LONDON, 24 Oct - Flanker Jerome Kaino and replacement back Beauden Barrett scored tries as defending champions New Zealand battled their way to a 20-18 victory over South Africa in the rain to reach their fourth Rugby World Cup final on Saturday.
Despite dominating most of the possession and territory in a tight, physical game, the All Blacks were forced to endure a nervous last quarter at Twickenham after five penalties from Springbok fly-half Handre Pollard and another kick from his replacement, Patrick Lambie, kept them under pressure until the final whistle.
Fly-half Dan Carter kicked 10 points to complete a deserved victory for the All Blacks, who lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 1987 and 2011 and were runners-up to the Springboks in 1995. In the final, on 31 October at Twickenham, they will play the winner of Sunday’s second semi-final between Australia and Argentina.
In sharp contrast to their flamboyant 62-13 destruction of France in the quarter-finals, this was a performance of New Zealand forward power and defensive strength. At times, though, South Africa’s relentless physical play threatened to win the day as the All Blacks found themselves repeatedly penalised for indiscipline at the breakdown.
Above all, the All Blacks proved their character in their toughest encounter so far after a largely straightforward run to the last four.
After trailing the Springboks 12-7 at half-time, New Zealand took control of the game in the second half. Their determination to keep alive their hopes of winning the Cup for the first time away from home was clearly on view during the half-time interval.
Instead of spending all of the break in the changing rooms, the All Blacks came out five minutes before they needed to and went through drills on the pitch in the rain.
The All Blacks had enjoyed the majority of the play in the first period and scored a try in the seventh minute, when Kaino (pictured above) skilfully plucked a high pass from captain Richie McCaw out of the air and crashed over near the right-hand corner flag.
But the Springboks were winning the aerial battle and defended superbly. When South Africa did make progress into the New Zealand half, All Black indiscipline at the breakdown gave Pollard the opportunity to slot over penalties. He put over four in the first half to keep South Africa ahead.
With the rain pouring down, the All Blacks were forced to start the second half with 14 men after Kaino was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate offside just before the break. But New Zealand produced an intense period of pressure and, after a Carter drop goal, centre Ma’a Nonu fed replacement utility back Barrett to dive in at the left-hand corner in the 52nd minute.
Carter converted from the touchline to give the All Blacks a 17-12 lead while South Africa lost their prolific try-scorer Bryan Habana to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on. Pollard replied with a penalty but another kick from Carter kept the All Blacks ahead 20-15 entering the final quarter.
Pollard was forced to leave the field with an injury in the 65th minute and was replaced by Lambie, who quickly narrowed the deficit to 20-18 with a penalty. But the All Blacks continued to keep the Springboks under pressure and deserved their victory, for determination alone.