Reigning champions New Zealand reached a second straight Rugby World Cup final after defeating South Africa 20-18 in a close encounter on Saturday.
Tries by Jerome Kaino and substitute Beauden Barratt ensured victory over Springboks, while the All Blacks now have the opportunity to return to Twickenham next Saturday and attempt to become the first-ever team to win consecutive tournaments.
South Africa by no means made it easy for New Zealand, and despite scoring no tries, showed their strength through Dan Carter who kicked no less than two conversions, a drop-goal and a penalty.
“It was always going to be close, they’re a great side and they showed that again,” said New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen in a post-match press conference. “I was really proud of our guys, they kept their composure.”
“We just needed to come out for the second half and start taking the game to them rather than waiting for them to take it to us. We talked about it at half-time. We talked about keeping composure and talked about winning the first 10 minutes.”
New Zealand started tentatively as Springboks full-back Willie Le Roux sent centre Jesse Kriel through a gap in the rearguard, and though the All Blacks eventually cleared the early threat, Carter’s clearance landed in touch while Handre Pollard claimed a penalty.
But New Zealand only took six minutes to find their feet, and a Kaino try in the corner converted by Carter at the second attempt, after South Africa wing Bryan Habana encroached on an attempt at a charge-down, put them comfortably ahead.
South Africa hit back soon after, however, and Pollard took a second penalty to reduce the deficit to one point, while wing JP Pietersen just missed denying Le Roux’s kick for goal.
Penalised for drifting offside, New Zealand conceded another penalty for Pollard to complete his hat-trick, but bad news was to follow as they had their chance to kick reversed due to a dangerous neck-roll tackle by prop John Moody on Boks number eight Duane Vermeulen.
The misery continued for the All Blacks, as Kaino then kicked the ball away despite being offside, which left his side one man down while Pollard kicked another penalty to take a 12-7 halftime lead.
South Africa returned from the break with the determination to make their extra-player advantage count, but ironically it was New Zealand who first put points in the scoreboard courtesy of Carter’s drop-goal.
Hansen then made his first substitution by taking off wing Nehe Milner-Skudder, who was lucky to avoid being penalised for an obstruction, to bring on Barrett, who collected a pass from Nonu to cross wide for a try.
Habana, who had been wronged earlier was now to blame for the deliberate knock-on, and while Carter added the extras to Barrett’s effort, the Springbok wing was duly yellow carded.
South Africa remained resolute though New Zealand had stolen the five-point lead, and Pollard continued traded penalties with Carter to set up a desperately close last quarter.
Pollard lined up for another penalty, but he could not have foreseen the misfortune of the chance being reversed because for another neck-roll tackle, though this time it was South Africa substitute Victor Matfield who was the guilty party.
Lambie closed off the action with a last-gasp penalty as the rain began to fall, but the day, and so the win, ultimately belonged to New Zealand.