Leigh Halfpenny disabused any notion of solidarity with Willie le Roux when he caught his opposite number in mid-air after half an hour of Sunday's attritional Rugby World Cup semi-final in Yokohama.

Wales and South Africa's fullbacks had an abundance of work to get through in swirling conditions as the opening 40 minutes produced 40 kicks from hand.

After the thundering intensity and brilliance of England's Saturday dethroning of New Zealand, this felt like a different sport at times. Opposition 22s were not usually places to set up camp but visit fleetingly.

This clash of two brutally physical packs meant such an encounter was always on the cards, placing huge onus on a pair of fly-halves whose route to a defining match has been nowhere near as smooth as they would have hoped four years ago.

When South Africa beat Wales 23-19 in the 2015 quarter-final at Twickenham in an eminently more watchable affair, a 21-year-old Handre Pollard landed five penalties and a drop goal.

A career on the line

Already named IRB Junior Player of the Year for 2014, Pollard's cool-headedness and nerveless accuracy had him marked out for greatness. However, a shoulder injury sustained playing club rugby in Japan set off a career-threatening chain of events.

He decided to try to nurse the problem through the 2016 Super Rugby season with the Bulls, but that plan was shelved after he suffered a snapped anterior cruciate ligament during training.

Pragmatically, Pollard elected to have surgery to fix his shoulder while incapacitated, only to contract an infection in hospital.

"It got to the point where the doctors raised the subject of amputating my arm, although it wasn't an immediate option," he told The Guardian. "I spent six weeks in hospital pumped full of antibiotics about seven hours a day."

The treatment worked and an absence from the international stage of almost two years ended against New Zealand in North Shore. Pollard was a replacement in a 57-0 mauling at the hands of the All Blacks, yet he was playing with the perspective that things could have been so much worse.

It helps to know a World Cup semi-final is at once much more than a game of rugby but still only a game of rugby. South Africa anticipated a tight contest and bet on Pollard's goal-kicking. He was perfect in a game where they were never behind.

A career forever questioned

The responsibility of leading the catch-up operation fell to Dan Biggar, who kicked 14 points to Pollard's 18 in that Twickenham meeting.

Acclaim has rarely arrived so easily for Biggar as it does for his counterpart, though. His 11-year international career has been a fight for approval against celebrated compatriots, while measuring up uncomfortably to the aesthetic demands of a Welsh 10.

From competing against James Hook and Rhys Priestland during his early years to recent jousts with Gareth Anscombe, Biggar has been a loyal servant to his country, always striving to belong.

When an injury to Halfpenny four years ago thrust kicking duties upon him, many doubted Biggar's chops for the task. His 23 points sent England on the way to heartbreak at their own party.

Anscombe being ruled out of this competition persuaded Wales great JJ Williams to declare his country could not win a World Cup with Biggar at fly-half.

"I've had it my whole career,” Biggar told WalesOnline. "There could be another ex-player calling for someone from Penclawdd to play number 10 next week! It's one of those things."

There was similar defiance in each swipe of the boot that took Wales from 3-0, 6-3 and 9-3 behind to parity early in the second period.

Glory and despair

Unfortunately for Biggar, the Springboks had decided to target him at the gain line and he missed Damian de Allende as the South Africa skipper burst through for a game-breaking try.

It was his last involvement, as Rhys Patchell came on in his place – the words of Williams and others perhaps unfairly pounding in Biggar's ears.

Josh Adams went over to level matters once again after a monumental Wales effort by the South Africa line, but the glory would be Pollard's.

Wales brought a maul to ground right in front of referee Jerome Garces and, after a frivolous drop goal attempt, Pollard took it back to the tee.

Ice cold as usual, he bisected the posts with a certain inevitability. Of course, his presence on such a stage was anything but inevitable when faced with the consuming darkness of that hospital bed.

South Africa battled into the final of the Rugby World Cup as Handre Pollard's pinpoint kicking earned a 19-16 victory over Wales in a semi-final of attrition in Yokohama.

