South Africa marched into the third Rugby World Cup following an ugly 19-16 victory over Wales in Yokohama on Sunday.
In the end, a penalty conversion was all that separated the two sides with the Springboks setting up a meeting with England next weekend in a repeat of the 2007 final.
The two-time World Cup champion Boks will go into the final as the underdogs after the English brought the All Blacks’ incredible reign to an end with a 19-7 win in their semi-final the day before.
The Springboks are reluctant to play with the ball, but the moment they played with more direct intent, it ended in the side’s only try.
While the in-form Damian de Allende scored the five-pointer through sheer doggedness, Handre Pollard provided much of the spark.
But Pollard’s performance will be better remembered for his pin-point accurate goal kicking contributing 14 of South Africa’s 19 points with his boot.
Pollard effectively won the battle of the boot in a match dominated by an aerial confrontation between the two sides.
The Bok pivot showed nerves of steel to slot the winning kick in the 75th minute from a tricky angle when the teams were evenly poised on 16-all.
For finishing’s sake
South Africa has made life difficult for themselves in both the quarterfinal against Japan and the semi-final against Wales, where they failed to convert opportunities into points.
Unforced errors rob the team of valuable momentum with under-fire players like Willie le Roux suffering from acute butterfingers. Rassie Erasmus and his merry men will have to remedy this ahead of next week’s final where a handling error could make the difference between gold and second place.
The Boks continue to employ a kick-heavy game plan, and while the tactic has left fans frustrated, it has earned them a shot at the Webb Ellis Cup.
The semi-final was effectively a ping-pong match with Wales also putting the ball to boot more often than not. South Africa demonstrated greater continuity in their game plan in the build-up to the World Cup where they have shown some ingenuity on the attack.
The final will be a clash of styles where England is more attack-oriented compared to the Boks’ kick-and-choke tactics. South Africa will, however, have to be more accurate when executing their kicking game. They can ill-afford aimless kicks that will provide England counter-attacking opportunities.
Bok brick wall
Wales ran into a brick wall that is South Africa’s pack, nay two-pack of forwards. If Bok rugby is ugly, the pack is the face of the team with Duane Vermeulen, the poster child. The man was a menace with the ball in hand and a bully on defence.
Boasting two world-class packs, the Boks can effectively field both on either side of the halves, which is a scary prospect for any team that will face them.
They again dominated the set pieces, and although they lost their first line out of the World Cup, it did nothing to diminish the pack’s reputation.
South Africa will rely heavily on the pack in the final. Now it is just for the backline to get in on the game.