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.

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."

 

Handre Pollard anticipates South Africa's Rugby World Cup semi-final with Wales will be settled by kicking, as he relishes the task of going up against Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar.

Wales were dealt a blow on Thursday when Liam Williams was ruled out of the match due to injury, with Halfpenny coming in at full-back for Sunday's clash in Yokohama.

However, while the Six Nations champions have lost a key player in the form of Williams, Halfpenny is an expert kicker, while Biggar has also been in fine form with the boot.

Springboks' fly half Pollard has not had the same luck, converting 12 of his 19 attempts at goal, and acknowledged his own kicking must improve if Rassie Erasmus' side – who will be without influential wing Cheslin Kolbe – are to make it into the final.

"[Halfpenny] is a world-class goal-kicker, we all know that," Pollard said in a news conference.

"We all know it's going to probably come down to a kick or a drop goal. It's semi-final rugby, so you must try your best to be on target with every kick. If it's not to be, it's not to be."

South Africa defeated Wales in the 2015 quarter-finals, with Biggar a standout performer at Twickenham.

"We went at it four years ago, and I thought [Biggar] had a brilliant game that day. We really had to play well to win that match," Pollard added.

"He is a world-class player, unbelievably good. He is really not scared of the physical part of the match, and that's something that excites both of us. It's going to be fun to go against him for 80 minutes.

"[Wales] know what they are good at and focus on that. They are relentless in those areas. They starve you of possession and territory and enforce their kicking game on you. They take away your set-piece.

"It's not a gameplan or rugby with a lot of flair in it, but it's suffocating. If you fall into that trap, they will enforce their gameplan on you for 80 minutes and you will probably not win.

"It's going to be two sides tactically trying to figure each other out. We have a couple of plans up our sleeves."

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.

Liam Williams' injury-enforced absence from the Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa is "a big loss" for Wales, but Warren Gatland does not think his team is any weaker.

An ankle injury sustained in an accidental collision during training ruled Williams out for the remainder of the tournament in Japan, with Leigh Halfpenny taking his place in the XV for Sunday's match in Yokohama.

However, Gatland stated Halfpenny had been close to earning a starting spot regardless and believes his experience will be an important boost for Wales.

"[Williams] is undoubtedly a big loss from an attacking perspective and what he has achieved in the game in the last year or so," said Gatland.

"But bringing in the experience of someone like Leigh Halfpenny gives us a different element.

"He is defensively probably the best full-back in the world in terms of his aerial game and coverage defensively.

"We had a long debate about whether we started Leigh in the first place and potentially move Liam to the wing.

"There was a long discussion about that so Leigh was probably unlucky he was not in the team in the first place.

"We are disappointed for a world-class player like Liam but we are happy bringing in someone with the experience of Leigh.

"It is a change but we don't think that we are weakening the side in any way with the changes we have made."

Jonathan Davies will start at centre after overcoming a knee injury and Gatland is pleased to have him available for the first time since the pool stage win over Fiji.

"We hope he is fit. He has come through training this week," said Gatland. "He was very close last week and he made a decision last week to rule himself out for the betterment of the team.

"Hopefully we can get through the rain today with the training and it won't affect us too much.

"We will have a shorter session this afternoon and we are excited where we are at the moment."

South Africa were dealt an injury blow of their own with livewire wing Cheslin Kolbe missing out after aggravating an ankle injury in the quarter-final success over Tokyo.

"Obviously he is a big loss to them with his ability to score tries and his footwork," Gatland said of Kolbe, for whom Sbu Nkosi will deputise.

"We were probably going to target him aerially anyway. You talk about their kicking game, I think our kicking game has to be good as well. They definitely have a bit of pace in the back three.

"At this stage of the tournament, you are always going to lose a couple of quality players, and in them losing Kolbe and us losing Liam Williams, it's probably one each in terms of that."

South Africa stand in the way of Wales and a first Rugby World Cup final appearance when they do battle in Yokohama on Sunday.

Wales have twice suffered the agony of a semi-final defeat, losing to New Zealand in 1987 and France in 2011.

South Africa won both of their previous World Cup encounters with Wales and have looked ominous in Japan as they attempt to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a third time. 

We pick out some Key Opta facts ahead of the second semi-final as the Six Nations champions and Rugby Championship winners eye a showdown with England or the All Blacks.

 

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

3 - South Africa have conceded just three tries in five games during the tournament - two of which came in their defeat to New Zealand.

12 - Wales have conceded more tries (12) in the World Cup than their previous two campaigns combined (10).

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

86 - Dan Biggar needs 14 points to become the first Wales player to score 100 World Cup points. Neil Jenkins leads the way with 98 and Stephen Jones notched 95.

32 - South Africa have won 32 of 34 World Cup games in which they have led at half-time.

Warren Gatland had mixed news on the injury front as he named the Wales team for their Rugby World Cup semi-final, welcoming back Jonathan Davies but forced to do without Liam Williams.

