A late bit of magic by Fourie Du Preez ensured South Africa squeezed past Wales 23-19 in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final at Twickenham on Saturday. The Dragons defended doggedly to preserve the lead going into the last five minutes before the Springboks stole the win. Warren Gatland’s charges should have scored in the third minute when George North ran nearly 40 metres after he received the ball in a backline move before the ball came back the other way and Tyler Morgan, who was unmarked with about 15 metres to make, could not take a wayward pass that went over his head into touch.
Nevertheless it was Heyneke Meyer’s men who were three points to the good in the ninth minute courtesy of a Handre Pollard penalty against the run of play. Four minutes later Pollard doubled the lead with another place kick. Dan Biggar pulled a three-pointer back for the two-time World Cup bronze medallists 90 seconds later in what was shaping up as a fierce contest at England’s home of rugby.
However just a minute later Pollard was presented with a chance to restore the six-point advantage and the Bulls flyhalf duly delivered from the tightest of angles. Wille Le Roux was beaten in the air from a chip-and-chase by Biggar only 30 seconds later on the edge of his own 22 before the number 10 offloaded to Gareth Davis who went over for the first try of the day. Biggar landed the conversion to hand the northern hemisphere side the lead.
The lead was lost instantly after Gareth Anscombe obstructed Le Roux and Pollard put the penalty over to make it 12-10 after 20 minutes. Biggar missed a late penalty attempt before landing a drop goal with the last move of the half to hand the Welsh a 13-10 lead at the break. Pollard could have restored the southern hemisphere side’s lead after three second stanza minutes but he pushed his effort wide.
Three minutes later it seemed the first half’s opening quarter pattern of penalty trading was about to repeat itself when Biggar booted a three-pointer to stretch the British side further ahead. The South Africans pulled three points back courtesy of a Pollard drop goal after what seemed like an infinity of phases by the Boks’ forwards without any reward against a resolute defence by Gatland’s troops. In the 56th minute Pollard had another penalty attempt but pulled his attempt wide.
The red jerseys were under siege by wave after wave of attack by Meyer’s men but there appeared no way through. At the start of the final quarter the green and gold jerseys were back in the lead thanks to a Pollard penalty that was swaying wide before curling in at the far post. The restoration of the lead was short-lived as the Europeans were awarded a penalty straight from the restart and Biggar made no mistake in making it 19-18 with 17 minutes left on the clock.
The African outfit stole the match with six minutes to go when Duane Vermeulen picked up and ran from an attacking scrum before a back flip pass to Du Preez who darted for the corner to go over in spectacular fashion. Pollard’s conversion attempt was nowhere but at 23-19 it was South Africa’s game. The Springboks held on to book a semi-final match against either New Zealand or France next week.