AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

STAR PREVIEW: Wales v South Africa

Wales made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup by the skin of their teeth but they may find their fairytale run ended by South Africa as the two teams battle it out for the right to meet England in the final.

Warren Gatland’s men have forgotten how to lose when the pressure is one and they needed all their resilience and a fair amount of luck against France, who made a blistering start with ball in hand and were 12-0 up after just eight minutes thanks to brilliant running tries from Sébastien Vahaamahina and Charles Ollivon. They dominated the first half and the numbers show it; 91 carries to Wales’ 44, a monstrous 334 metres made to Wales’ 134, backed up by 26 gain-line successes and 12 offloads as Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack ran riot.

And then the French gave it away. They butchered a huge try scoring chance five minutes before halftime, and then Sébastien Vahaamahina swung his elbow into Aaron Wainwright’s head. That took France down to 14 men for 32 minutes, but still Wales continued to kick aimlessly and loosely, knock on in forward positions and to give away cheap turnovers.

The game was won by the quick thinking of replacement scrum-half Tomos Williams, whose rip from an attacking scrum set up Justin Tipuric to scramble the ball before Ross Moriarty touched down, but Warren Gatland was being generous when he admitted the better side that day lost.

South Africa, meanwhile, were ominous in their destruction of Japan in the quarter-finals. Rassie Erasmus has plenty of options available but his decision to force a terrifyingly large pack upon Japan proved to be a wise one, as the Springboks ground one of the tournament’s most vibrant sides into dust.

The opening Springboks try came straight off first phase at set-piece time as Faf de Klerk, arguably the game’s outstanding player, fed Makazole Mapimpi to go over in the corner and the Springboks should have had the game sealed at halftime. A dire offload to try and put Mapimpi over in the corner from Lukhanyo Am botched a near certain try and then de Allende was denied by the referee’s whistle when he was perhaps harshly penalised for a double movement after touching the ball down himself.

That did not matter in the end, as the pack and their replacements, spurred on by a 6-2 bench spit in favour of the forwards over the backs, ground a tired Japanese side that had run rungs around Ireland and Scotland into dust.

All of Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx, Frans Malherbe, Vincent Koch, Eben Etzebeth, Lood De Jager, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph Du Toit and Duane Vermeulen played a major role either from the start or the bench and they will be ready to take on an equally big Welsh pack.

Wales v South Africa
Rugby World Cup 2019
Semi-Final 2
International Stadium, Yokohama
Sunday, October 27
9.00am Kick-Off (UK Time)
Live on ITV1 HD & ITV Hub

(Maximum 10 matches, Since 2000)
NOV 2018 AUTUMN INTERNATIONAL Wales 20-11 South Africa
JUN 2018 ONE OFF TEST MATCH South Africa 20-22 Wales
DEC 2017 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS Wales 24-22 South Africa
NOV 2016 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS Wales 27-13 South Africa
OCT 2015 RUGBY WORLD CUP South Africa 23-19 Wales
NOV 2014 AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS Wales 12-6 South Africa
JUN 2014 WELSH TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA South Africa 31-30 Wales
JUN 2014 WELSH TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA South Africa 38-16 Wales
NOV 2013 AUTUMN INTERNATIONAL Wales 15-24 South Africa
SEP 2011 RUGBY WORLD CUP South Africa 17-16 Wales

Warren Gatland’s men are much better than they showed against France, as their long unbeaten run – including the pool stages of this tournament – does show, but they are going to have to find a new level at this World Cup if they are to match the springboks.

They are not helped by a pair of crucial injuries, either. It was bad enough that Josh Navidi picked up a tournament-ending hamstring injury in the quarter-final win, but Liam Williams’ absence from the rest of the World Cup due to an ankle injury picked up in training is a hammer blow.

Jonathan Davies, who has been struggling with a knee injury that saw him miss the quarter-final, has been named in the starting XV but it’s doubtful he’ll be close to his best and Wales have lost two of their outstanding players.

South Africa have used multiple gameplans at this World Cup – in their three pool-stage victories over Italy, Namibia and Canada, the Boks played with width and pace, running in 26 tries. But with rain set for Yokohama – and a tough pitch underfoot – it’s likely that this will be a big clash of the packs, both of whom have quality halfbacks to supply in the shape of Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk for the Springboks and Dan Biggar and Gareth Davies for Wales.

That contest will suit Wales, who have ground out victory many a time under Warren Gatland, including five of their last six games against the Springboks, but World Cups are all about peaking and South Africa may simply be in the best shape at the best time. 11 of the last 13 matches have been settled by a single-figure margin between these two and South Africa can make it into a first World Cup final since 2007 with Wales on their tail.

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