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It was a World Cup semi-final for the rugby purist. Seldom did the game break from a plodding pace as both sides played their structured, slow games, kicking for territory and content to play one-out rugby more often than not.
Wales and South Africa both possess exceptional defences and forward packs crafted to win with physicality and muscle up front. It was no surprise the game was played in such a manner – both sides backed themselves in a tight contest.
Ultimately, though, South Africa edged it. Wales will agonise over the details, analyse where they went wrong, but they, largely, executed their gameplan exactly to script. Mano-a-mano rugby invites a close contest, and Wales were reluctant to try anything particularly extravagant in attack for fear of losing the game. It was a game that was always likely to be decided by a single score, and Handre Pollard kept his nerve.
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While Pollard’s nerveless accuracy from the tee took South Africa to victory, the foundations were laid by the forwards, and, particularly, Jacques Nienaber’s brilliantly built defence.
And if England are to beat South Africa in next weekend’s final, they will have to match the Springboks’ physicality, and break down that defence.
It is a brutal South African pack, one built to dominate the gain line. South Africa’s game plan is predicated on winning collisions in both attack and defence. They are the kings of structured rugby. There is little invention or magic to their attacking phase play – they rely on bringing rather large men around the corner and on hard lines. They want the edge at scrum time, accuracy at the lineout, and chances to build a destructive maul.
They are not a side that over-complicates their play close-in, either. There are few tip-ons from forwards in tight spaces, not a huge amount of layering of potential runners off the distributor. South Africa want to play simple, unstructured rugby, and build around fierce defence.
Their commitment to structure has seen them make a change at hooker in the last few months. Incumbent Malcolm Marx is one of the most purely-talented front rowers South Africa have produced, with ability in the open field
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