With England coach Eddie Jones watching on from the stands following his side's dominant display against New Zealand, Pollard starred to take the Springboks into their first World Cup final since 2007.

Following an exchange of penalties between Pollard and the equally composed Dan Biggar, a try from Damian de Allende put South Africa in the lead before the hour.

The tournament's leading try-scorer Josh Adams powered over to pull Wales level soon after but, despite a spell of pressure, Warren Gatland's side could not craft another opening.

It was Pollard who settled it, punting a long-range penalty through the uprights after a foul at the maul to send South Africa through to their third World Cup final, with England waiting for a rematch of their showdown 12 years ago.

Ben Spencer will join the England squad as emergency cover for Willi Heinz ahead of the Rugby World Cup final.

World Cup finalists England announced on Sunday that Saracens scrum-half Spencer is on his way to Japan amid concerns over Heinz.

Heinz – who will undergo a scan – injured his hamstring in Saturday's memorable semi-final win over two-time defending champions New Zealand.

A three-time international, Spencer missed out on a spot in Eddie Jones' 31-man squad for the World Cup, though he did take part in one of England's training camps.

England will face either Wales or South Africa in the final in Yokohama on November 2.

Leinster made it four wins from four in Pro14 as they consigned Zebre to a fourth straight defeat, but they had to settle for a 3-0 margin of victory on Saturday.

Top defeated bottom in Conference A, but there was surprisingly little between the two sides as Zebre earned a losing bonus point in testing conditions in Parma.

The Italian side were much improved from their previous losses, conceding at least 50 points in each of them, yet had no answer to Ross Byrne's 20th-minute penalty.

Leinster are now the only team with a 100 per cent record, after Scarlets' winning start was ended in comprehensive fashion by Edinburgh.

Duhan van der Merwe scored a hat-trick of tries and Mike Willemse grabbed another two as the Scottish outfit crushed Scarlets 46-7.

Connacht sit top of Conference B after edging out Cheetahs 24-22 in a dramatic finish.

Cheetahs centre Dries Swanepoel was sent off with 10 minutes remaining and his side 22-14 up, watching on as Tom Farrell subsequently crossed twice to steal victory.

Zebre are not alone with four defeats from four, as Southern Kings were beaten again, going down 36-30 to Benetton - the victors breaking their own duck.

In the only other match of the day, Dragons eased past Glasgow Warriors, who did not get on the scoresheet until the final minute of an 18-5 reverse.

Aaron Smith says New Zealand's Rugby World Cup exit to England left him "highly embarrassed" and insisted the All Blacks could not be accused of not caring.

Two-time defending champions New Zealand saw their unbeaten run at World Cups that stretched back to 2007 ended in convincing fashion by England.

Eddie Jones' ran out 19-7 winners in the semi-finals to consign the All Blacks to the bronze-medal match.

Scrum-half Smith was adamant the reverse was not for a lack of heart, though, as he compared the New Zealand dressing room to a funeral.

"I'm truly gutted and highly embarrassed," Smith said. "You've got family, friends texting you, but you know they're pretty gutted.

"If New Zealand [the country] thinks that we're not gutted, you've just got to go see that changing room. It was like a funeral.

"We are putting on brave faces so it's going to be a long summer. It's over and we trained our guts out. We trained hard for this and prepared well.

"But, in the end, sport happens and we got beat."

New Zealand winger Sevu Reece paid tribute to England, who can look forward to next Saturday's final.

"They were the better team in the end," Reece said. "They came out really strong at the start and they managed to hold onto that for the whole 80 [minutes].

"We expected them to come out with the performance they did but credit to England for a great performance."

Maro Itoje insists the England camp was calm leading into the stunning Rugby World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand - because Eddie Jones' men are always confident.

England dominated the All Blacks for an outstanding 19-7 victory on Saturday, handing the two-time defending champions their first World Cup defeat since 2007.

Itoje and his team-mates are now heading to the final, with England reaching the trophy match for the first time in 12 years.

The downing of New Zealand was widely considered an upset, yet in-form lock Itoje suggested England always fancied their chances, illustrating a self-belief that will serve them well heading into the final.

