South Africa 19 Wales 16
At the end of one of the worst Rugby World Cup semi-finals ever played, South Africa booked their place in a third final.
If they want to beat England next Saturday in Yokohama, they’ll need to be a whole lot better, offering more than this kick-fest that earned them their spot but lost them a whole lot of good-will.
When the half-time whistle went, a stream of neutrals voted with their feet and headed for the exits after seeing 40 kicks from hand in 40 minutes and no tries.
That rate kept up after half-time, but at least the tension mounted until Handre Pollard delivered the winning kick and the ‘Bok scrum forced a late penalty to snuff the final Welsh effort out.
Wales gave everything and hung in until the bitter end, but the toll of the players they lost told and their chance went with Rhys Patchell’s drop-goal attempt in the seconds before Pollard kicked his winner.
It was a stark contrast to last night’s excitement, when England produced a performance of sublime quality to beat New Zealand. Twenty-five hours later, South Africa joined them with a weird tribute to their 2007 campaign when they bored and box-kicked their way to set up a repeat of that year’s final.
It’s hard to see past England reversing that result.
The weather has played havoc at this tournament and, after typhoons, heavy rain, humidity and everything else it was time for the wind to have its say.
Perhaps with the semi-finals and final being played in the port city of Yokohama, we should have foreseen the gusts having an impact on proceedings and the swirls made box-kicking an attractive option.
So attractive indeed that both teams decided it was their tactic of choice meaning the fans in the stand were turning to the Mexican wave earlier than usual.
Amidst long lulls in the stands there was the odd spurt of action down on the pitch. Wales at least tried to play a bit, with Alun-Wyn Jones winning a big early turnover but Leigh Halfpenny couldn’t hold Dan Biggar’s cross-kick.
Halfpenny, in the side for the injured Liam Williams, then collided with Gareth Davies and spilled the ball. South Africa won a scrum penalty, went for another set-piece and then caught Justin Tipuric on the wrong side of a ruck.
Handre Pollard sent over the penalty, but the lead didn’t last long and when Wales moved the ball wide from a lineout ball Willie le Roux came in from the side and Biggar levelled.
Ross Moriarty spilled the restart, however, and when the Welsh scrum crumpled again the South African out-half made it 6-3.
Things threatened to open up when Halfpenny kicked loosely and S’bu Nkosi countered, moving the ball wide through Siya Kolisi to Lukhanyo Am who then found Faf de Klerk on his shoulder but when the Welsh covering defence caught him the Boks kicked the ball away.
They made it a six-point game with Pollard kicking a penalty after a dominant maul forced Wales into conceding another penalty.
De Klerk had to be alert to tap-tackle Josh Adams who looked to be getting away after Biggar had brilliantly fielded Gareth Davies box-kick, but in the subsequent moments the ‘Boks strayed offside and the out-half narrowed the gap.
After 40 kicks in 40 minutes of first-half action, the teams came back out and kept the trend going.
They were waiting for an error and it was de Klerk who made the first one, dropping a box-kick into touch. South Africa infringed at the maul and Biggar levelled matters.
The kicking continued and the one time South Africa looked to run, Pieter-Steph du Toit got isolated and Wyn Jones won a penalty.
That gave Wales a chance to attack, but Biggar’s pass to Halfpenny was forward and the ‘Bok pack won another scrum penalty.
Finally, after 56 of the longest minutes, the crowd remaining in the Yokohama International Stadium were treated to a try.
With the bench having an effect, South Africa opted to go through a couple of phases before Pollard spotted a gap and, with penalty advantage, Damian de Allende backed himself to beat a couple of Welsh defenders and score.
Pollard’s conversion made it a seven-point game, but a brilliant turnover penalty win from prop Dillon Lewis handed Rhys Patchell a chance to kick to the corner.
Patiently, Wales picked and went and carried until they forced penalty advantage and, when de Klerk covered Patchell’s chip, they went for a scrum.
It was risky, but they got their reward as the Springboks bit in on Tomos Williams and he fed Jon Davies who put Adams away in the left corner.
Halfpenny levelled from the touchline and, when Duane Vermeulen conceded a penalty, Wales got another chance to attack but after they couldn’t break the green wall down, Patchell was well wide with a drop-goal attempt.
As extra-time loomed, Francois Louw made a big poach-penalty play. Pollard kicked to touch and their maul earned a penalty. It wasn’t an easy angle, but the No 10 was unerring.
With four minutes remaining, the Welsh had to chase once again. This time it proved a bridge too far. When their scrum collapsed once more, the game was up and the 'Boks were through.
WALES – L Halfpenny; G North (O Watkin 40), J Davies, H Parkes, J Adams; D Biggar (R Patchell 58), G Davies (T Davies 55); W Jones (R Carre 55), K Owens (E Dee 73), T Francis (D Lewis 36); J Ball (A Beard 60), AW Jones (capt); A Wainwright (A Shingler 69), J Tipuric, R Moriarty.
SOUTH AFRICA – W Le Roux (F Steyn 69); S Nkosi, L Am, D de Allende, M Mapimpi; H Pollard, F de Klerk; T Mtawarira (S Kitschoff 48), M Mbonambi (M Marx 48), F Malherbe (V Koch 48); E Etzebeth (RG Snyman 54), L de Jager (F Mostert 59); S Kolisi (capt) (F Louw 69), PS du Toit, D Vermeulen.
Ref: J Garces (France)
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