Rassie Erasmus believes the hard lessons of defeat South Africa learned against Wales were central to their gruelling Rugby World Cup semi-final triumph.

Handre Pollard's perfect goalkicking performance inspired the Springboks to a tense 19-16 victory on Saturday, ending a run of four consecutive losses to Warren Gatland's men.

Far from preying on his players' minds, Erasmus felt those experiences were part of the reason South Africa got over the line in Yokohama.

"Playing against them four times and knowing that they know how to close out games, we've learned our lessons," he told a post-match news conference.

"Especially the Washington Test match [a 22-20 loss in the United States capital last year], we were ahead in the last few minutes and the way they clawed back and won… we certainly learned some lessons there.

"And the way they won the Six Nations, we certainly see they're a team that strangles the life out of the opposition. We expected exactly that and that's what we received the whole game.

"We had to match that the whole game. It probably wasn't the best spectacle to watch and I guess the boys stuck to their guns and adapted to that."

South Africa's recent record against final opponents England offers greater reasons for optimism. Boks won a three-match home series in 2018 2-1 before slipping to a 12-11 loss at Twickenham last November and also won the 2007 World Cup final 15-6 in Paris.

Nevertheless, Erasmus knows England represent a formidable prospect if they are in the mood they were in as they scythed through New Zealand in this weekend's other semi-final.

"We've played England four times in the last 18 months, it's 2-2," he said.

"We're accustomed with the way they play. They're obviously much better than when we last played them and you could see it the way they dismantled New Zealand.

"We think we're in with a chance. I'm not 100 per cent sure that a World Cup final is going to be won by an expansive game plan with wonderful tries. It might be, I might be wrong. I think we'll go the grind-it-out route."

If that hints the tactical preparations are already largely taken care of, a weight of responsibility remains for whoever is responsible for Erasmus' laundry.

"Every time since I started coaching, when I lose a match, I change my clothing," he chuckled when the superstition surrounding a lucky white shirt that has been omnipresent on the road to the final was brought up.

"Last year I had to change quite a lot of clothing because we lost quite a lot. This year I only had to change it once.

"I'm hoping I can wear this until the end of the final. This is my lucky shirt so far."

Warren Gatland believes South Africa have a very good chance of beating England in the Rugby World Cup final but warned the Springboks might need a more expansive approach to the one that saw off Wales 19-16.

An immaculate goalkicking performance from Handre Pollard saw the Boks edge a war of attrition in Sunday's semi-final to book a showdown with England, who stunned reigning champions New Zealand in somewhat contrasting style on Saturday.

Gatland, who will step down after 12 years in charge of Wales after the third-place match against the All Blacks, had no qualms over South Africa's tactics, where box kicks from Pollard and tenacious scrum-half Faf de Klerk were to the fore.

"They've got the physicality to match England, although I thought England were outstanding against the All Blacks. They've got a very good chance," he told a news conference after Damian de Allende and Josh Adams ran in a try apiece for their respective sides.

"They need to be a bit more expansive in terms of the way they want to play. They had a pretty simple game plan against us: using De Allende in terms of from the scrums and a lot of box-kicking from De Klerk and Pollard as well.

"It was very effective and for them it was about doing everything they could to make the final."

After four consecutive wins against South Africa, Gatland expected another close encounter.

Wales were unable to add the distinction of becoming World Cup finalists in a 2019 where they won the Six Nations Grand Slam and briefly stood as the number one side in the world.

Nevertheless, Gatland rejected the suggestion those exertions had taken a decisive toll.

"With 76 minutes on the clock at 16-16 I thought we had a bit of momentum," he said. "We were in their half and it was a big turnover from a breakdown where we haven't kicked the ball.

"From there they've managed to get a penalty from a lineout drive. For me, I felt the longer the game went on we would get an opportunity.

"Those games against South Africa that we've had in the past five or six years have been very similar. We've been in close, tight encounters that could have gone either way and congratulations to South Africa, they're the ones who came out on top."

When Gatland bows out against the country of his birth on Friday, the weight of a glorious era comprising three Grand Slams will be heavy.

"I'm hurting, obviously disappointed but we've still got an opportunity to make a bit of history," said veteran captain Alun Wyn Jones.

"There's no real consolation but we move on and make the most of the next opportunity to put this red jersey on that means so much."

Gatland added: "We're very disappointed but I'm incredibly proud of what we've achieved in this World Cup and what this group of players have done.

"The dream was [to make the final] my last game, but it's not to be. We need to recover over the next couple of days and enjoy it against the All Blacks."

Wales could not have put any more effort into their display against South Africa, according to Warren Gatland, who took pride in his side's over-achievement at the Rugby World Cup.

Handre Pollard's late penalty settled a tense semi-final in Yokohama on Sunday as the Springboks came out on top 19-16 to progress to the final, where they will face England.

Next Saturday's clash will be a rematch of the 2007 final, which South Africa won 15-6, while Wales will face New Zealand in the bronze match on Friday.