"We've always had belief within our squad," Itoje said. "We have the players, we have some brilliant characters in our squad, our coaches, they've done a phenomenal job so far.

"So belief has never been a problem for us.

"It was quite calm [before New Zealand], to be honest. I don't know how it was perceived from the outside.

"But we always believed that we are capable of something like we demonstrated on the pitch. It doesn't come as a big shock for us."

Itoje assessed the victory as "pretty cool" and is now relishing the prospect of a week-long build-up to the game of his life.

"Yeah, it's pretty cool. I'm very, very happy with the performance from the team," he said.

"There's obviously some things we could have done better, but we did a good job in staying engaged.

"We're really excited. These are the weeks that you want to be a part of as a player. And I'm very honoured and humbled to be a part of what will be a great week."

Last season's Premiership semi-finalists Northampton Saints and Gloucester continued strong starts to the new campaign with wins on Saturday.

Northampton claimed an impressive victory over champions Saracens last time out but had to wait until the second half against Worcester Warriors this week to move clear and claim a 35-16 bonus-point success.

Saints were 9-6 down at half-time and went over five times in the second period to triumph, with George Furbank crossing twice.

At Gloucester, on the day England beat the All Blacks to reach the Rugby World Cup final, Joe Simpson, a one-cap Red Rose international, and Tom Marshall, a New Zealander, were each at the double for the hosts.

The duo each crossed in both halves as Gloucester cruised to a 25-9 victory over Wasps, who had Malakai Fekitoa sent to the sin bin early in the second period.

Simpson was facing former club Wasps for the first time since his move at the start of this season.

Gloucester and Northampton sit level on nine points at the top of the Premiership as the only undefeated sides after two games.

London Irish, who won at Wasps on their return to the top flight last week, were given a reality check in going down 41-7 at home to Sale Sharks.

There were six tries for visitors Sale, as Akker van der Merwe, Denny Solomona, Marland Yarde, Josh Beaumont, Robert du Preez and Rohan Janse van Rensburg making hay.

Bristol Bears also failed to follow up an opening victory, with Harlequins getting their first win of the campaign 22-17.

England centre Joe Marchant crossed for Quins' only try, as Marcus Smith crucially kicked 17 points.

Siya Kolisi thinks a defeat to New Zealand has worked in South Africa's favour in their pursuit of Rugby World Cup glory in Japan.

The Springboks were beaten by the All Blacks in their first game of the tournament but have responded by winning four in a row to reach the semi-finals.

South Africa will face Wales in Yokohama on Sunday for the right to play England - conquerors of New Zealand - in the final next Saturday.

Captain Kolisi says a 23-13 loss to the two-time defending champions five weeks ago has made South Africa accustomed to playing in must-win games.

"We lost the first game so we have been under pressure since then," said the flanker.

"We have been playing knockout rugby from the beginning but being here for so long has helped us.

"We've got used to the environment, we've adapted quickly and got to know what works for you and what doesn't work for you while you're here. And we have been improving as a team.

"I think our team spirit and understanding of one another as a team and knowing what makes each other tick has been really huge for us."

Kolisi knows what to expect from Wales but says South Africa are confident they can come through the second semi-final if they play to their strengths.

"We know we're facing a tough opposition but all we can do is focus on what we do best and what got us here," said Kolisi.

"We're very excited as a team. We've worked hard this week. We have prepped as much as we can and given them the respect they deserve. Bu the most important thing is that we're effective at what we do – that's our focus."

 

Steve Hansen accepted New Zealand were beaten by a better team in their Rugby World Cup semi-final loss to England, but the All Blacks coach reacted angrily to the attitude of his side being called into question.

Hansen was full of praise for England, who reached the final with a richly deserved 19-7 triumph in Yokohama that ended New Zealand's hopes of winning a third successive World Cup.

However, the departing All Blacks chief took exception to a follow-up question after revealing he had urged his players to "get hungry and desperate before it was too late" with New Zealand trailing 10-0 at half-time.

