Rugby World Cup 2019: South Africa’s boring tactics, England’s strategy in face of haka and other talking points from semis
South Africa will take on England in the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup after vanquishing the challenges of Wales and New Zealand. Here are the biggest talking points from both semi-finals:
Wales vs South Africa was not a classic of free-flowing rugby. There were an astonishing 81 kicks in 80 minutes of play.
Springbok scrum-half Faf de Klerk squared up to giant Wales lock Jake Ball, is 26 centimetres taller and 36kg heavier.
England formed an inverted V-shape wedge to face the challenge of the New Zealand haka, the traditional war-dance.
South Africa will take on England in the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup after vanquishing the challenges of Wales and New Zealand.
In Yokohama, England rode into the final with a spectacular 19-7 defeat of the All Blacks on Saturday a day before South Africa slotted a penalty with four minutes to go to break Welsh hearts in a hugely tense finish.
Here are the biggest talking points from both semi-finals:
Grinding it out
The stats don't lie — Wales vs South Africa wasn't a classic of free-flowing rugby. There were an astonishing 81 kicks in 80 minutes of play.
Maybe over-awed by the occasion, world-class players seemed unable to collect the simplest of balls cleanly, resulting in 12 scrums, many of which had to be reset several times.
In contrast to the England-New Zealand semi-final, when the crowd barely had time to breathe, the dreaded Mexican wave was deployed after only 20 minutes of dire rugby and the most noise they made was belting out "Sweet Caroline" at half-time.
Both camps admitted it wasn't great for the neutral. "There was not a lot of flowing rugby played," said Welsh coach Warren Gatland, adding that the Springboks "might have to be a bit more expansive" to beat England in the final.
Man-of-the-match Handre Pollard, the Springbok fly-half, said there were no regrets about their style of play. “Grinding it out is something we believe in. That's what it takes to win play-off games and World Cups,” he said.
Size doesn't matter
One of the biggest cheers of the night was when livewire Springbok scrum-half Faf de Klerk — who was again a constant threat — squared up to giant Wales lock Jake Ball, their mismatched confrontation beamed onto the stadium big screen.
As a boxing bout, it would not be allowed. De Klerk, instantly recognisable with his flowing blonde locks, stands 5ft 7in (1.72m) and weighs 13st 12lb (88kg). Ball, equally unmissable with his shaggy beard, is 26 centimetres taller and 36kg heavier.
The two grabbing each other's shirt collars nose-to-nose with De Klerk grinning broadly may prove to be one of the images of the tournament and became an instant social media hit — one wag comparing it to famous cinema kisses.
De Klerk said it was important to show that even though he is the shortest man on the pitch, he was not cowed. "We are great friends mate, it was just a nice moment between us," joked the scrum-half after the match.
Brutal Bok 'bomb squad'
South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus again selected six forwards among his eight replacements and it paid off for him once more with a stunning defensive effort at the death from fresher legs.
The likes of RG Snyman, Francois Louw and Frans Steyn made the difference as Erasmus even hauled off his captain Siya Kolisi for the “finishers” — or “bomb squad” as they are known in the Springbok camp.
“There were a few contributions from guys that came off the bench that made massive differences,” said Erasmus.
V for vendetta
As England formed an inverted V-shape wedge to face the challenge of the New Zealand haka, they fell foul of World Rugby rules about the traditional war-dance.
Technically, the team facing the haka has to be at least 10 metres from the performance — a regulation brought in to stop spectacles like when France marched towards them.
The match officials attempted to usher some of the England players — who were in the All-Black half — back behind their line.
England's Joe Marler was practically on the New Zealand 10-metre line and the replacement prop remonstrated furiously with the touch judge as he left the pitch.
From ‘kamikaze’ to ‘bunnies’
England's youthful flankers Sam Underhill, 23, and Tom Curry, 21, again won praise for a dominant performance in the loose and a huge shift defensively.
Coach Eddie Jones has christened them the “kamikaze kids” because they put their bodies on the line and “hit everything that moves”, but back-row partner Billy Vunipola revealed he has another nickname for the dynamic duo.
“They are like the Duracell bunnies, they just go all day and that allows me to rest,” said Vunipola who at the grand old age of 26 is the senior of the three back-rowers.
“I just kick back and watch them do their thing,” grinned Vunipola.
All Blacks are human
It was a strange sight to see the All Blacks, who had barely put a foot wrong the whole tournament, making a series of errors under immense pressure from England's line-speed.
Even two-time World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett felt the heat, overhitting box kicks and failing to impose himself on the game.
A rueful All Black skipper Kieran Read summed it up when he said after the game: “I think we'll look at the game and there will be so many what-ifs and things we could have done much better.”
“It's days like this you can't afford it and it cost us,” added Read, who is retiring from international rugby after the World Cup.
New Zealand had targeted the set-piece as a key battleground ahead of the game, even playing lock Scott Barrett as a flanker to offer themselves more lineout jumpers.
But England's lock Maro Itoje was immense at lineout time, claiming seven — as many as the three main All Black ball-winners (Sam Whitelock, Barrett and Brodie Retallick) combined.
Man-of-the-match Itoje, who was terrifying in the tackle and jackaled a series of turnovers, also fired a warning to either South Africa or Wales that more was to come in the final.
“I think we're just building,” said the Saracens man. “Game-by-game, week-by-week we're building. We're pushing in the right direction.
“We haven't done the job yet but we're one step closer.”
A total of five countries from across Asia including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, United Arab Emirates (UAE), India and the hosts Uzbekistan will vie for top honours at the championship.
The 'World 12s' event, which is backed by a UK-based financial consortium and has yet to attain the backing of any federation, aims to pit the globe's top players against each other in a 12 v 12 format over 30-minute matches.