YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — It was attritional, it was error-strewn, it was mostly a kick-fest. It was pretty much exactly what was predicted, perhaps even uglier.
The Springboks won’t care: They’re into the Rugby World Cup final again. In a semi-final that will not be fondly remembered, South Africa eked out a 19-16 victory over Wales to set up a title match against England in Yokohama.
It’s a rematch of the 2007 final won by the Springboks in Paris for their second and most recent world title.
Just like 12 years ago, they’ll be relying on their physicality, set-piece strength and structured game to get them through.
A day after a supreme display by England in an upset win over the All Blacks, this was a grafting contest that was ultimately settled by a 76th-minute penalty by South Africa flyhalf Handre Pollard.
He didn’t miss any of his five kicks at goal — four penalties and a conversion after Damian de Allende’s 57th-minute try.
“It probably wasn’t the best spectacle to watch,” South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus said, “but the boys stuck to their guns and adapted to it.”
The Welsh, seeking to reach a first final, recovered from a sloppy, mistake-riddled start that somehow only left them 9-6 down at halftime and took the game to the Boks in the second half, their bench giving them energy and better field position. They drew level at 9-9, and then again at 16-16 after winger Josh Adams’ converted try in the left corner.
But a turnover in centre-field by Springbok replacement Francois Louw and one last error — by prop Rhys Carre, coming in at the side of one of South Africa’s hard-to-stop rolling mauls — proved Wales’ undoing.
There’ll be no first all-northern hemisphere final and no perfect send-off for coach Warren Gatland, who is departing after 12 successful years in charge. Just a bronze-medal playoff against his native New Zealand.
“Once we were in the arm wrestle, it was about attrition and I’m proud of the boys for not giving up and staying in there,” Gatland said. “A bounce of the ball and it might have been different.”
Instead, it’s the Springboks, led by their first black captain, Siya Kolisi, heading to the championship decider for a third time. They have gone on to win it on both occasions, the first time in 1995 and famously under the gaze of the then president Nelson Mandela.
It is a triumph for Erasmus, who was hired in February 2018 with South African rugby on its knees following a chastening two years under Allister Coetzee.
Twenty months later, the team is playing trademark, hard Bok rugby and it’s delivering the results.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure the World Cup final is going to be won by a very expansive game plan and wonderful tries,” Erasmus said. “It might be. I might be wrong. But we will go and grind it out.”