That comment prompted a reporter to ask skipper Kieran Read whether the team had "turned up with the right attitude".

After Read responded, a stern-faced Hansen said: "I'd just like to clear that up because I think it's quite a disrespectful question, to suggest the All Blacks turned up not being hungry. They're desperate to win the game.

"Because I've asked them at half-time to get hungrier, it doesn't mean to say they didn't turn up to be hungry. There's a big difference and if you want to spend some time outside I'll give you a rugby education on that one.

"To turn up and say an All Black team comes to a semi-final of the Rugby World Cup, with the amount of ability and history it's had behind it, to say it's not hungry, that's a pretty average question, I reckon."

Read said: "You've seen how hard we worked out there. Definitely the boys really wanted it. The detail of the match probably didn't go our way, but our work rate and how much we really wanted it was there.

"The guys absolutely turned up with as much as we could bring and we fell short. It's a hard thing to sit here and try and tell you exactly why it is, but we were short today, we're hurting because of it and we'll move on."

England's magnificent display drew plaudits from Hansen but the veteran coach also talked up his own players.

"We've got no regrets, I'm very proud of the All Blacks," Hansen added. "I think this tournament they've played particularly well and tonight we just got beaten by the better side. Sometimes you might find that sport's not fair, but tonight it was. We got beaten by the better side, so congratulations to them.

"We played as well as we possibly could, we just got beaten by a better team and we have to take that on the chin.

"If you don't achieve what you want to do, you have to put your big boy pants on and stand up and be counted. It doesn't stop you from hurting, it just means you've just got to accept what's been chucked at you. Sometimes sport does that to you.

"They're a good team, so there's no shame in getting beaten by them. There's a lot of hurt in it and that adversity will feed a lot more All Black teams in the future so we'll find one positive out of it."

Eddie Jones said England will have to take their game to another level in the Rugby World Cup final after dethroning "god of rugby" New Zealand.

England ended a seven-year wait for a victory over the All Blacks and beat them for the first time in a World Cup match with a dominant performance in Yokohama on Saturday.

Manu Tuilagi's try inside two minutes set the tone and George Ford kicked 12 points as England set up a showdown with South Africa or Wales at the same venue next Saturday with a 19-7 triumph.

Sam Underhill and Ben Youngs had scores disallowed in a relentless display from the Red Rose, who denied New Zealand an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup triumph and replaced them at the top of the rankings.

England head coach Jones says his side must raise their standards even higher if they are to get their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup next weekend. 

"New Zealand are the god of rugby, so we had to take it to them. We wanted to show that we could take the game to them, try to put them on the back foot as much as we could," said the Australian.

Asked where the performance ranked among England's best of all time, he said: "It gives us another week. We are here for another week so we're looking forward to it. We're not historians, so we don't know.

"But we know that we can play better next week and we're going to have to play better, whoever we play against.

"We are looking forward to Wales and South Africa play a 3-3 draw, so they have to play extra time and it's still 3-3 and they have to play more extra time. That's the prediction."

Jones is backing England to win a second World Cup four years after they suffered the humiliation of failing to progress from their pool on home soil.

"We've got the right focus. I can remember the meeting at Pennyhill Park, our first meeting together. We wanted to be the best team in the world and we're not the best team in the world," he said.

"We've an opportunity to play in a game where we can prove we are and that's the only thing we are concerned with."

If you are going to face down an All Black Haka in a V formation prior to a Rugby World Cup semi-final, with your captain wearing a confident grin, you had better deliver a performance to back up your actions.

It is safe to say England did just that in Yokohama on Saturday.

Eddie Jones' men will return to the same venue for the World Cup final in seven days after producing one of their finest displays to beat the mighty New Zealand 19-7.

Their job is not yet done, but this contest will live long in the memory.

With the exception of one horrendous line-out throw from Jamie George, which gifted Ardie Savea a second-half try, England barely put a foot wrong against the two-time defending world champions, who had not lost in 18 World Cup matches dating back to a 2007 quarter-final against France.

