England head coach Steve Borthwick consoles his players Ellis Genge (left) and Freddie Steward (right) after losing to South Africa in the World Cup semi-finalSteve Borthwick said he was “disappointed but immensely proud” after England’s 16-15 World Cup semi-final defeat by South Africa.
Underdogs England, who led for most of the game in Paris, were denied a place in a record-equalling fifth final by a late Handre Pollard penalty.
Borthwick’s side lost five of their six games before the tournament but went on to win Pool D and reach the last four.
“I care an awful lot for the players so I’m gutted for them,” said Borthwick.
Brave England edged out as South Africa make World Cup finalEngland 15-16 South Africa – reactionSpeaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, the England head coach added: “I really care deeply about English rugby and our supporters. There have been some tough times and we have work to do but you will see just how much those players care about representing their country.
“In any game like this you have to credit the opposition, who found a way to win at the end. South Africa are current world champions and world number ones for a reason.
“We thought we were going to win tonight and we came here believing we would win. The players deserve enormous credit for that.
“I think the tens of thousands of England fans watching here tonight and the millions watching at home will be very proud of their team.”
England produced their best performance of the campaign at the rain-drenched Stade de France as Owen Farrell kicked four penalties and a drop-goal to open up a nine-point lead in the second half.
South Africa made changes across the team and began to dominate in the scrum, which proved to be their launchpad back into the game as RG Snyman scored the only try before Pollard’s huge penalty claimed victory.
Borthwick replaced Eddie Jones as head coach last December but pointed to the future with his youthful side.
“We have a very smart group of players that are learning very quickly because we have had to do it very quickly,” he said. “The opposition have had four years and we have had four months.
“That is why the players deserve enormous credit. I asked the players to approach the training differently and they have embraced that.
“In that 23-man squad, we have seven players aged 25 or younger. That is the most of any of the semi-finalists so we have a great blend of experience and young players.
“We are disappointed but immensely proud of these guys and we’ll build going forward.”
‘Sport is cruel sometimes’Freddie Steward looks emotional as he applauds spectators inside the Stade France following England’s World Cup exitOne of those expected to be tasked with England’s rebuild in the future is full-back Freddie Steward.
The 22-year-old was composed under the high ball in greasy conditions on his return to the starting 15 after dropping out of the side for Marcus Smith in the quarter-final win over Fiji.
“A lot of raw emotions at the minute… To go that close against such a great outfit and to not get there in the end is a tough one to take. Sport is cruel sometimes,” Steward told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“You have to credit South Africa, they fought till the end and made us pay for a few mistakes. But I am so proud of the effort that the boys gave tonight.
“The coaching staff, they made us believe. They put the plan together and we were so close, but did not get there unfortunately.”
On returning to the squad, Steward said he was “as pleased as you can be”.
He added: “Steve Borthwick made it clear. It is a squad of 33 and it is a 33-man effort, even the lads not in the squad tonight gave everything to help us and it is just unfortunate that it has ended this way.
“I think that on the back of a pretty poor performance in the summer Tests, we had a lot of criticism. Even tonight we were written off.
“But when the pressure was on, we fought all the way till the end. Some guys will be moving on and some guys will be staying and we just have to get better.”
‘Credit to England’South Africa, who will face New Zealand in the final, struggled to adapt to the conditions in the first half as England executed their kicking gameplan with aplomb.
The Springboks made handling errors and conceded penalties in open play as the defence of their title appeared to be slipping away before the ‘Bomb Squad’ came off the bench and changed the game after asserting their dominance in the scrum.
South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber said his side needed something “special” to maintain their pursuit of a record fourth World Cup alive.
“First I want to start with credit to England, I thought they were outstanding on the night,” said Nienaber.
“They had us under a lot pressure and it took something special to unlock their defence to get a try to get us back in the game.
“We needed some energy and that is why we decided to bring the bench on. We are fortunate that there is not a lot of difference between the guys who start and the guys on the bench.
“Like at the previous World Cup, it takes something special to unlock it. It’s always going to be tight, those two moments [scrum penalty and penalty kick] were the telling moments.”