South Africa advanced to the 2019 Rugby World Cup final courtesy of a narrow 19-16 victory over Wales in their semi-final in Yokohama on Sunday.
As predicted, this was a hard-fought encounter characterised by several brutal collisions throughout and the result was in the balance until the end. Both sides scored a try apiece with Damian de Allende crossing the whitewash for the Springboks and Josh Adams scored Wales’ try.
Handre Pollard scored South Africa’s other points courtesy of four penalties and a conversion while Dan Biggar added three penalties for Wales and Leigh Halfpenny succeeded with a conversion.
The opening quarter was a nervy affair with the teams feeling each other out which resulted in plenty of tactical kicking from Pollard and Biggar. Wales held a slight edge during the opening exchanges but had nothing to show for their efforts and it was the Boks who opened the scoring courtesy of a Pollard penalty after 15 minutes.
Shortly afterwards, Wales found themselves on the attack inside South Africa’s half and, after Willie le Roux was blown up for offside on defence, Biggar drew his side level by slotting the resulting penalty.
In the 20th minute, a dominant scrum from the Boks put Wales on the back foot and after they were penalised by referee Jérôme Garcès, Pollard restored his side’s lead by succeeding with the three-pointer off the kicking tee.
The next 15 minutes was an arm wrestle as both sides tried to gain the ascendancy and Pollard gave South Africa a 9-3 advantage after Ken Owens collapsed a maul illegally.
From the restart Tomas Francis was forced off the field after coming off second best in a collision with Duane Vermeulen but, despite that setback, Biggar reduced the deficit to three points in the 39th minute when Vermeulen took Aaron Wainwright out in an off-the-ball challenge.
Soon after, Wales were dealt another blow when George North hobbled off with a hamstring injury and he was replaced by Owen Watkin on the stroke of half-time with the Springboks holding a slender 9-6 lead.
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The second half started in a similar vein with most of the play restricted to the forwards and plenty of kicking from the pivots. Wales drew level shortly after the restart courtesy of another Biggar penalty after Eben Etzebeth infringed at a lineout.
There was little interesting to report during the next 15 minutes as the aerial bombardment from both sides continued, but the game came alive in the 57th minute when De Allende found himself in space out wide inside the Welsh 22. He still had plenty of work to do but did well to shrug off challenges from Biggar and Tomos Williams before powering his way over the try-line.
Pollard added the extras which meant the Boks were leading 16-9 but Wales were soon on the attack inside their opponents’ 22.
Wales were desperate for a try and after stringing 21 phases together close to South Africa’s try-line, they were awarded a penalty when the Boks strayed offside on defence. Captain Alun Wyn Jones opted to take a scrum which proved to be a brilliant decision as from the set-piece Ross Moriarty gathered before drawing in a couple of defenders and the ball was shifted wide to Adams, who crossed in the left-hand corner.
Halfpenny landed the conversion from close to the touchline which meant sides were level again at 16-16. That score was a shot in the arm for Wales, who were on the attack inside the Boks’ half for the next 10 minutes but they could not add to their points tally during that period.
The Boks regained the initiative in the 73rd minute, however, when Francois Louw won a turnover at a breakdown and Pollard put his side on the front foot when he put the ball into touch 35 metres from Wales’ try-line.
Wales were penalised for collapsing a maul at the ensuing lineout and Pollard held his nerve to slot the penalty which gave his side a 19-16 lead.
The closing stages were frantic but the Boks did well to keep Wales pinned inside their half and seal the win – and a place in the final against England – when they won a scrum penalty just before the end.
Pens: Biggar 3
For South Africa:
Try: De Allende
Pens: Pollard 4
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Aaron Shingler, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)