Defending World Champions South Africa marched into a semi-final against England by beating France 29-28 at Stade de France in Paris.

Springbok captain Siya Kolisi declared in the early hours of Monday morning that they knew it would take something special to beat France in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final on Sunday, and both him and Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber lauded the team’s character to pull through the victory to book their place in the semi-final.

The Springboks – who beat France by 29-28 in a thrilling contest in Paris – will face England in the last four on Saturday, while Argentina and New Zealand will meet in the first semi-final on Friday.

“We worked together as a team and we talked a lot about never giving up. We knew it would take something special and we did it today,” said Kolisi.

“France asked a lot of questions of us, but the character we showed stood out. We had a clear plan on what we needed to do, especially at the breakdown, and we had to fight for one another, especially in the last eight minutes of the yellow card. I’m proud of the guys and the discipline they showed.”

Nienaber was equally proud of the team: “We knew how tough it would be to come to France and face the French. They’ve been playing well and were consistent in their performances. 

“They’ve also been building well as a team, so we knew it was going to be a proper Test match and it was always going to be tight. Many of the games (in the tournament) have been won and lost in the last eight minutes.”

Kolisi added to the coach’s sentiments.

“To latch onto what Jacques said, their team has been building for four years and we knew it would take everything (to win),” said Kolisi. 

“For their captain to come back from an injury and the play the way he did was good. 

“We knew how loud and intense it would be at the stadium, but the French people can be proud of their team. It was a tough game, and we knew it would take something special.”

While Nienaber was open about his excitement, he said the Boks still had work to do if they wanted to defend their title.

“There were good things and other things we didn’t do so well,” said Nienaber, “but there was the pressure of a knock-out game, and we know there is a lot we need to work on going forward.”

France 28 [Tries: Baille 2, Mauvaka; Cons: Ramos 2; Pens: Ramos 3] South Africa 29 [Tries: Arendse, De Allende, Kolbe, Etzebeth; Cons: Libbok 2, Pollard; Pen: Pollard]

Yellow card: Eben Etzebeth (South Africa – 40′ high tackle)

France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (captain), 6 Anthony Jelonch, 5 Thibaud Flament, 4 Cameron Woki, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Francois Cros, 21 Sekou Macalou, 22 Maxime Lucu, 23 Yoram Moefana.

South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt–Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Willie le Roux

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)