France 28-29 South Africa: Hosts are eliminated from the Rugby World Cup as Antoine Dupont fails to rally Les Blues to victory against dominant Springboks in high-octane match

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England will play South Africa in a World Cup semi-final on Saturday after France were sent tumbling out of their own tournament in one of the best global showpiece games ever.

But if Steve Borthwick and his players were watching, they must have done so with one eye closed knowing what lies in store this weekend.

Much was expected of this game. Surely it was never going to match the thrilling contest between Ireland and New Zealand also played at the Stade de France 24 hours previously?

Not only did it at equal that brilliant fare, it surpassed it – certainly in a quite brilliant opening half. The two quarter-finals in Paris have truly been rugby matches to remember forever.

Over the course of the 80 minutes here, the hits were thunderous. The brutality was astonishing and the quality at the highest level. In the end, it was South Africa who did enough.

France were sent tumbling out of their own tournament in one of the best global showpiece games ever against South Africa

It means that after a brilliant weekend of quarter-final action, the score between the southern and northern hemisphere stands at 3-1 to those from the Rugby Championship.

This was supposed to be the weekend the north made a statement. It didn’t happen and now only England, remarkably given their recent struggles, will represent the Six Nations in the last four. It was France’s first loss at home since March 2021. What a time for them to do it. Their home crowd was stunned as even the return of Antoine Dupont couldn’t save them.

It means the Springboks are now only two wins away from defending the crown they won in 2019.

When Dupont broke his cheekbone against Namibia on September 21, his tournament was immediately thrown into doubt. The scrum-half underwent surgery the following day.

Three weeks later, here he was. Dupont wore a scrum cap to protect his head on the advice of his surgeon. Huge cheers greeted France’s captain as he strode on to the pitch clutching his new accessory. Some had questioned Dupont’s quick return, especially given the opposition were the world champions for whom legal physicality is a modus operandi.

France insisted their star man had ticked every box.

Had their home venue had a roof, it would surely have come off when a partisan French crowd belted out La Marseillaise. Their team were straight out of the traps in what amounted to an astonishing opening 40. There were six tries in total – three for each side. France’s opener came from a magnificent line-out maul.

Cameron Woki won possession and a pack of blue marched forward as one. Uini Atonio and Thibaud Flament were at its heart. No-one is supposed to do that to South Africa. Quick hands from Dupont and Damian Penaud sent prop Cyril Baille into the corner and Thomas Ramos nailed the kick.

Peato Mauvaka rampaged forward. South Africa were lucky to escape Eben Etzebeth being penalised for what looked a deliberate knock on. A cacophony of boos and whistles erupted.

The atmosphere was astonishing. Then, out of nowhere, South Africa hit back.

France’s defence failed to collect a high ball and Kurt Lee-Arendse raced away to score.

Mauvaka was a force of nature in a thrilling encounter. This was Test rugby at its best.

Ramos saw a long-range penalty fall short and not only was that costly, but so too was France’s inability to again deal with a kick to the skies. Manie Libbok put boot to ball and this time it was Woki who couldn’t collect. On went Damian de Allende and although he was initially stopped short, he came back for more. It was tit for tat. You score, we score.

Dupont showed no rust, taking a quick tap and Mauvaka dived over in the corner. Cheslin Kolbe charged down Ramos’ conversion attempt.

Kolbe promptly went straight up the other end and raced on to Jesse Kriel’s kick ahead for South Africa’s third. It came from another French mistake as they spilled the ball.

But it was no surprise they again responded, Baille going over for his second. And there was still time before the break for more drama.

Etzebeth was shown a yellow card to be checked by the bunker system for making head-on-head contact with the giant Atonio.

Ramos’ penalty allowed everyone to draw breath, France leading 22-19 at the break.

The news at the start of the second half that Etzebeth’s card would stay yellow and not be upgraded to red was a huge relief for those of a Springbok persuasion. Their team made early changes.

On came new half backs in Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard, lock RG Snyman and, most surprisingly of all, Deon Fourie for captain Siya Kolisi. Fourie is a hooker and back-rower but slotted in on the flank.

By the 51st minute, all but one of South Africa’s replacements were on the field with their team also back to 15 following Etzebeth’s return. It didn’t stop Ramos extending France’s lead from the tee.

The quite brilliant Mauvaka won a breakdown penalty. Matthieu Jalibert, who was having a fine game, then showed the first sign of nerves – shanking a kick to touch.

Mauvaka had emptied the tank and was replaced. The scoring rate slowed significantly. But, if anything, the pressure only ratcheted up yet further.

South Africa’s ‘bomb squad’ of replacements was getting on top at the scrum. And when they broke away to go the length, they turned down three points to tap and go for the try.

It worked a treat. Etzebeth powered over for a rare score and Pollard’s conversion put South Africa into a one-point lead. The Springbok bench helped their raw power go to another level.

They smashed into the contact area time and again. Pollard nailed a penalty from halfway.

Ramos cancelled it straight out, leaving his team a point behind with eight minutes to go.

Kolbe tried and failed with a drop goal. But after Jalibert was replaced, Ramos put a 22 drop out straight into touch and for the first time, you felt belief drain away from France.

It only helped South Africa further. Still France wouldn’t go away. They broke clear down the right wing and at that point you sensed what would have been a dramatic, match-winning score.

But the ball went loose and, in the end, it was France’s mistakes which hurt them as South Africa were guided home by the experience of De Klerk and Pollard and the power of their pack.

When Kolbe booted the ball dead, green shirts jumped for joy and those wearing blue slumped disconsolately to the floor with their World Cup dream in tatters.

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