PARIS - If the French public are unsure of where their loyalties lie now that Fabien Galthie's team has gone out of the World Cup, South African hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi has extended an invitation: support the Boks.
In one of the all-time great World Cup encounters, French hopes of a first triumph on home soil turned to dust as the Springboks came back from a 25-19 deficit at the Stade de France on Sunday to win a thrilling match 29-28.
Mbonambi, who only took over as undisputed number one hooker following the injury that ruled Malcolm Marx out of the tournament, put in an outstanding all-round show that earned him the official Player of the Match award.
"We have 60 million South Africans who support us all the way and I think for now that will do but if the French want to support us, they're more than welcome," he said.
"We've really enjoyed our time here and we're looking forward to the following week."
Within minutes of the final whistle South African thoughts, however, were turning towards the next step in their bid to retain the World Cup they won in Yokohama four years ago.
Next Saturday the Springboks will be back in Paris to take on England, the side they comprehensively beat 32-12 in the 2019 final.
The English are the last European side left in the tournament after this weekend's defeats for France, Wales and Ireland.
The English had a poor Six Nations, finishing fourth, and lost three of their warm-up games to Wales, Ireland and a historic defeat at Twickenham by Fiji.
Surprisingly, they are the only unbeaten side left in the tournament having topped their pool and reversed that Fiji loss with a 30-24 win over the Pacific Islanders in their quarter-final in Marseille.
"We have played against England a lot," said South African scrum-half Faf de Klerk.
"Obviously they have been struggling before the World Cup but they have definitely started to turn things around.
"It is going to be a very big, tough challenge, especially with a six-day turnaround. We just have to focus on recovery and make sure we are ready for that."
- 'Better prepared' -
The Springboks, who were beaten 13-8 by Ireland during the pool phase, have again shown the resilience which made them champions four years ago but they remain wary of the English.
Flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, who needed a head injury assessment during the game, suggested England's new coach Steve Borthwick and his team had started to get things working in France.
"They have won every game," he said.
"A World Cup is different when you get to knockout matches and they have taken their opportunities.
"Hopefully we will do that against England as well. The ball can go either way. We just have to make sure we are better prepared and stick to our plan."
Since taking charge of the South African side in 2018, the management team of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have shown a masterful understanding of pre-match planning as well as decision-making during the game.
The pair will undoubtedly have Borthwick and his England team already in their sights. The French public may feel the same.
By Barney Spender