In the end it was a game too far for Japan. The Brave Blossoms have been the story of this World Cup so far thanks to some brilliant and inventive rugby that has generated an army of new fans, not only domestically, but around the world. Locals and neutrals were hoping for another stellar performance, but the Springboks were just too smart, too streetwise, and ultimately too strong to let another “miracle” happen.
The first half was an exhilarating, though low scoring affair. South Africa came out of the blocks quickest with Makazole Mapimpi grabbing the first try after just four minutes. Five minutes later, prop Tendai Mtawarira was sin-binned for a tip tackle on Keita Inagaki. He can perhaps count himself a little lucky to have gotten away with only a yellow. With the man advantage, Japan went on the offensive, getting their first points just before Mtawarira returned to the field. Yu Tamura’s penalty reduced the deficit to two points to the delight of the home crowd, who were once again in fine voice.
Japan continued to come at South Africa with their quick, incisive passing, but couldn’t find their way through a stubborn Springboks defence. The game was ebbing and flowing from one end of the pitch to the other. Two fumbles from South African players cost them what looked like certain tries. After the gong sounded Damian De Allende went over for the Boks, however, English referee Wayne Barnes disallowed it for a double movement. A controversial decision to end a thrilling half 5-3 to South Africa. “I’m a bit out of breath,” said former Springboks legend Bryan Habana speaking on ITV.
Three minutes in to the second half and a penalty from fly-half Handré Pollard extended South Africa’s lead to five points. Five minutes later he did it again to make it 11-3. The two-time World Champions started to turn the screw and Japan had no answer. They had given everything in this game and in this tournament, but the Springboks are a step up in class. They know how to dictate the pace of the match and deny the opposition space. After another penalty from Pollard, the magnificent Faf de Klerk went over for South Africa’s second try. Game over. Mapimpi then grabbed his second to seal a comprehensive 26-3 victory and set up a semi-final clash with Wales. For Japan it’s the end of what has been a memorable journey.
“Test match rugby is all about creating opportunities and taking your moments,” said inspirational captain Michael Leitch after the game. “Unfortunately, South Africa kept us out. They played their ‘A game’ and played it very well, and I wish them the best of luck. I’m extremely proud of the team, of what Jamie’s done. Japan’s only going to get stronger.”
Wales into Last Four as 14-man France Falter
A late try from Ross Moriarty earned Wales a dramatic victory over France who went down to 14 men in the 48th minute when lock Sébastien Vahaamahina stupidly elbowed Welsh flanker Aaron Wainwright in the face. That moment of madness probably cost his team the game. It came when Les Bleus we’re leading 19-10.
The French side were brilliant in the first half, scoring three tries through Vahaamahina, Charles Ollivon, and Virimi Vakatawa who was outstanding throughout. Wales stayed in contention thanks to the boot of Dan Biggar and a try by Wainwright. France were in the ascendancy, though, until Vahaamahina’s rush of blood to the head.
It was a complete role reversal from eight years ago when France defeated Wales by one point after Sam Warburton’s red card for the Welsh. Warren Gatland’s men were the better side that night, but he will have been mightily relieved to have come through this one after what was a disappointing display. They will need to improve next week if they are to have any chance of beating South Africa. The fitness of influential figure Jonathan Davies could be key. He missed this one due to a knee injury and Gatland will be desperate to see him back in the starting XV.
May at the Double to Send England Through
Chiseldon-born winger Jonny May bagged two first half tries as England defeated the Wallabies for the seventh time in-a-row to set up a mouthwatering semi-final tie with New Zealand. It was a brilliant display from Eddie Jones’ men who managed to win the game convincingly despite only having a third of the possession.
Australia kept coming, but the English defence was too strong. Prior to this match, the highest number of tackles by an England player at the World Cup was 16. In Oita, Sam Underhill, Jamie George, Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola all exceeded that number. 23-year-old flanker Underhill led the way with 20. He and fellow young flanker Tom Curry were outstanding in this match.
The 24-point-margin of victory, England’s best in a knockout World Cup match, was perhaps a little harsh on the Aussies who contributed to what was an entertaining game. Elliot Daly reduced the deficit to just a point after the break. A rampaging run from Kyle Sinckler then stretched England’s lead further and from that point, there was no way back for the Wallabies. It was a disappointing day for coach Michael Cheika who resigned following the defeat.
Breathtaking All Blacks Batter Ireland
From the moment Aaron Smith saw a gap and went over in the 13th minute this game was effectively over as a contest. Ireland, who haven’t had a particularly good tournament, couldn’t live with a New Zealand side who were simply magnificent on the night. It was 80 minutes of breathtaking rugby by the All Blacks who never let up even when the result was beyond doubt.
You have to go back 20 years for the last time the All Blacks lost a World Cup game to a team that wasn’t hosting the tournament. The way they are playing right now, that record may continue for a while longer yet. It’s England next for New Zealand in an enticing clash between very different sides who many regard as the top two in rugby right now. As good as the English were against Australia, they will need to up their game even further if they are to have a chance against the Kiwis.
There were many exceptional performers on the night for the All Blacks, though Beauden Barrett in particular stood out. One try, one assist and 21 carries, he was sublime. The Barrett family, including Scott and Jordie, who scored the game’s final try, dedicated the victory to their grandfather Edward who passed away earlier this week. As for Ireland captain Rory Best, it was a sad way to bow out, though he did get a terrific reception. Yet another quarter-final defeat for the Irish. The wait for that elusive first knockout victory at a World Cup goes on.
Feature photo by Richard Heathcote – World Rugby via Getty Images