South Africa set up a semi-final with England after an epic 29-28 win over France in one of the best games of rugby in recent history.

A spectacular quarter-final weekend at the Rugby World culminated in the reigning champions facing the hosts at a fervent Stade de France and both sides contributed greatly to a classic encounter. 

The incredible intensity and skill on display in the first half yielded six tries, which represents the most ever in the first half of the knockout stages at the World Cup. The free-flowing brilliance of the opening 40 minutes was replaced with palpable tension after the break but South Africa’s resilience shone through as they broke French hearts in the city of love. 

After a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise in Paris, France made the perfect start. The hosts were irresistible in the opening stages, roared on from the stands, and they capitalised on their dominance with the opening try after just 4 minutes. 

France executed a quick line out superbly to set up a maul and they surged through South Africa before the ball popped out for wing Damian Penaud to flick a pass into the hands of Cyril Baille to score. 

It was a scintillating start from the French and Peato Mauvaka burst through the South African defence before Jonathan Danty was just prevented from going over. 

South Africa looked shellshocked but they responded well as they highlighted why they’re reigning champions. The ball bounced fortuitously into the arms of Kurt Lee-Arends but there was nothing lucky about the finish as he raced away from several defenders to score his 13th try on his 13th cap. 

The Springboks are renowned for their blitz defence but France had clearly formulated a plan to combat it as targeted the space behind with kicks.

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South Africa’s resilience under pressure was remarkable as they withstood pressure and they were rewarded when Damiaan de Allende barged over from close range to take the lead.

There’s been some famous games during this World Cup but the speed of play and intensity on display was on another stratosphere.  

France looked unstoppable when they gained momentum - they carried over the gainline 42 times in the first half -  and after surging into the Springbok 22, Dupont took a quick penalty and arrowed a pass to the excellent Mauvaka to score. 

It resembled a basketball game at points during a relentless first half and South Africa opened up a 19-12 lead on 26 minutes when Jesse Kriel’s perfectly weighted grubber kick was finished by Kolbe.

The sixth try of an exceptional first half arrived on 32 minutes as Baille scored his second try after France ran a decoy play from a line-out deep in South Africa’s 22 and instead of setting up a maul, the ball was recycled to the prop to finish. 

France established a three-point lead at the break courtesy of Thomas Ramos’ boot but they also had a man’s advantage as Eben Etzebeth was sin-binned for a head collision with Uini Atonio - a review deemed a yellow card was sufficient punishment. 

The tempo understandably dropped after a breathtaking first half as the jeopardy came into focus and increased tension led to handling errors.

France couldn’t capitalise on their man advantage as they failed to add any further points before Etzebeth’s return on 50 minutes. 

Ramos added the first points of the second half from a penalty to extend France’s lead but they were eventually punished for their profligacy against 14 men when Etzebeth scored the decisive try to regain the lead for South Africa. 

The Springboks turned down an easy three points as they targeted a bigger prize and they were rewarded when Etzebeth powerfully held off French defenders to bulldoze over. 

Handre Pollard pinged a penalty clean through the posts from inside his own half to extend South Africa’s lead but Ramos responded to make it a one-point game for the final seven minutes but the Springboks held strong.

The contrast in emotions at the full-time was immense and it will be little consolation to the dejected France side that contributed to an encounter that will last long in the memory. For South Africa, a seismic clash awaits against England next Saturday and their incredible performance tonight will leave them confident of regaining their crown.