And you can forget Jones' pre-match comments suggesting his side were under no pressure. That is simply not possible in games of this magnitude.

England never play without expectation in any case and, while New Zealand were clearly the favourites, Jones will have known his players had to come up with a display befitting of such a huge occasion. It is to their immense credit that they served up just about the most complete 80 minutes imaginable.

The build-up to the game had been intense and it certainly felt like something special was in prospect as England faced down their opponents' Haka, Owen Farrell smiling as they did so.

"We wanted to not just stand there and let them come at us," said Farrell in a post-match news conference. "We wanted to keep a respectful distance and be respectful to that but we didn't want to just stand in a flat line letting them come at us."

In the only previous knockout clash between these sides at a World Cup, back in 1995, Jonah Lomu had laid waste to the men in white, scoring four tries in the most iconic individual display in the tournament's history.

Yet on this occasion, it was England's pace and power that proved decisive, the likes of Maro Itoje, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry particularly outstanding as Jones' men dominated at the breakdown for a second match in succession.

In England's quarter-final trouncing of Australia, Curry and Underhill comprehensively outplayed the celebrated back-row pairing of David Pocock and Michael Hooper.

Player of the Match Itoje and Courtney Lawes were able to win a similarly key battle on Saturday as they got the better of fellow locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock, a man who had never lost a World Cup game until now.

England's forwards were not the only heroes, though. George Ford - seemingly the calmest man on the field - excelled at fly-half having been restored to the starting line-up and successfully took over kicking duties after a first-half knock for Farrell, while Anthony Watson shone on the right wing.

"We just couldn't get into the game," said All Blacks skipper Kieran Read. Not only were New Zealand beaten, they could have absolutely no complaints about the result.

Earlier this week, Jones outlined how special it would be to beat Steve Hansen's men, stating: "When you've been involved in rugby the country you want to knock off is New Zealand, because they've been the best. And the reason you're involved in this game is you want to be the best."

One more win and England can claim to be just that. Either way, this was a performance that will go down in history as one of their very best.

A dejected Kieran Read said New Zealand could have no complaints after their Rugby World Cup dominance ended with a 19-7 semi-final defeat to England.

England dethroned the All Blacks and replaced them at the top of the rankings with a dominant performance at Yokohama on Saturday, setting up a final against South Africa or Wales.

An early try from Manu Tuilagi, converted by Owen Farrell, and four George Ford penalties ended New Zealand's quest to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for an unprecedented third time in a row.

The defending champions had to wait until 17 minutes into the second half for a gift to Ardie Savea to get on the scoreboard, as they suffered a first World Cup defeat for 12 years.

Sam Underhill and Ben Youngs had tries ruled out in a relentless showing from Eddie Jones' side and captain Read - who will end his Test career with a third-place play-off on Friday - knows New Zealand were not good enough.

"It's pretty hard to put into words what it means. You've got to give England the credit, they came out and started really well and we just couldn't get into the game," said the back-rower.

"We'll look at the game and there'll be so many what ifs and things we could have done a lot better. At a stage like this you can't afford that and it cost us."

Farrell felt a blistering start was key after England had faced down the Haka by forming a V.

"It's a big game. A World Cup semi-final against the All Blacks, this is as big of a game as you can get at this stage, we thought like we'd prepared for the game well and it was all about starting the game well," said the England skipper.

"All these big games, teams get physical, they go at each other from the off. We knew that was going to come our way and we wanted to make sure we could play our game too.

"We've got a number of ways of playing. We've got a big, powerful pack but they can use the ball as well, we want to play to space and we did that well. It's brilliant to get there, brilliant to be a part of and we'll enjoy this win first then make sure we prepare well."

England coach Eddie Jones has hailed his side's defence as their best form of attack after a 19-7 victory over New Zealand ensured their place in the Rugby World Cup final.

Manu Tuilagi's early try paved the way for an exceptional display from England in Yokohama on Saturday, as they ended the All Blacks' chances of winning an unprecedented third World Cup in a row.

