Makazole Mapimpi (left) under pressure during the Rugby World Cup 2019 quarterfinal match between Japan and South Africa at the Tokyo Stadium in Chofu, Japan, October 20 2019 Picture: PABLO MORANO/MB Media/GETTY IMAGES
Makazole Mapimpi (left) under pressure during the Rugby World Cup 2019 quarterfinal match between Japan and South Africa at the Tokyo Stadium in Chofu, Japan, October 20 2019 Picture: PABLO MORANO/MB Media/GETTY IMAGES

Tokyo — There was never any shortage of courage, but not even the bravest of blossoms could punch through Springbok brawn on Sunday as SA reached the Rugby World Cup semifinals by beating Japan 26-3 and ending the horst nation’s  dream run.

In what was a first World Cup quarterfinal for the Japanese, neither an entire nation seemingly now besotted by rugby, nor a raucous 50,000 crowd packed into Tokyo Stadium, could carry the hosts to victory.

It was always going to be an enormous ask for Japan to replicate what has been their greatest moment on a rugby field — beating SA 34-32 in a World Cup group stage match in Brighton, England, four years ago.

SA had been stunned by that “Miracle in Brighton” but with victories over both Ireland and Scotland this World Cup, Japan no longer held any element of surprise.

Lines were drawn, with both Japan and SA knowing precisely what they had to do to reach next weekend’s semifinal against Wales. This was always going to be a battle between the Boks’ forwards and the Brave Blossoms’ lightning backs.

The first half was close, mostly due to SA’s profligacy with the line at their mercy. The teams went in for the break with only two points separating them after an unconverted fourth-minute try by winger Makazole Mapimpi was countered by a Yu Tamura penalty for Japan.

But in the event, after an exhilarating first 40 minutes, the Japanese team ran out of energy, ideas and, finally, hope. They had not been tackled as fiercely this World Cup as they were on Sunday night. Nor had they faced such a disciplined, well-organised defence.

Where the South Africans had been careless early on — they could have gone in at halftime three or four tries to the good — they tightened everything up in the second period to devastating effect.

Man-of-the-match Faf de Klerk, who had helmed the South Africans artfully throughout, added a second try on 66 minutes and Mapimpi added his second four minutes later.

Pollard converted one try and slotted three penalties in the second period, all unanswered.

Japan could never hope to maintain the frenetic pace with which they had harried SA early on and departed the tournament beaten but with a whole new army of fans for their exciting, free-flowing rugby.

SA must now regroup for their Yokohama semifinal against Wales who earlier recorded a 20-19 victory over 14-man France, who had lock Sebastian Vahaamahina sent off at Oita Stadium.

Reuters