CAPE TOWN – Job done for the Springboks, but it wasn’t the World Cup-winning statement we saw from England and New Zealand at the weekend.
My pre-match score prediction was a 20-point Bok win. I wrote that they were a 30-point better team than Japan but I allowed for the home advantage, the emotion of the occasion and a referee who was always going to be generous to the hosts.
The Boks won by 23 points yesterday and had Handre Pollard been more accurate there would have been a further seven points from two missed conversions and a missed penalty.
Damian de Allende was also denied a try in the last play of the first half, when everything pointed to it being legitimate. Pieter-Steph du Toit’s try was disallowed because of a marginal forward pass from Willie le Roux and there were two more try-scoring chances wasted because of poor passing.
Japan were brave and adventurous in the first half, and dominated possession and field position. They were given every favourable decision from England’s Wayne Barnes in the first 40 minutes, and were extremely lucky to have 15 players on the field throughout the match.
There were three yellow-card incidents for reckless challenges in the air and some seriously high tackling close to the ruck. Barnes did everything he could to keep Japan in the contest against a vastly superior opponent.
The 5-3 halftime score was not a reflection of the respective strengths of the two teams.
The Boks were always in charge but the physical advantage never translated into early scoreboard pressure and Faf de Klerk’s kicking from the base was more awful than accurate. De Klerk, in a pre-mediated game plan, kicked 17 times and passed on just 36 occasions. Such inaccuracy of the line kick will be punished against Wales, England and New Zealand.
The Boks play Wales in the second semi-final this Sunday and Welsh coach Warren Gatland admitted his team were fortunate to be in the final after a one-point win against France, who were reduced to 14 players for the final 30 minutes.
Wales were not good, but their track record against the Boks in the last decade has been very good. They have won three of the last four encounters.
They will ask far more questions of the Boks than Japan’s willing, but limited players ever could.
The Springbok forwards, predictably, strangled the life out of Japan’s attack in the collisions and the Brave Blossoms’ elaborate ball-in-hand approach never threatened the Boks’ defensive line.
I expected a more polished performance from South Africa and while any win in the knockout round is to be celebrated, there was more brawn than brilliance in yesterday’s victory.
De Allende was my man of the match and the flyer Makazole Mapimpi was fast and furious in his finishing.
Le Roux was again a mixed bag, with too many mistakes and I would love to see one of Cobus Reinarch or Hershel Jantjies start at halfback against Wales.
It won’t happen but for the Springboks to beat Wales, De Klerk’s out-of-hand kicking game has to improve immeasurably, as does the Bok collective team effort.