Steve Borthwick vowed to use England’s heartbreaking World Cup semi-final exit at the hands of South Africa to sow a seed for future success.
Borthwick’s unfancied side led by nine points in the final quarter and were on the cusp of a famous win until Handre Pollard’s late penalty condemned them to an agonising 16-15 defeat.
Many of England’s players collapsed to their knees following a colossal, but ultimately unsuccessful, effort against the reigning champions on a sodden evening in Paris.
While head coach Borthwick was similarly crestfallen by the dramatic late twist at Stade de France, he was proud of the efforts of his team and upbeat about what lies ahead.
“We came here with a plan to win the game and we fell a little bit short, not far short but a little bit short, so we’re desperately disappointed,” he said.
“I think we all truly believed we could do it, we were going to do it, and we came very close to doing so.
“In adversity, in these tough times, there’s usually some seed of it there that will grow and be something brilliant in the future.
“Right now it’s too early for me to find that seed but we’ll make sure we find it.
“We’ll make sure that we take some of what we find tonight, some of what we’ve gone through tonight, we’ll make sure we grab that and we’ll make sure it makes us stronger in the future.”
Captain Owen Farrell produced an outstanding performance, kicking all of his side’s points, including a superb drop goal.
His efforts looked to be sufficient for victory but RG Snyman barged over for the only try of the match in the 70th minute to set up a grandstand finish.
Man-of-the-match Pollard, who booted the Springboks to victory over England in the 2019 final, nailed the tricky conversion and then landed a monster penalty two minutes from time to inflict more anguish on the opposition.
“The players should be incredibly proud of what they’ve done and continue to do as they represent England rugby,” continued Borthwick.
“I know I’ll have at home a couple of young boys who are going to be bitterly disappointed and I’m sure there are lots of people that are proud but also gutted back in England, I’m sure there are millions of people like that.
“I care about these players, I care about these supporters, and I care about English rugby.
“What I see is a group of guys who are doing as much as they possibly can to set an example, to build a team, to have supporters proud of them.
“They’re led by this man next to me (Farrell), who I think has been and continues to be a phenomenal player and an incredible leader of this team.”
New Zealand await South Africa in next weekend’s final.
Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber praised his team’s fighting spirit.
“I pay a lot of credit to England,” he said. “They were outstanding on the night.
“They had a very good tactical plan and they put us under pressure. We will have to improve because it took us some time to get to grips with it.
“But the strength of this team is that even if we’re not playing well we find a way to get the result.
“It took 80 minutes to get a foothold in the game. The team refused to give up and fought until the end.”
Congratulations @Springboks – what an incredible contest
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) October 21, 2023
Springboks captain Siya Kolisi was convinced fly-half Pollard, who came on for Manie Libbok with only half an hour gone, would land the decisive penalty from just inside England’s half.
“I had no doubt at all,” he said. “He’s done it for us before.
“England are a world-class team and completely different to a year ago. They had an amazing game plan which we took too long to adapt to.
“These things happen but we dug deep to get the victory. Other teams wouldn’t be able to get the win from this. I’m not going to say it was ugly, we did what was needed.”