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YOKOHAMA — In a semifinal match fought mainly in the skies, it was the 81st and last kick of the game that finally broke Welsh hearts and booked South Africa’s progression to the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.
The physical toll of the 80 minutes was incomprehensible but this was as much about mental strength and a battle of concentration. Amid the relentless flurry of kicks, the semifinal was played out like chess; each team waited for the other to blink, where pressure built like the grip of a boa constrictor, until Handre Pollard’s unwavering penalty with four minutes to play saw the Springboks edge out Wales 19-16.
The Springboks’ roller-coaster ride — from a record-breaking losing run in 2016, to then sacking their coach mid-World Cup cycle, to this renaissance under Rassie Erasmus — continues as they look to win their third World Cup title against England on Saturday, on this very patch of grass they peppered with kicks raining from the sky on a cool night in Yokohama.
It has been some return for Erasmus in what was your archetypal World Cup knockout match of yesteryear: an arm-wrestle where width was a blessing and the pitch was chewed up and spat out by the forwards’ boots.
England now know what awaits them on Saturday. Japan knew they were in for a physical examination from the Springboks like the inevitability of a sunset, and they simply didn’t have the ammunition to counter the behemoths in last week’s quarterfinals. England know the Boks will thr
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