By Mitch Phillips
New Zealand surged into the Rugby World Cup final for a record fourth time when they proved too strong, too dangerous and ultimately too streetwise for South Africa in a predictably tense 20-18 victory on Saturday.
Tries by Jerome Kaino and Beauden Barrett in each half were a fair representation of the All Blacks’ superior commitment to attack and they deservedly advanced to face Argentina or Australia in the final back at Twickenham.
“We did it the hard way today. It was always going to be that way but we’ve got a crack at it next week,” New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said.
“Our discipline was keeping them in the game, we had to find that bit extra. We’ve been saying they would bring everything. There were no surprises and we had to dig deep to get the result.”
South Africa led 12-7 at halftime through the goal-kicking of Handre Pollard but spent most of the half defending.
Though they offered precious little in attack all match and kicked badly out of hand the Springboks somehow clawed their way back to within two points with more penalties to set up a nail-biting last 10 minutes.
New Zealand, however, showed all their vast experience to run down the clock and give themselves the chance to become the first country to retain the title.
The majority of the first half was played in the South African half but the Springboks emerged from it five points ahead thanks to magnificent defence and the deadly boot of Pollard.
New Zealand got the only try of the half after seven minutes when McCaw sent Kaino over in the corner and though Dan Carter converted, he struck the post with a later penalty.
There were no such problems for Pollard, whose beautifully struck kicks bisected the posts four times after the All Blacks were continually penalised.
The consolation for the holders was that they would have confidence their rivals would eventually tire and if there was no improvement in their tactical kicking, they would not be able to keep out the relentless black waves.
In fact the South African kicking got worse, inviting attack after attack, and as they lost three successive lineouts, the pressure ramped up.
Carter slotted a drop goal then the All Blacks went right and left to create space and send replacement wing Barrett over for a converted try and a 17-12 lead.
A penalty apiece made it 20-15 going into the final 20 minutes and Pat Lambie, on for the injured Pollard, landed a difficult 40-metre effort to reduce the lead to two points.
As the rain lashed down and handling became difficult the two giants of the sport smashed away at each other desperate to find a gap, or force a penalty.
But it was New Zealand who took control and, appropriately, ended the game deep in the South African half.