were well beaten by South Africa in the final.
Fast forward to 2023 and England find themselves in a similar predicament and the question England fans are asking is, can history repeat itself and Steve Borthwick’s men make a second successive final, this time at the expense of the Springboks?
The players themselves are playing down the significance of 2019, and of course they are right to do that.
A lot of rugby has been played in between; the teams have developed, and England have a new coaching team who have only been in place for five months or so.
15 of the South African squad here in France were involved in that final and many of the England team were too.
By losing four years ago, England will have learnt more about how they need to approach this huge game in Paris and what it takes to win it.
The Springboks are rightly firm favourites, and it will take something special for the world number one ranked team and reigning world champions to be dethroned.
So, do England possess that ‘something special’?
If you’d have posed that question after they lost to Fiji at Twickenham for the first ever time, in one of many underwhelming warm-up games, the answer would have been emphatically “no”.
So much so that many respected observers even thought England might struggle to make it into the knock-out stages.
Well, here we are. Unbeaten, albeit thanks to a very kind draw, but unbeaten, nevertheless.
But what do England have to do to make it through to rugby’s biggest showpiece.
Firstly, they need to play the game of their lives, and perhaps they need South Africa to fall below their scary, brilliant best.
England have to match the Springboks physically, which is a test many fail, but they will also have to come up with a few innovative ideas that will unsettle the world champions.
If England play in exactly the way they have done so far, they will inevitably fall short but if they can introduce something that surprises the South Africans, drawing them out of their comfort zone, then just maybe there might be an upset on the cards.
If that happened, it’s likely that the win over New Zealand four years ago would no longer be England’s greatest ever performance.
You can watch the Rugby World Cup on ITV1 and ITVX.
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