The Springboks have played the role of party spoiler in front of 50,000 Japanese fans, ruining the Brave Blossoms’ fairytale run with a 26-3 victory in the last quarter-final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
It was a set-piece masterclass by the South Africans, who dominated the scrum and the rolling maul, and put plenty of pressure on the Japanese line out throughout the game.
The Springboks struck early through left winger Makazole Mapimpi. The Boks were rewarded with an early scrum in attacking territory.
Faf de Klerk spotted some space down the short side and gave it to Mapimpi who brushed through a lazy attempted tackle from Japanese fly-half Yu Tamura and scored in the corner.
It looked as if the floodgates would open from there, but Japan were able to steady the ship and match it with South Africa for the remainder of the first half, heading to the break trailing by just two points after a 19th-minute penalty goal from Tamura.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first – a tight arm-wrestle with both sides forcing errors from the other. However as time went on, the Springboks’ superior class and physicality began to shine through.
Springboks fly-half Handre Pollard slotted three penalty goals to put the scores out to 14-3 at the 63rd minute, each kick putting the game further and further out of reach for Japan.
When replacement hooker Malcolm Marx broke into the backfield and offloaded to de Klerk who strolled over to score under the posts in the 65th minute, the result began to seem ominous – South Africa weren’t going to slip twice against Japan.
They put the result beyond any doubt with a second try to Mapimpi in the 69th minute – a brilliant backline effort sparked by a great ball from Pollard who put Willie le Roux into space. From there it was pretty clear that the Japanese fairytale was not to be.
The scoreline really didn’t reflect the effort of the Japanese, who were gallant in defeat. However it did reflect the superior class that South Africa possesses.
The Springboks will be a serious handful for Wales in the semi-finals next week.