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Erasmus is happy for Boks to just grind it out

South Africa 19 Wales 16

Job done: Handre Pollard, who struck the winning penalty, celebrates at the final whistle
Job done: Handre Pollard, who struck the winning penalty, celebrates at the final whistle
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Twenty-five hours can feel a long time in rugby. One day and 60 minutes prior, the Yokohama Stadium played host to one of the World Cup's great semi-finals as England triumphed over New Zealand. To put it favourably, South Africa and Wales was a game that took time to kick into gear.

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To make up for it, the sides kicked just about everything else.

Semi-finals aren't about entertaining neutrals, nor winning prizes for aesthetics, but the contrast between the Springboks' 19-16 win and the way in which England dismantled the back-to-back world champions a day before was stark.

Admittedly without their breathtaking spark plug Cheslin Kolbe, Rassie Erasmus' side maintained the style in which they had seen off Japan in the second half of their quarter-final last week, strangling the life from the game and playing as if there was little trust in those operating outside their half-backs.

A full 40 times they put boot to ball, the only surprising aspect of the tally that Wales actually beat it by one.

Wales flanker Justin Tipuric admitted: "It was one of those weird games I guess, probably the complete opposite of last night's game which had so much running rugby. They came into the match not having lost a line-out, with the best driving maul in the tournament.

"They're big men, that's their strength. When you look at their game plan, why would you not when you've got those big men and that physical presence? You have to play to your strength."

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A Springbok side playing to its traditional strengths can still be a sight to behold. This, however, was not. Their try through Damian de Allende, arguably their most impressive player at this tournament, came after a brief spell of holding onto the ball but it sparked no change in approach. Indeed, little else but Francois Louw's late turnover will really stick in the memory of those of a neutral persuasion. They made just two offloads and the same number of linebreaks.

Handre Pollard's 76th-minute penalty snatched victory in the gripping semi-final. Pollard kicked a total of 14 points.

Their opponents replied through wing Josh Adams' Wales record-equalling sixth try in one World Cup, three Dan Biggar penalties and a Leigh Halfpenny conversion.

Former Munster man Erasmus, who only took over head coaching responsibility for the side in 2018 and has done brilliantly to redress an alarming decline, isn't convinced that a Webb Ellis is won by playing attractive rugby.

"I'm not 100% sure if a World Cup final is going to be won by a very expansive game plan with wonderful tries," he said. "It might be, I might be wrong, but I think we will go and grind it out.

"We're a team that's been together for (only) 24 or 25 Test matches. When we have personnel changes and we play teams with different styles, we have to adapt. If we play a team like New Zealand with a fast running game, we're used to that. Wales have a long kicking game and it's difficult for us to run from our 22.

"There are definitely some areas in our game which must improve but we've given ourselves a chance. We've played England four times in the last 18 months and it's 2-2, so we're accustomed with the way they play.

"They're obviously much better than the last time we played them, you could see that last night with the way they dismantled New Zealand. We think we're in with a chance."

If it's an arduous watch, the South African players seem to care little and, in a World Cup final having been ranked as low as seventh only last summer, why should they?

Faf de Klerk has shipped criticism for a perceived aversion to possession even before this game but, with the biggest match of his life to look forward to this weekend, was naturally unconcerned afterwards.

"I'm pretty excited when I get a good kick up in the air and our wings start chasing because I know it's a 50-50. We've bought into what we want to do every week and I think that's part of our success - everyone is on the same page with that," he said.

"When you kick well and compete well, the odds fall on our side. I think we got some good purchase from that, but once we get the ball back we have to attack a bit better.

"I think we can capitalise a bit more on our opportunities, especially from turnovers and when we get an advantage, so we'll have to look at that for the coming week."

And that, essentially, is the key. The Springboks are still here, still preparing, still with one more game to play, still in with their shot at what passes for rugby immortality.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Wales: L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, H Parkes, J Adams; D Biggar, G Davies; W Jones, K Owens, T Francis; J Ball, AW Jones (capt); A Wainwright, J Tipuric, R Moriarty.

Replacements: D Lewis(for Francis 36), O Watkin (for North, 40), T Williams for (G Davies, 48), R Carre (for W Jones, 55), R Patchell (for Biggar, 58), A Beard (for Ball, 60), A Shingler (for Wainwright, 69), E Dee (for Owens, 73),

South Africa: W Le Roux; S Nkosi, L Am, D de Allende, M Mapimpi; H Pollard, F de Klerk; T Mtawarira, B Mbonambi, F Malherbe, E Etzebeth, L de Jager, S Kolisi (capt), P S du-Toit, D Vermeulen.

Replacements: M Marx (for Mbonambi,48) S Kitshoff (for Mtawarira, 48), V Koch (for Malherbe 48), RG Snyman (for Etzebeth, 53), F Mostert (for de Jager, 58), F Louw (for Kolisi, 69) F Steyn (for Le Roux, 69). Not used: H Jantjies.

Referee: J Garces (Fra).

 

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