Captain Owen Farrell added the extras to Tuilagi's score, with George Ford putting England 10-0 up at half-time and, although New Zealand rallied through Ardie Savea's try, Ford's pinpoint kicking ensured victory.

England will now face either Wales or South Africa in their first World Cup final appearance since 2007 and Jones singled out his side's defensive grit as the key factor in their triumph.

"We're playing a great team, Steve Hansen, a great coach, Kieran Reed's a great captain. We had to dig deep," Jones said.

"We knew we'd have to come off the line and we managed to do that. We caused a few errors, may have had a few lucky bounces and got the result.

"The World Cup is always about defence and our best form of attack is our defence. We create opportunities through our defence to attack.

"Greatest compliments to New Zealand, they've won two World Cups in a row, they're a great team and we really had to dig deep to beat them."

Jones also highlighted the work of his assistants Steve Borthwick and Neal Hatley after England's pack put in a disciplined display.

"If you try to play New Zealand at their game you're going to come off second best," Jones, who is unconcerned by any "favourites" tag ahead of the final, told ITV Sport.

"We probably missed a couple of opportunities to score but I thought the discipline of our performance was great in both attack and defence.

"[The pack] played really well. Steve and Neal do a fantastic job with those forwards, really disciplined.

"We don't bet, we don't look at the bookies, so we're not really concerned [about favourites]. Our expectation is the most important thing."

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen, meanwhile, conceded England were worthy winners, although he insisted the defeat takes nothing away from his side's achievements.

"I'd like to congratulate England, they played a tremendous game of footy and, on the day, they deserved to win the game," he said.

"You can't give them half a step because they'll take it and that's what rugby is about. Well done to them.

"I'm really proud of our team, they've done tremendous graft for our country and we just weren't good enough. We have to take it on the chin, so does everybody back home and our fans."

Manu Tuilagi's early try set the tone as England shattered New Zealand's hopes of winning an unprecedented third consecutive Rugby World Cup and moved into the final with a famous 19-7 victory.

England dominated the out-of-sorts All Blacks at International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday to set up a showdown with South Africa or Wales at the same venue next weekend.

Tuilagi touched down for a try that Owen Farrell converted inside two minutes and George Ford's penalty just before the break put Eddie Jones' inspired side 10-0 up at half-time.

The defending champions never really got going in an error-strewn display and although Ardie Savea's try gave them hope, another three penalties from the excellent Ford kept England in command.

England – who also had tries from Sam Underhill and Ben Youngs ruled out – were lively in attack and outstanding in defence, sealing a first win over New Zealand for seven years and a maiden World Cup triumph over the holders to replace them at the top of the rankings.

New Zealand's first World Cup loss since 2007 ensured there will be no dream swansong for head coach Steve Hansen, while captain Kieran Read will end his stellar Test career with a third-place play-off.

Arno Botha scored in the last minute to secure a bonus-point 28-12 win for Munster in their Pro14 clash with Ospreys on Friday.

Munster edged a cagey first half 7-6 after a James Cronin try, but the Irish side swiftly took the game away from their Welsh visitors after the interval.

Having been reduced to 14 men when Sam Cross was sin-binned, Ospreys crumbled early in the second half – Rhys Marshall driving over.

Ospreys hit back through Luke Price's penalty, but Mike Haley's try saw Munster swiftly regain control.

Another Price penalty saw Ospreys move into double figures, yet even as Cross returned, there was no let-up from the home side as they searched for a bonus point to give them a cushion over Scarlets at the top of Conference B.

The try came in the dying embers of the match – Munster's pack driving forward in the maul with Botha pouncing over with seconds remaining.

Ulster ran out 23-14 winners over Cardiff Blues in Friday's other encounter.

Luke Marshall got Ulster up and running inside two minutes, with Billy Burns going over for a second try soon after as John Cooney clocked up points with the boot.

Marshall's yellow card handed Cardiff a reprieve, with Aled Summerhill and Will Boyde hauling the Blues back into contention.

But the visitors' hopes of a comeback were extinguished as Cooney's penalty bolstered Ulster's advantage.

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