Rampant Springboks crush Pumas

 

South Africa 37 Argentina  13: Two tries from speedy wing Bryan Habana helped South Africa outplay Argentina at the Stade de France to earn the right to face holders England in the World Cup final next Saturday on the same pitch.

A month after South Africa inflicted England's record World Cup defeat — a 36-0 drubbing in the pool stage — the countries will clash again.

Recent history heavily favours the Springboks — they have beaten England in four of the last five meetings — but Phil Vickery's team will not feel unduly alarmed after knocking out Australia and host nation France on successive weekends.

But England have transformed their fortunes in a month, and Argentina caused enough problems early on to suggest the final will not be a foregone conclusion.

Argentina's renowned forward power severely tested the Springboks pack, and given the current outstanding form of England's eight, they will fancy the challenge.

South Africa had the semi-final won by half-time, scoring tries through scrum-half general Fourie du Preez, wing Bryan Habana and number eight Danie Rossouw, with full-back Percy Montgomery — the tournament's top points scorer — adding three conversions and a penalty.

Argentina briefly rallied during the third quarter — centre Manuel Contepomi scored a well-crafted try — yet they never moved close enough on the scoreboard to threaten a major upset.

And the Springboks finished with a flourish, courtesy of speed machine Habana's second try — an 80-metre interception effort — which Montgomery improved to see him finish with 17 points, including two further penalties.

South Africa, world champions 12 years ago, will now head into battle as firm favourites to regain the Webb Ellis Trophy they last received when former president Nelson Mandela presented it to Francois Pienaar at Ellis Park, Johannesburg.

Unbeaten Argentina arrived in the semi-finals after topping a qualifying pool that also included France and Ireland, but they must now content themselves with a third place play-off game against Les Bleus at Parc des Princes next Friday, a repeat of the competition's opening match.

South Africa were content to bide their time early on, and the Springboks pounced on Argentina's first mistake, punishing them in seven-point fashion.

Du Preez gratefully collected Pumas centre Felipe Contepomi's pass 70 metres out, and he sprinted clear to touch down, with Montgomery adding the conversion.

It was a big blow for the Pumas to asborb, and although they responded admirably when Contepomi kicked a 14th-minute penalty, Montgomery matched him with an angled strike to hoist South Africa 10-3 clear.

Contepomi reduced the arrears with a second penalty after 29 minutes, but South Africa tightened their grip through a moment of brilliant Habana opportunism.

The Springboks' most potent attacking weapon gathered possession 60 metres out, and he then collected his own kick for a try that showcased all his skills as world rugby's finest finisher.

It proved a shattering blow for the Pumas, with Montgomery's conversion making it 17-6 and taking South Africa closer towards a first World Cup final appearance since 1995.

Argentina's lineout failed to function, and four lost throws during the opening period confirmed the control enjoyed by Springboks locks Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.

And worse was to come for the Pumas just before half-time after fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez — labelled the world's best player by his opposite number Butch James last week — made a fundamental error.

Hernandez failed to catch a simple pass, and South Africa's predatory attackers pounced to send Rossouw on an unopposed run that resulted in the Springboks' third try.

Montgomery again added the extras, and Argentina appeared down and out, trailing 24-6 at the break. They had to score first after the interval, and Manuel Contepomi duly obliged, although he only just squeezed over under pressure from a despairing Montgomery tackle.

South Africa, as they had done against quarter-final opponents Fiji in Marseille last weekend, looked to dominate the closing quarter, and they closed the game out impressively, despite seeing flanker Juan Smith sin-binned for a high tackle.

Argentina though, also finished a man short after Felipe Contepomi received a yellow card for punching Springboks substitute hooker Bismarck du Plessis.