Josh Adams' converted try had put Wales level with under 15 minutes remaining, but the Six Nations champions failed to capitalise on some sustained pressure, with Pollard settling the contest with his fourth successful penalty with four minutes left.

Gatland, though, was adamant his side had little else left to give.

"We gave 100 per cent. It's a tough, physical South Africa team, they won the collisions in terms of the carry and stuff, but I thought we were pretty good at times, but they're big men," Gatland, whose tenure will come to an end after the World Cup, told ITV Sport.

"Our guys didn't take a backwards step and I can only be proud of them for that and like I said we stayed in that arm-wrestle for a long time.

"Great credit to South Africa, they played very well, and we probably gave up too many penalties in our own half and that cost us dearly.

"I'm proud of the fact we never gave up and that got us back into the game and we were in the arm-wrestle, but probably three or four penalties during the game, which would cost any team points...

"That's how close and tight these games are. We're disappointed because we worked hard, and a penalty is the difference between the teams.

"We've punched massively above our weight when you consider the playing numbers in Wales. I'm massively proud of what these guys have achieved – they'll keep playing hard and working hard.

"For a long time, it was pretty close and at 16-16 you're dreaming about the points going the other way but congratulations to South Africa and I'm sure it'll be a great final with England."

Gatland's counterpart Rassie Erasmus, meanwhile, believes the Springboks' grit and spirit will ensure they have earned the respect of fans back home and across the world.

"We're in the final of a World Cup. I guess that'll get some respect, but we're only halfway there," he said.

"We play a class England team in the final but we're there, we've got a chance now and we might go all the way, you never know.

"Our group stands together. Nobody cares who gets substituted. We substituted our captain and he takes it on the chin. The guys defended on the try line and those moments count and really help the team gel together and that kind of team spirit can make the nation proud."

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.

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."

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.

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.

Warren Gatland wants the doubters to keep writing off Wales ahead of their Rugby World Cup semi-final battle with South Africa on Sunday.

The Six Nations champions are underdogs for the last-four showdown in Yokohama City, where they will be striving to reach the final for the first time.

Wales left it late to beat 14-man France at the quarter-final stage last weekend and must do without full-back Liam Williams (ankle) and flanker Josh Navidi (hamstring) against the Springboks.

Centre Jonathan Davies has been passed fit after a knee problem, though, and head coach Gatland is optimistic his side can defy the odds to earn a shot at the Webb Ellis Cup.

"The nice thing about being out here is that you are kind of in a bubble and you are not seeing a lot of the stuff externally." Gatland said.

Even though Wales have got the better of the Boks more often than not in recent years, Gatland is not blind to the fact there are some who dismiss his team's chances of going any further in this tournament.

"If they continue to do that over the next couple of days that would be brilliant. Please continue to do that as it does get us up when people write us off," Gatland said.

"I can't understand why people would write us off when our record against South Africa has been pretty good in the last four or five years. That speaks for itself.

"Going into Sunday’s game it is going to be a tight game and we saw that the first half in South Africa v Japan was a tight game. It will probably be a kicking fest, they kicked 30 times against Japan so we just have got to handle their game.

"It won't be the prettiest game in the world, it will be a tight Test match with probably teams playing for territory depending on what the weather is like."

South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, who replaced wing Cheslin Kolbe (ankle) with Sbu Nkosi, is well aware of the threat Wales will pose but says the Rugby Championship holders are ready to send them packing.

"Wales are the reigning Six Nations champions and apart from three defeats in their Rugby World Cup warm-ups, they have put together a really good sequence of results. But we've also found some rhythm and we’ll be ready for the challenge." said Erasmus.

"We have been working hard for 18 months to put ourselves in a position to win the Rugby World Cup and that opportunity is now just 80 minutes away. These players have worked with unbelievable energy to get Springbok rugby back into this position and I know they will leave nothing out on the field on Sunday."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wales – Leigh Halfpenny

Halfpenny has started only one game in the tournament, against Uruguay, and played barely 20 minutes in his other appearance off the bench in the hammering of Georgia. The full-back will be tested under the high ball on Sunday, and Wales will need the 30-year-old to draw on all of his vast experience and skill in an unexpected start as he replaces the injured Williams.

 

South Africa – Faf de Klerk

De Klerk was named man of the match for a typically influential quarter-final performance against Japan. The scrum-half was a bundle of energy in defence and attack, and the Wales forwards must try to prevent the pivot from getting quick ball.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Wales have won five of their last six Tests against South Africa, coming out on top in the last four.

- South Africa have won both World Cup matches against Wales, beating them 17-16 in the 2011 pool stages and 23-19 in the 2015 quarter-finals.

- The Springboks have conceded just three tries in their five matches, two of which came in the defeat to New Zealand in their opening pool stage game.

- Dan Biggar needs 14 points to become the first Wales player to score 100 Rugby World Cup points.

- South Africa have scored more tries (30) and points (211) than any other side in the tournament.

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