A storied rivalry, we take a look at five of the best matches between the English and Springboks.

Five Of The Best England v South Africa Matches

Any Rugby World Cup final requires little hype, it is the biggest match in rugby union after all. But 2019’s final match will see two rugby giants face off with one side looking to tie New Zealand for the most tournament wins ever, and the other looking to avenge the loss in the 2007 Final which had a controversial decision to say the least – more on that later.

England and the Springboks have had a storied rivalry in rugby union. Their first match took place not at Twickenham but at Crystal Palace and the two teams battered each other for a 3-3 draw. In all, they have played 42 times with South Africa collecting 25 wins, England 15, and two draws.

Here, we have taken a look at five of the best contests between the two teams.

2007 Rugby World Cup Final – England 6-15 South Africa

A few weeks after South Africa had utterly destroyed England 36-0 in the pool stages, the sides somehow met in the final which was to be their 4th meeting in 2007. England had yet to give the Springboks any real challenge but at no point during the final did it look like one team was going to dominate the other.

It was a tough, physical affair at times dominated by the boots of Percy Montgomery and Jonny Wilkinson. Indeed when everything was said and done not one try was scored although that is controversial.

Chalked off: Cueto is denied by the TMO (Getty Images)

In the second-half England were battling back from 9-3 down and went on the attack to close the gap. Just after the break, Matthew Tait broke through a gap before being brought down just before the try-line. England recycled the ball to the left and Mark Cueto dotted down but Alain Rolland and TMO Stuart Dickinson adjudged the winger to have gone into touch. Some rugby matches are decided by the finest of margins.

From that point on the South African defence did not budge and with a couple of penalties converted by Montgomery and Frans Steyn, the men in green won their second Rugby World Cup. Interestingly Eddie Jones was a South African assistant to Jake White, and now he is England’s coach for the 2019 final. How things change…

2002 Autumn Internationals – England 53-3 South Africa

We use the word ‘best’ in a very specific way here. South Africa and specifically their captain Corne Krige had lost two matches in a row and showed their frustration by incredibly rough-handed tactics during the match.

Thankfully, none of these things worked because England totally dominated the match and handed South Africa a 50-point smacking. Then, in the build up to the 2003 World Cup things went from bad to worse for the Springboks.

Leading up to Australia, Kamp Staaldraad caused huge controversy as what should have been a boot camp to build camaraderie, became hell for the players as they were told to stand naked in freezing lakes, spend nights in the bush, and when players objected they were allegedly told to continue the exercises at gunpoint. Of course this lead to a dour Rugby World Cup in 2003.

2018 England Tour of South Africa – England 39-42 South Africa

As per usual with England these days they got off to a hot start in the opening Test at Ellis Park. Elliott Daly slotted a huge penalty and then England scored three quick fire tries to lead 24-3 after just 19 minutes. At the time, it seemed the match result was in no doubt and the only question that remained was by how many.

However, under Rassie Erasmus the Springboks have become a never say die type of team and they showed the world. Faf de Klerk crossed to score and he then played a part in South Africa’s second try 10 minutes later with Sbu Nkosi crossing after a Daly mistake. Nkosi scored again four minutes later and then so did Willie Le Roux just before half-time.

It was a pulsating affair with both sides looking as if they could score tries at any stage but the pivotal moment came from the jackaling skill of Steven Kitshoff and the boot of Handre Pollard as the resulting penalty meant the gap England had to make up was too great.

This was Rassie Erasmus’ first win as head-coach and Siya Kolisi’s first win as captain.

1972 England Tour of South Africa – England 18-9 South Africa

Not a lot was expected of England as they travelled to South Africa for their first ever tour of the country. Fresh off a dour wooden spoon in the 1972 Five Nations, the entire tour was expected to be a bloodbath but sport always offers up surprises.

The English went undefeated in their six pre-Test matches, winning five and drawing one. The final contest of the Tour was the sole test between the two sides and England somehow won 18-9 after Alan Morley scored a try and Sam Noble booted the conversion and four penalties.


2000 England Tour of South Africa – England 27-22 South Africa

Winning a Rugby World Cup is hard. It takes years of preparation and a continuing sense of belief and confidence that it is actually possible. Bearing this in mind, we can probably trace England’s 2003 victory to their win against South Africa during their tour in 2000. Up to that point South Africa had always seemed to have the measure of the English but they had not dealt with a fly-half called Jonny Wilkinson before.

In all Jonny scored all 27 points for England off the back of a dominating performance by the English forwards.

The win launched the success of a truly great Sir Clive Woodward England team that would go on to beat all three South hemisphere teams in a row, win the 2003 Six Nations with a Grand Slam, and then go on to win the World Cup.

It can be argued that all the success can be traced to Woodward’s first win over a southern hemisphere team, and that came in 2000.

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