Wales face South Africa in Yokohama on Sunday looking to reach the World Cup final for the first time.

Davies is back in Gatland's XV after missing the narrow last-eight victory over France with a recurrence of an earlier knee injury.

However, Williams is out of this clash and the remainder of the tournament due to a training-ground injury.

Wales reported Williams had suffered the blow to his ankle in an accidental collision and a prognosis was still to be established.

That blow sees Leigh Halfpenny come into the side at full-back, joining Josh Adams and George North in the back three.

Wales had already lost Josh Navidi to a torn hamstring against France, meaning Ross Moriarty's inclusion is the third and final change to the side.

Gatland's men will be led by Alun Wyn Jones, who is earning his 142nd Test cap - including nine for the British and Irish Lions.

He moves to joint-second on the all-time worldwide list, tied with Italy's Sergio Parisse behind former All Black Richie McCaw (148).

Gareth Davies gets his 50th cap.


Wales team: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones, Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Aaron Shingler, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Owen Watkin.

South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has hailed Wales head coach Warren Gatland as a "legend" ahead of their Rugby World Cup semi-final showdown on Sunday.

Gatland masterminded a Grand Slam triumph in the final Six Nations campaign of his tenure this year and stands on the brink of leading Wales into a first World Cup final.

Erasmus hailed the New Zealander, who will end his long reign after the tournament in Japan, as he prepares to pit his wits against the wily British and Irish Lions coach in Yokohama this weekend.

"Warren is an absolute legend of the game. You very seldom see him in a mouth fight and mudslinging before Test matches," said Erasmus.

"I've never been there having to reply to something he says, and he doesn't bite at you to create unnecessary nonsense before a Test match, so I've got a lot of respect for him as a person.

"His results on the field speak for themselves, with the Welsh team and the British and Irish Lions."

Erasmus made one enforced change to his side following an emphatic win over Japan, Sbu Nkosi replacing Cheslin Kolbe (ankle).

Gatland will be hoping Jonathan Davies is available to return after missing the quarter-final win over France with a knee injury, but Erasmus says they have enough quality to cope without the centre.

"They've almost got a southern hemisphere backline in terms of size." Erasmus said of the Six Nations champions.

"I know [Dan] Biggar is maybe not as big as other guys, but definitely busy. Hadleigh Parkes is a big guy, Davies is a physical guy. I think he was backline player of the tour in New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions.

"You've got [George] North, who is a big boy, and Liam Williams, who was always outstanding and physical. So, if they lose him [Davies], they will definitely lose a guy who is intimidating, who's got soft skills, experience.

"But then again, they've still got Liam there, Biggar, good guys off the bench, still got [Leigh] Halfpenny there.

"They've got a great pack of forwards, but their backline is a big threat. If they do lose him, they will lose somebody like we've lost Cheslin, but hell, they've got some great other players as well."

South Africa have been dealt a huge blow ahead of their Rugby World Cup semi-final against Wales, with Cheslin Kolbe ruled out due to injury.

Livewire wing Kolbe tweaked the ankle injury that kept him out of the pool match against Canada when he returned to the team for the last-eight victory over Japan.

Sbu Noksi has consequently moved into the starting line-up for Sunday's match at Yokohama, the sole change to the 23 selected by Rassie Erasmus.

"It's disappointing not to have Cheslin available as he has been brilliant for us since we first called him up last year," said head coach Erasmus.

"But we really rate Sbu and he will slot straight in. I am as excited to see what he can do as I would be if Chessie were playing. Sbu has been very close to selection as it is."

Nkosi, who has scored eight tries in 10 Test appearances for the Springboks, featured in pool matches against Namibia and Canada, touching down against the latter.

By making no further changes, Erasmus once more has two backs and six forwards on the bench.

 

South Africa: Willie le Roux, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn.

Faf de Klerk has put the boot in on his social media critics as South Africa prepare to try and kick Wales out of the Rugby World Cup on Sunday. 

Scrum-half De Klerk was named man of the match after his starring role in the 26-3 quarter-final victory over tournament hosts Japan. 

That did not stop some Springboks supporters from calling on the playmaker to cut down on putting up the high balls ahead of a last-four showdown with the reigning Six Nations champions. 

De Klerk defended South Africa's tactics, however, pointing out they were effective in putting their opponents on the back foot. 

"We do kick a lot, but we try to read the game and the momentum. So, if you look at last weekend, we did kick a lot in the air, and Japan managed to contain our aerial battle," De Klerk said. 

"But if you look further than that, we managed to get so much territorial gain on them with our defence, with the guys being loaded on that. 

"It was a very positive outcome when we kicked. We did give them possession, but they rarely managed to do anything with it." 

On facing Wales, he added: "It is going to be a different challenge this week. I don't think we are going to have the same threats as that [Japan provided].

"It's all about seeing the space, and I feel our wings have come so far over the last two years. They are really competing well in the air.

