It was 75 days of ups and downs, heat, humidity, sunshine and rain, trials and tribulations, seven wins and one defeat, 303 points, 39 tries and one trophy, standing 38cms tall and weighing 4.5kg.
In this, the third part of our RWC recap, we take a look at what happened in the second half of the Boks' pool matches and how they qualified for the quarter-finals. To read the first three installments of this series, follow these links: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4.
TAMING THE WELSH DRAGON
Wales stood firm in the Springboks’ way as they aimed to reach the Rugby World Cup final for the first time in 12 years in what was a replay of one of the 2015 quarter-finals.
While their 20-19 victory over France was seen by many pundits as lucky, Rassie Erasmus knew differently – in his short stint since returning to the Boks in 2018, he tasted defeat against the Welsh twice.
The Boks’ “kicking game plan” came in for some stick, with Faf de Klerk bearing the brunt of the criticism. He was, however, very honest about their approach: “We do kick a lot, but we try and read the game and we try and get momentum. So, if you look at this weekend, we did kick a lot in the air and Japan really managed to contain our aerial battle.
“But if you look further after that we managed to get a very positive outcome from so much territorial gain on them with our defence. When we kicked, they may have gained possession but very rarely managed to do anything with it,” said De Klerk.
There was a tinge of bad news at the team announcement when Erasmus revealed that Kolbe’s ankle injury would prevent him from facing Wales. As a result, Sbu Nkosi was drafted into the starting team as the Boks stepped up their preparations for the semi-final.
Nkosi’s injury-enforced inclusion was the only change to the 23 that had faced Italy and Japan and Erasmus said: “We’ve been fortunate to have been able to be pretty consistent in selection and we’ve built some nice momentum. But the challenge just got a lot tougher on Sunday.
“Wales are the reigning Six Nations champions – as well as Grand Slam winners – and apart from three defeats in their Rugby World Cup warm-ups have put together a really good sequence of results. But we’ve also found some rhythm and we’ll be ready for the challenge.”
Siya Kolisi thanked the many South Africans who had travelled to the Far East for the World Cup and said the Boks were grateful for the support they had received in Japan, and also from back home.
“We’re proud of our people back home and the people who came last week to support us. There was a big group that one of our team sponsors brought out to support us and that was huge for us to see,” said Kolisi.
With England delivering a world-class performance as they knocked the All Blacks out of contention with a 19-7 victory in the first semi-final, all eyes were on Wales making the final an all-Northern Hemisphere affair.
The match delivered – it was a tactical arm-wrestle from the first minute, with the two kickers – Handré Pollard and Dan Biggar – exchanging penalty goals until the 57th minute, when a moment of magic by Damian De Allende saw the 9-9 deadlock broken with a fine individual try.
But the Welsh were not done yet. After relentlessly pounding at the Bok try-line for more than 20 phases – but not finding a way through – they were awarded a penalty but opted for a scrum. Eight minutes after the Boks’ try, Josh Adams went over untouched in the left corner and Leigh Halfpenny evened up the scores again with a pin-point conversion. All square, 14 minutes to go.
The Boks still had some fuel left in the tank. The men in green and gold set a strong lineout drive just inside the Welsh half, which was then illegally collapsed. With the clock ticking down and less than five minutes to go, Pollard made no mistake from the tee to put the Boks ahead by three.
Ironically, the final move of the game – a massive scrum by the Boks – set the tone for what was to come as they beat Wales by 19-16 for the first time in four years to progress to their first RWC final in 12 years.
The Springboks missed just 10 tackles for an amazing 94% defensive success rate in their 19-16 Rugby World Cup semi-final victory over Wales in Yokohama on Sunday.
Erasmus heaped praise on his players for carrying South Africa to a third RWC final after their very tense semi-final: “We have always had the potential to be a force in world rugby and historically we have been, but we have been through some tough times in recent seasons.”
Could the Boks turn the tide with one last big performance on the biggest stage of them all?