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Rassie's Springboks power into semi-finals to end Brave Blossoms' World Cup

The hosts couldn’t match the power and patience of the South Africans in Tokyo.

Japan 3

South Africa 26

THE BRAVE BLOSSOMS have given us some of the biggest thrills of this World Cup, with their deafening supporters matching the quality of what Jamie Joseph’s daring, skillful team have delivered on the pitch.

But the hosts’ wonderful journey has ultimately ended at the quarter-final stage after they were ground down by an imposing Springboks team who probably should have had this game wrapped up long before they did.

makazole-mapimpi-scores-a-try Makazole Mapimpi scored two tries for the Boks. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Rassie Erasmus’ powerhouses scored an early try through wing Makazole Mapimpi but were wasteful in the remainder of the first half to leave them leading just 5-3 at the break, having had to withstand one of Japan’s inimitable flurries of attack when down to 14 players due to Tendai Mtawarira’s yellow card.

But the second half saw the Boks playing to their strengths, often by letting the Japanese have possession and battering them in the tackle.

The Boks’ maul played the starring role in their second try, while the scrum penalties were helpful in out-half Handré Pollard keeping the scoreboard ticking over before man of the match Faf de Klerk – who was also brilliant in defence – dotted down.

Erasmus’ side sealed their win with a sweeping length-of-the-pitch score that stemmed from a lineout steal, Mapimpi the man to finish as the Boks marched into a World Cup semi-final against Wales next weekend. 

The South Africans were a little unimaginative at times in attack but they appear to possess the kind of nous and brutality that is particularly useful in knock-out rugby. Jacques Nienaber’s defence is simply superb and it stifled and suffocated the Japanese here.

While England and New Zealand’s quarter-final wins were the more impressive, the Boks’ semi-final clash with Wales promises to be absorbing.

wayne-barnes-yellow-cards-tendai-mtawawira Tendai Mtawarira was sin-binned in the first half. Source: Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

The Boks’ imposing start had them ahead in just the fourth minute as Japan’s early ambition saw Yu Tamura throw a forward pass as he looked for hooker Shota Horie out wide deep in his own half.

From the powerful resulting scrum, the Boks sent Mapimpi directly at Tamura, who Japan attempt to hide in the shortside channel, and the left wing swatted aside a poor tackle attempt from the Brave Blossoms’ out-half to score.

Pollard missed the conversion and the Japanese settled into their wonderful attacking flow, which was peppered with clever cross-kicks that aimed to exploit the Boks’ aggressive linespeed on the edge of their defence.

Joseph’s back three were also dealing well with early aerial tests and their cause was aided by a yellow card to Mtawarira for a dangerous tip tackle on his opposite number, Keita Inagaki.

With a numerical advantage, Japan’s handling and width came to the fore, the superb Kazuki Himeno releasing Kenki Fukuoka up the left for a searing break that brought the volume in Tokyo Stadium to a new peak until Damian de Allende battled in to win a turnover penalty metres from the Boks tryline.

A shock dominant scrum penalty for Japan allowed Tamura to narrow the gap in the 20th minute just before ‘The Beast’ returned from the sin bin, but the Japanese couldn’t find try-scoring reward for their attacking flow.

ryoto-nakamura-clashes-with-michael-leitch Japan were eventually ground down by the Boks. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Boks should have scored again before the break but they were profligate and Japan got some favourable from referee Wayne Barnes.

A lineout penalty inside the Japenese was frustrating for Erasmus before Lukhanyo Am threw a one-handed offload to Mapimpi’s feet when accuracy would have yielded a try. Next, the Boks stole a lineout back down in Japan territory but were pinged for crossing, while le Roux knocked on a pass with space begging wide on the left soon after.

The half ended with more frustration for Japan as de Allende appeared not to be held in a tackle close to the tryline, fighting back to his feet and looking set to score only for Barnes to call him back for not releasing after being tackled. Barnes could technically justify it in the lawbook but the Boks were baffled.

The Boks were able to extend their lead off the tee in the opening minutes of the second half but again they were left bemused by a Barnes decision as Kotaro Matsushima appeared to dangerously tackle Mapimpi in the air.

Barnes ignored the apparent indiscretion, however, and went back for a prior penalty that Pollard slotted soon before adding a second three-pointer when the Boks pack fired up for a scrum penalty just after Pieter-Steph Du Toit correctly had a possible try denied for le Roux’s forward pass.

eben-etzebeth-tackles-kazuki-himeno South Africa brought real power in the tackle. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Heading towards the final quarter, Pollard missed with a long-range shot at goal following another scrum infringement from Japan but the Boks simply continued to grind the home team down. 

Pollard made no mistake off the tee in the 63rd minute after a high tackle from Japan lock James Moore on de Klerk as the always-lively scrum-half sniped from the base of a ruck. 

The Boks lead went out to 14-3 with Pollard’s third penalty success and they finished the Brave Blossoms off with a 66th-minute try, stampeding through the Japanese pack with a dominant maul before sub hooker Malcolm Marx broke off and fed an offload to de Klerk to cross, with Pollard converting.

With Erasmus having sprung all six forwards included on his bench, the Boks continued to pile over the top, du Toit stealing a lineout in their 22 to initiate a length-of-the-pitch score sealed by Mapimpi. 

Japan scorers:

PenaltiesYu Tamura [1 from 1]

South Africa scorers:

TriesMakazole Mapimpi [2], Faf de Klerk

ConversionsHandré Pollard [1 from 3]

Penalties: Handré Pollard [3 from 4]

JAPAN: Ryohei Yamanaka (Lomano Lemeki ’60); Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Kenki Fukuoka; Yu Tamura (Rikiya Matsuda ’47), Yutaka Nagare (Fumiaki Tanaka ’72); Keita Inagaki (Isileli Nakajima ’47), Shota Horie (Atsushi Sakate ’72), Jiwon Koo (Asaeli Ai Valu ’64); Luke Thompson (Wimpie van der Walt ’54), James Moore; Michael Leitch (captain), Pieter Labuschagne (HIA – Amanaki Lelei Mafi ’12 to ’21), Kazuki Himeno (Amanaki Lelei Mafi ’52).

SOUTH AFRICA: Willie Le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe (Frans Steyn ’72), Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk (Herschel Jantjies ’74); Tendai Mtawarira (yellow card ’10) (Steven Kitshoff ’54), Mbongeni Mbonambi (Malcolm Marx ’37), Frans Malherbe (Vincent Koch ’54); Eben Etzebeth (RG Snyman ’63), Lood de Jager (Franco Mostert ’67); Siya Kolisi (captain) (Steven Kitshoff ’12 to ’21), Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Duane Vermeulen (Francois Louw ’67).

Attendance: 48,831.

Referee: Wayne Barnes [England].  

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo Stadium

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