"They [Wales] have got very good wingers, so it is going to be a massive battle in the air. We don't always go out with a set plan of me just going up and kicking.

"We do read the game, and I listen a lot to what Handre [Pollard] is telling me."

Ross Moriarty feared his Rugby World Cup might be over just 90 seconds after he came on in Wales' quarter-final win over France.

Moriarty was called upon earlier than expected at Oita Stadium on Sunday, replacing the injured Josh Navidi in the first half.

The back-row was soon back on the sideline after being shown a yellow card for catching Gael Fickou with a high tackle.

Moriarty returned to score a decisive late try, having feared referee Jaco Peyper may have ended his tournament and potentially brought Wales' campaign to an end.

"I was just thinking, 'please, please don't be a red'," said Moriarty.

"That was definitely a big moment. I had been on for only 90 seconds and I was thinking to myself, 'if he gives me a red card, this is the end of me'.

"I knew how bad that would be for the team. I've been in that situation before and it's not a nice feeling. I never go into a game intending to do anything that would get me a card or put the team at any risk of not winning.

"It was a mistimed tackle. I closed my eyes and thought he was going to run round me, but he stopped and ducked under me."

He added: "It was nice for me to know I didn't cause any damage. I talked to him [Fickou] after the game and he was absolutely fine. We had a good laugh.

"I knew when I came back on I had to be very, very squeaky clean and make sure I didn't do any more damage to the team and myself.

"But it does stick in your mind. I was thinking, 'Please, no one come near me'. Sometimes people slip up in tackles, players duck and dive. It's a contact sport - it's inevitable sometimes. Fortunately, there were no other incidents in the game."

Jaco Peyper has not been selected to referee a Rugby World Cup semi-final after a photo emerged of him with Wales fans apparently mocking France's sent-off lock Sebastien Vahaamahina.

The South African, who was overseeing his 50th Test, dismissed Vahaamahina during Wales' incident-packed 20-19 last-eight win over Les Bleus for elbowing Aaron Wainwright.

France coach Jacques Brunel and Wales counterpart Warren Gatland backed the decision but the picture, which was widely circulated on social media, drew criticism and was investigated by World Rugby.

On Tuesday, it was confirmed Welshman Nigel Owens will officiate England versus New Zealand on Saturday, while France's Jerome Garces is the man in the middle for Wales against South Africa a day later.

A World Rugby statement said Peyper has apologised.

"World Rugby can confirm that the match officials selection committee did not consider Jaco Peyper for selection this weekend," the release read.

"Peyper recognises that a picture of him with Wales fans, which appeared on social media after the Wales versus France quarter-final, was inappropriate and he has apologised."

Wales have drafted in Cardiff Blues winger Owen Lane as a squad replacement for back-rower Josh Navidi ahead of the Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa.

Powerhouse Navidi was ruled out after sustaining a hamstring injury in the edgy 20-19 last-eight triumph over France in Oita on Sunday.

With Wales well stocked in the back row, head coach Warren Gatland has opted to bolster his backs.

Centre Jonathan Davies was a late withdrawal against France due to a problematic knee injury, while Hadleigh Parkes has been playing through a broken bone in his hand and a shoulder complaint.

Lane has just one Wales cap to his name, that coming against Ireland in August.

France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina has announced his retirement from Test rugby, just 24 hours after he received a costly red card in his country's Rugby World Cup quarter-final loss to Wales.

Les Bleus' run in Japan ended on Sunday when Warren Gatland's team edged a tight encounter 20-19.

France were leading 19-10 when Vahaamahina was dismissed nine minutes into the second half for elbowing Aaron Wainwright, and the 14 men were unable to hang on as Wales avenged their 2011 semi-final loss to the same opponents.

Vahaamahina, 28, has now sent a message to Eurosport Rugbyrama saying he is walking away from international rugby, a decision he claims he reached earlier this year.

"It's hard, very hard for me today - especially because, as I have planned for several months, it was my last match with the national team," he said.

"I hadn't made a public announcement of my retirement but the people impacted by the decision have known since the summer: [France coach] Jacques Brunel, [Clermont Auvergne coach] Franck Azema and several of the players.

"I wanted to have the best possible match and tournament to finish on... perhaps I wanted it too much. My desire and my aggression got the better of me."

The lock received his marching orders from referee Jaco Peyper, who is now the subject of a World Rugby investigation after he appeared to mock the man he dismissed in a picture taken with Wales fans.

A photo circulated on social media of Peyper with his elbow raised to a fan's chin.

France Rugby Federation vice-president Serge Simon demanded an explanation from the South African official.

He tweeted: "This photo if it is true is shocking and explanations will be necessary."

World Rugby confirmed they are looking into the matter.

"World Rugby is aware of a picture on social media of referee Jaco Peyper with a group of Wales fans taken after last night's [Sunday's] quarter-final between Wales and France in Oita," the governing body said.

"It would be inappropriate to comment further while we are establishing the facts."

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