South Africa were crowned world champions in 2019 thanks to a dominant scrum performance in the final against England. If they are to go back-to-back, it will be through the same formula, writes Paul Eddison in Paris.

On a night where the Springboks were second best for large periods against a valiant England side, it was their scrum that saved them, and specifically replacement loosehead prop Ox Nche. 

His introduction swung a match where the Springboks looked to have no answer to England’s best performance under Steve Borthwick. 

Suddenly, they were able to win penalty after penalty, and with the rain pouring down, there were scrums aplenty. 

The final scrum penalty was the killer blow, Handre Pollard stepping up and slotting home from 50 metres out in a 16-15 success – South Africa’s second successive one-point victory in this stadium. 

This was not a thrashing like in the final in Yokohama four years ago. It was a full-blooded affair, with England giving every bit as good as they got. 

There was clearly no love lost between the sides, a scuffle after the final whistle followed by some very tense handshakes between players. 

"They are the world champions and world number ones for a reason but we are disappointed because we should have won that game," said Borthwick.

"As we reflect we should be proud of this team. We will reflect and recover and we've got a game to finish third in the tournament against Argentina and that's the focus now.

"This is a very good group of players, there are seven players in this group who are under 25, that's the most of any time in the semi-finals. We've got a blend of players that are experienced, with some who are going to be in this England shirt for a long time."

England will wonder what might have been, just like Ireland and France who exited in the previous round. They began with intensity, taking the lead after just two minutes following a first incursion into Springbok territory. 

They took on South Africa at their own game, winning the aerial battle, disrupting the Springbok lineout and nullifying their maul. 

When Siya Kolisi was pinged five metres from his line, Owen Farrell slotted a second penalty for 6-0 lead.

England were almost flawless, but paid the price for petulance after conceding a penalty, Farrell marched back ten metres by referee Ben O’Keeffe, moving into kickable range for Manie Libbok. 

An instant response from Farrell made it 9-3, with South Africa struggling to match the intensity of a week previous when they knocked out France. 

Rassie Erasmus – no longer officially Springbok coach but still calling the shots – responded by hauling off fly-half Libbok after half an hour, with his replacement Pollard cutting the deficit back to three. 

But it was England who had the final say of the first half, Farrell making no mistake from 45 metres out. 
At 12-6, England had a lead they deserved but like France a week ago, were not safe. 

When Farrell nailed a drop goal from 48 metres on the angle early in the second half, the advantage was out to two scores. South Africa seemed short of ideas, and threw on their entire bench in search of inspiration. 

One of those men changed the game. Nche had already wreaked havoc on his first scrum and he won a penalty five metres from his line as England had the chance to kill off the champions. 

From there, he seemed to get the upper hand at every scrum, winning penalties and gaining field position. Without him, South Africa could not have come back. 

It was from his efforts that they earned a penalty to kick to touch. From the lineout and maul, RG Snyman crashed over, Pollard converted and it was suddenly a two-point game. 

England knew that any knock-on would be costly and when Freddie Steward, who was excellent throughout, could not collect his own up-and-under, the Springboks knew it was their moment. 

Ellis Genge was penalised for going to his knees, Pollard stepped up and made no mistake from 50 metres and South Africa led for the first time with just two minutes remaining. 

There was still a final opportunity for England, but just as they had done against the hosts, South Africa tightened up their defence and forced the mistake. 

They will be back here for another week. They will need to be better to beat New Zealand but know that in their second-half scrum, they have a secret weapon. 

In the race to become the first team to four World Cups, the All Blacks have been warned. If you do not kill off South Africa early, they will find a way.