Power prevails as Springboks crush Japan’s World Cup dreams
Brave Blossoms wilt against South Africa as they set up a semi-final meeting with Wales
Makazole Mapimpi dives to score South Africa’s third try in their win ovre Japan. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty
After all the shocks and surprises, typhoons and earthquakes, The Rugby World Cup has its heavyweight semi-finals. South Africa and Wales go to war in Yokohama next Sunday, 24 hours after the first clash between England and New Zealand on the global stage since 1999.
The fairytale is over for Japan. It was as brutal and uncompromising to witness as Rassie Erasmus had promised it would be. The Springboks did this the only way they know how. The grind was real. They sucked the air out of the host nation’s legions of new supporters.
They cracked the bones of smaller men. 48,831 bore witness as, ironically, the tiniest player Fak de Klerk drove the dagger into Japanese hearts. It took 65 minutes for de Klerk to streak clear but a convincing victory felt inevitable once early sparks of genius by Kenki Fukuoka - side stepping Cheslin Kolbe in a moment of pure alchemy - and Kotaro Matsushima were blanketed and stored inside South Africa’s maul.
It all stemmed from South African forwards destroying the Japan lineout.
Another miracle was never going to happen. Brighton is a seaside town, whereas Tokyo is a metropolis with blade runner connotations everywhere you look. One feels like a World Cup venue, the other more suited to housing a sporting anomaly. That moment from the 2015 World Cup, which the Springboks eventually addressed, paled in comparison to this clash of such blatantly different styles and shapes.
To their credit, this was a Test match to sit comfortably with all the signature moments Japan have signed during their marvelous home tournament.
But Jamie Joseph’s team met their match at the Ajinomoto Stadium with the sea of colour party atmosphere eventually silenced by the ruthless power of Siya Kolisi’s men. The Brave Blossoms red and white were joined by dots of dark green and the light Irish hue for the many thousands who avoided the stress of ticket swapping at various hubs down town.
What the first half showed us, besides a litany of handling errors by South Africans, most notably two unforced fumbles by Lukhanyo Am and Willie Le Roux with the try line in spitting distance, was that The Bomb Squad would be required.
That’s what Frans Steyn and the other Springbok reserves have branded themselves. Steyn knows how to win a World Cup having, as a 20-year-old, kicked England out of reach in 2007.
They will need him eventually, but not here. South Africa led 5-3 at the turn, thanks to the basic power of Mapimpi when the dominant South Africa scrum created a one on one with Japan’s defensively fragile outhalf Yu Tamura.
Tumura’s attempted tackle was embarrassingly weak.
But Japan clung on in there. They were helped by the letter of the law refereeing of Wayne Barnes. In fairness to the Englishman, he used common sense when adjudicating around the collision zone.
Malcolm Marx - if not the best then certainly the most ferocious hooker around - made enough impact on his own to help plant the ‘Boks dig deep enough into Japan territory to let their set piece earn Handre Pollard the looks at goal that kept the hosts paddling furiously in the game’s slipstream.
When Pollard made it 14-3 on 62 minutes there was no way back for Japan. It confirmed what was always suspected; they lack genuine reserves to call upon while South Africa are a fully stocked squad of giants.
The worst sight of the night was that of Kolbe struggling to put weight on a troublesome ankle. Big men like Duane Vermeulen patted the shining light of this tournament, encouraging him to battle on, yet knowing full well they will need him in the coming fortnight. The insurance tries allowed Erasmus to put the winger on ice.
Now all the fun is over, the tournament can really begin. Power prevails. As it always does in rugby.
Scoring sequence - 3 mins: M Mapimpi try, 5-0; 19 mins: Y Tamura pen, 5-3. Half-time. 43 mins: H Pollard pen, 8-3; 48 mins: H Pollard pen, 11-3; 62 mins: H Pollard pen, 14-3; 65 min: F de Klerk try, 19-3; H Pollard 21-3; 69 mins: M Mapimpi try, 26-3.
South Africa: W Le Roux; C Kolbe, L Am, D de Allende, M Mapimpi; H Pollard, F de Klerk; T Mtawarira, M Mbonambi, F Malherbe; E Etzebeth, L De Jager; S Kolisi (capt), Pieter-Steph du Toit, D Vermeulen. Replacements: S Kitshoff for S Kolisi (11-21 mins), M Marx for M Mbonambi (36 mins), S Kitshoff for T Mtawarira, V Koch for F Malherbe (both 53 mins), RG Snyman for E Etzebeth (62 mins), F Mostert for L De Jager (66 mins), F Louw for D Vermuelen (67 mins), F Steyn for C Kolbe (72 mins). Yellow: T Mtawarira (9-19 mins)
Japan: R Yamanaka; K Matsushima, T Lafaele, R Nakamura, K Fukuoka; Y Tamura, Y Nagare; K Inagaki, S Horie, J Koo; L Thompson, J Moore; M Leitch (capt), P Labuschagne, K Himeno. Replacements: A Mafi for P Labuschagne (11-21 mins, HIA), A Sakate for K Inagaki, R Matsuda for Y Tamura (both 47 mins), A Mafi for K Himeno (51 mins), W van der Walt for L Thompson (53 mins), L Lemeki for R Yamanaka (59 mins), A Ai Valu for J Koo (63 mins), K Inagaki for A Sakate (67 mins).
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).