Ox Nche and Handre Pollard brought power and poise off the bench as the Springboks pulled off a great escape to edge England 16-15 in a nail-biting World Cup semi-final showdown in Saint-Denis on Saturday night, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
On a rainy night at Stade de France where South Africa looked sluggish after their taxing triumph over France the previous week, the writing appeared to be on the wall for the defending champions.
However, the likes of Nche, Pollard and RG Snyman were superb off the bench and helped spearhead a smash-and-grab for the ages.
Our top three Springbok standouts were:
Unleashed in the 48th minute, Nche was the definition of destruction as he won a penalty in just about every scrum he was involved in to spearhead the Springbok comeback.
His monstrous masterclass in the set piece was legendary, on par with Tendai Mtawarira’s iconic emasculation of Phil Victory in the opening Test of the 2009 British & Irish Lions series in Durban and trampling of England tighthead Dan Cole in the last and most important Test of his life in the 2019 World Cup final in Yokohama.
Straight out of the gate, Nche scrummed the English off the ball with a massive shove in the 52nd minute to create the spark South Africa needed and give them a foothold in the game they desperately required.
He saved the day with another almighty push on his 5m line on the hour mark, won another penalty on 68 minutes that led to Snyman’s crucial try and the decisive penalty with five minutes to go.
Hailed as “the most destructive loosehead in the world” by Nick Mallett and “a human wrecking ball who made a massive difference” by Schalk Burger after the cliffhanger, the 28-year-old is a scrummaging artist who painted his Mona Lisa to power the Springboks into the final.
The iceman cometh.
Built for the big occasion, Pollard stepped up and coolly slotted the match-winning penalty goal from 49 metres out with two-and-a-half minutes left on the clock.
Replacing Manie Libbok as early as the 30th minute, the man who piloted the Boks to their third world championship in 2019’s composure and experience were invaluable on a night that was a nightmare for the most part but had a fairy-tale ending.
The calmness and direction he brought were huge and his kicking out of hand pivotal, particularly the excellent long penalty into the corner from where Snyman scored – which he converted – and the kick that found grass and forced a bad return from Freddie Steward that led to a knock-on and the decisive scrum penalty.
Nche was hard done by not to be named Man of the Match, but Pollard’s a class act and if anyone else deserved the accolade, it was the flyhalf who steered the Boks out of the stormy seas with nerves of steel.
Snyman made a big impact in his 37 minutes on the park, highlighted by his forceful try that got the Boks back in the game, but no one worked harder on the night than the man who had the second row on lock.
The ironman and unsung hero of the men in green and gold, Mostert was a tireless titan who made a match-high 18 tackles, double that of the next-best Bok Pieter-Steph du Toit.
That he made nine hits in each half underlined his cyborg-like conditioning with the pick of the bunch being his brilliant diving tackle on Steward in the 67th minute.
His hard grafting also saw him charge down Owen Farrell’s kick and make some solid carries, while his work in the lineout included a valuable steal on the half-hour mark.