YOKOHAMA, 27 Oct - With 75 minutes played and the scores level, the Springboks’ hopes of reaching the World Cup final rested squarely on the shoulders of their fly-half, Handre Pollard.
The 25-year-old, above, had kicked beautifully to that point, landing three penalties and a conversion – to add to Damian de Allende’s try – as South Africa and Wales were locked at 16-16 in their Rugby World Cup semi-final in Yokohama.
Pollard may have been feeling the pressure as he approached that clinching penalty, below, as he had gone into the match with a 63 per cent goal-kicking success rate at this tournament. Top kickers in world rugby normally aim for at least 80 per cent.
It was arguably his toughest kick of the night, close to the Wales 10-metre line, 44m from the posts and at an acute angle not far from the left-hand touchline. But Pollard stepped forward and, with a fluid swing of his right leg, sent the ball sailing through the uprights to maintain his 100 per cent record in the match. His 14-point haul, made up of four penalties and a conversion, earned him the Player of the Match award.
It was a magnificent effort, and one that ultimately propelled the Boks into Saturday’s World Cup final against England.
"You try to forget the situation and the external factors but of course there’s pressure," said Pollard.
"But that’s why we train so hard. You imagine those scenarios over and over in your head."
Apart from his goal-kicking, Pollard directed South Africa with aplomb, driving Wales back with lengthy kicks out of hand.
He was a constant threat with ball in hand, driving his 1.88m frame towards the Welsh defence.
Now he can start dreaming of World Cup glory and emulating his achievement at junior level, when he was the fly-half (while still at school) for the South Africa team who won the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in his native Cape Town.
"England were brilliant," he said of their opponents in the final. "Physically, they really stepped it up (against New Zealand). They brought it to new level. Our boys will be keen for that, and they will be ready for it.
"We’ll train, but you can't change too much at this time in the tournament. So, we’ll recover well and, come Saturday, we have to be the more clinical side.”