by Tom Young
WALES missed the opportunity to join England in next week’s World Cup final as they fell to a narrow 19-16 defeat to South Africa.
In an enthralling contest in Yokohama, Handre Pollard kicked 14 of South Africa’s 19 points. His penalty kick five minutes from time proved the difference as the Springboks booked their place in next Sunday’s final.
They face England in a repeat of the 2007 showpiece event.
It was clear from the outset what the South African game plan was going to be as they kicked from their first eight possessions – a stark contrast to the free flowing rugby seen in yesterday’s semi-final – and in a half of few chances, the Springboks took the lead after 15 minutes through the boot of Pollard.
The lead only lasted a matter of minutes however, South Africa penalised for offside and Dan Biggar made no mistake from the tee to draw the scores level.
The kicking game continued from both sides – with a combined 40 kicks from hand in the first 40 minutes – and the points also continued to come courtesy of the boot as a second successful penalty kick from Pollard regained the lead for the Boks.
Pollard made it three from three with five minutes to go until half time to further stretch the South African lead, however it was the Welsh who were looking more threatening with ball in hand, with George North bursting through the line to move the Welsh into the South Africa 22 as half time approached.
With an attacking advantage for offside, Biggar played a testing kick to the corner in search of North, however the Welsh 14 pulled up with a hamstring injury and was replaced at the break.
With no advantage the penalty was brought back and Biggar kicked his second of the night to bring Wales within three at half time.
Wales started the second half on the front foot and when Faf Du Klerk spilt a routine catch and then gave a penalty away shortly after, it looked as though the Welsh momentum was building. Biggar levelled the scoreline from the resulting penalty, maintaining his 100% success rate with the boot.
FT: Wales 16-19 South Africa
The dream ends for Wales in the semi-final once again. It'll be a repeat of the 2007 final with England on 2 November for the @Springboks.
— BBC Rugby Union (@bbcrugbyunion) October 27, 2019
However, it was South Africa who were the first to get over the line, somewhat against the run of play.
Pollard again at the heart of it with a break into Welsh territory. South Africa worked the ball from right to left, eventually finding centre Damian De Allende, who despite the best efforts of the Welsh defence, forced his way over. The successful conversion made it a seven-point game.
Warren Gatland opted to send on the more attacking minded Rhys Patchell in place of Biggar as Wales looked to find a way back into the contest.
Another penalty conceded by Du Klerk saw Wales handed their best attacking position of the game. In testing conditions the Welsh side retained their composure and after 21 phases in front of the South African line they were awarded yet another penalty.
Whilst the easy option would’ve been to take the three points, Wales opted for an attacking scrum and it paid dividends as Tomos Williams threw the pass to Johnathan Davis who found Josh Adams who dived over in the corner to bring Wales within two points.
With Biggar off the pitch, Leigh Halfpenny took over goal kicking duties and he showed his experience to nail the goalline conversion to make the score Wales 16-16 South Africa.
The momentum was well and truly with the Welsh side and with the clock ticking down, Patchell attempted a drop goal from range, however his effort fell short.
A South African penalty for not releasing relieved the pressure on the Boks and a further penalty allowed Pollard the chance to write his name in the history books.
With the world watching and South African hopes on his shoulders he slotted the conversion between the posts to send South Africa to next weekend’s final.