Wales 16-19 South Africa

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Wales’ Rugby World Cup dream is over after the men in red fell to South Africa in the semi-final in Yokohama on Sunday.

Warren Gatland had been forced into two changes to his starting XV as injuries to Josh Navidi and Liam Williams in the week had ruled them out of the remainder of the tournament, with Ross Moriarty and Leigh Halfpenny selected in their places.

A tense opening 20 minutes was a very different start to this semi-final than England flying out of the blocks against New Zealand the day before, with both teams endeavouring to establish dominance in the air.

South Africa got the better of that early in the half, with Ross Moriarty and Gareth Davies both making mistakes under the high ball, and that resulted in the men in red being pinned back in their own territory.

Although the defence largely held up to the powerful Springbok carrying, Wales did concede penalties and Handre Pollard put nine points on the board from the tee, with his side especially dominant in the scrum.

There was also a physical cost of the game for the Welsh, with Tomas Francis and George North both departing before half-time, but as the minutes ticked by they did slowly start to get a foothold in the game.

Handre Pollard South Africa
Handre Pollard was a key man with his goal kicking

When Wales did move the ball there was joy to be had out wide, but opportunities to get outside the first man were few and far between. Fortunately when we did get the kicking right we moved forward and won two penalties of our own with Biggar ensuring the score was 6-9 at the break.

Within a few minutes of the restart he had levelled the scores up off the tee, however, for the next 10 minutes South Africa set about dominating proceedings, putting pressure on via the kicking game and turning that into winning penalties.

That culminated when the Springboks strung a number of attacking phases inside our territory and Damian de Allende was able to shrug off Biggar and Tomos Williams to crash over in impressive style.

Faced with the threat of seeing the game slip away Warren Gatland sprung into life and started to utilise his replacements, with one of those in Dillon Lewis doing brilliantly to win a penalty over the ball and Wales kicked into opposition territory for the first time in the half.

Nineteen phases of attack couldn’t break down the South Africa defence, but with a penalty advantage in the back pocket a brave decision from Alun Wyn Jones to take the scrum paid off when Ross Moriarty, Tomos Williams and Jon Davies moved the ball well to send Josh Adams over out wide.

Leigh Halfpenny converted in superb fashion to level the scores again, and the battle to gain the upper hand in the middle of the field continued to rage against two teams not taking a backwards step.

Josh Adams South Africa
Josh Adams scored his sixth try of the Rugby World Cup

Inside the last 10 minutes and Wales were going through the phases again, but this time Rhys Patchell dropped back into the pocket for the drop goal which fell short and wide.

It was from there that the Springboks would launch a match winning sequence of events as they kicked the ball clear and after the resulting lineout Francois Louw produced a trademark jackal to win the penalty.

South Africa kicked down field and as they went to push the driving maul forward on their own throw it was Rhys Carre who was adjudged to have entered at the side and give Handre Pollard the chance to take the lead, which he duly took.

With five minutes to go there was little time for Wales to do anything that would secure passage to a first ever World Cup Final, and so it came to pass that we would depart the tournament at the semi-final stage once again.

After 18 months of hard work from Warren Gatland, his coaching staff and the players it is a sour note to end on, but they can hold their heads high knowing that they worked hard and did the nation proud.

On the day South Africa simply out-muscled and out-did us in the air, leaving Wales with really poor quality ball to play from and very little chance to move the ball wider than the inside centre channel.

We must now pick ourselves up for the third-place play-off on Friday morning though, as the Warren Gatland era ends with a game against his homeland New Zealand.

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