Rugby World Cup 2019
Wales 16-19 South Africa
South Africa finally edged their way past injury-hit Wales in a dramatic game to set-up a Rugby World Cup final against England in Yokohama on Saturday.
Fly-half Handre Pollard kicked the winning penalty with four minutes left to complete a perfect 14-point haul with the boot.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland got the finale to his 12-year reign he dreamed about against his native New Zealand, but it will be in the bronze final at Tokyo Stadium on Friday and not the final.
Winger Josh Adams had given Wales hope with his sixth try of the tournament – taking him top of the charts – soon after centre Damian De Allende had scored the Springboks only try. Leigh Halfpenny’s excellent conversion made the score 16-16 with 14 minutes to play.
But Pollard’s late penalty ensured it will be South Africa who will have a chance of lifting the trophy for the third time though Eddie Jones – watching from the stands at Yokohama Stadium – will surely fancy England’s chances even more if they come close to repeating the display that dismantled New Zealand in the first semi-final.
Wales’s hopes of reaching the final for the first time took a blow when they lost two players in the five minutes before half-time as the injury jinx which has suddenly struck continued to take a toll on the squad.
First, prop Tomas Francis was forced off after suffering an arm injury, then right-wing George North – chasing a box-kick from Biggar with Wales having been awarded a penalty for an off-the ball hit on Aaron Wainwright – suddenly clutched his right hamstring. The British and Irish Lions speedster slumped to the ground. He tried to carry on after treatment but was forced to limp off.
North has admitted beforehand his form had been mixed so far, but before he went off he had been showing signs of his old pace and power, having made more metres than any Welsh player until his hamstring went.
Full-back Liam Williams, using crutches and wearing a protective boot, and back-row forward Josh Navidi were sitting on the Wales bench during the warm-up.
Wales must have wondered what might have been had the duo not seen their tournament ended by ankle and hamstring injuries respectively in the past week, even before the first-half injury blow.
At least Biggar landed his second penalty to reduce Welsh arrears at the interval to just three points with Pollard having rediscovered his kicking boots to convert three penalties for the Springboks.
The first half had been the kicking fest everyone had predicted beforehand, with scrum-half Faf de Klerk’s box-kicks pegging back Wales whenever they tried to spread the ball wide and expose the South Africa wingers.
Prince Charles had observed of the South African pack, “They’re bloody big buggers” – and the Welsh forwards were finding out he was right, particularly at the scrum, which was creaking. When they fell foul of referee Jerome Garces, Pollard was there to punish them.
The game lacked the intensity and flair shown by England the night before and Jones will surely have a trick or two up his sleve in the final.
When de Klerk spilled an easy catch into touch, Wales won a penalty from the resulting lineout which Biggar slotted over from distance to level the scores on 45 minutes.
Just before the hour mark South Africa finally created some space and centre de Allende used his power to force his way over from just inside the 22, with Biggar and replacement Tomos Williams hanging off him.
To their credit, Wales roared back and were rewarded after going through 23 phases pushing at the line then opting for a scrum, having forced a penalty.
Ross Moriarty peeled off and Williams and Jonathan Davies combined to put Adams over in the corner. His six tries have equalled the Wales Rugby World Cup record set by Shane Williams in 2007. Halfpenny brilliantly converted from the touchline and Wales were level again.
But Pollard coolly slotted the winning penalty as South Africa claimed a late win to break Welsh hearts, just as they had done in the quarter-final in 2015.