Springboks through to the Rugby World Cup semifinals after putting hosts Japan to the sword
The rugby universe may have urged a different outcome but the sun has set on Japan’s stirringly courageous Rugby World Cup challenge.
They yielded to the Springboks and bowed out of the tournament as South Africa progress to the semifinals where they will play Wales in Yokohama next Sunday.
The Springboks fastidiously stuck to their guns and foisted upon Japan a forwards-based game in which they made their most significant inroads thanks to the quality of their set-piece.
This game never reached dizzy heights.
The Boks had no intention of taking it there.
Japan had expressed the wish to up the ante and to force upon the opposition a match in which the ball will be in play for 50 minutes.
It was a wonderful dream‚ but their nightmare of being suffocated out of the game increasingly became a reality.
Sure‚ Japan tried to create frenzy at its most frantic in the first half but gradually the energy was sapped from their effort by a belligerent and brutal Springbok defence.
Damian de Allende‚ Bongi Mbonambi‚ Pieter-Steph du Toit and even Faf de Klerk made some telling hits and while Japan kept coming the door remained shut.
The time and space they were afforded‚ by the at times‚ passive Scotlannd defence a week ago‚ was simply no longer there.
For that the Boks selected a fit-for-purpose match 23 and eventually this clash took a sheer physical toll on the home team.
The slow poison of dominant set-pieces only really took effective in the final quarter.
The Boks harangued Japan.
They profited richly from an assertive scrum-winning crucial penalties to make small‚ but significant advances on the scoreboard.
The line-out was also a source of sure possession with Lood de Jager impersonating the Tokyo Tower.
From it the Boks were always going to moreish in their use of the maul and its impact was there for all to see when the human caterpillar marched for more than 40 metres before Malcolm Marx peeled away and fed a speeding De Klerk to go over unchallenged.
Later Handre Pollard scythed through a gap before unleashing the tireless Makazole Mapimpi on the left wing for his second and the Boks’ third try.
The Boks certainly did not have things their own way before the break.
There were nine handling errors inside the first 23 minutes. The ball carrier barely had time to take receipt when he was met by force.
Japan tried to play with more variation‚ often reverting to cross kicks and they met some success in the air.
Although the Boks’ battle plan ultimately came through there are still some concerns.
Unless their forwards overwhelm the opposition as was the case here‚ their scoring opportunities seem limited. They still lack composure inside the opposition’s 22 and they again let a few opportunities slip from their grasp.
The Boks were looking to be more ruthless when opportunity presents itself and it would not have escaped them how in sync the All Blacks’ attack was here 24 hour earlier.
They‚ however‚ again fluffed their lines when they had Japan on the ropes. How Lukhanyo Am failed to find Mapimpi in the 33rd minute with the tryline begging beggars belief. When they did get the ball over the line‚ De Allende‚ on the cusp of the break‚ was deemed to have crawled some of the way.
In the second half a Willie le Roux pass to Pieter-Steph du Toit drifted forward when there was sufficient time to execute properly.
The Boks’ discipline was also letting them down by the time the break arrived. There again‚ Japan only conceded a third of the six the Boks conceded in the opening half.
Those are small work-ons in preparation for Wales.
The tournament moves on without Japan. They were worthy adversaries. They are even better hosts.
Japan (3) 3
Penalty: Yu Tamura.
South Africa (5) 26
Tries: Makazole Mapimpi (2)‚ Faf de Klerk. Conversion: Handre Pollard. Penalties: Pollard (3).