LONDON – South Africa and New Zealand will remain in England for two more weeks, while Wales and France will head home following the first two quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup on Saturday.
South Africa edged Wales 23-19 in a nail-biter at Twickenham, while New Zealand reminded everyone just why it is the defending champion as it hammered France 62-13 at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
The two Southern Hemisphere giants will face each other at Twickenham next Saturday, with the winner advancing to the final on Oct. 31 and the loser to the bronze-medal game the day before at the Olympic Stadium.
“We’re still in the competition,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, whose side started the competition with a loss to Japan. “It’s been unbelievable. The game could have gone either way.”
Suntory scrumhalf Fourie du Preez clinched the win for the Boks with a try six minutes from time while his Sungoliath teammate Schalk Burger was named man-of-the match as the men in green overcame a heroic Welsh side that made 189 tackles, missing just 19.
“It was tough. I don’t want to make any excuses. It was a huge, physical game. South Africa did what South Africa do. At the end of day, they hung in there, got one last chance and took it,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland.
Handre Pollard, who will join NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes after the tournament, added 18 points with the boot as the Boks eventually wore down the Welsh.
“We knew it was going to be tight but I couldn’t ask any more of the lads. They gave everything. It was back and forth all day but that last five minutes they did us at the post,” said Wales captain Sam Warburton.
Meanwhile, in the Welsh capital, the All Blacks ran in nine tries to beat Les Bleus in a rematch of the 2011 final with wing Julian Savea grabbing a hat-trick.
The French came into the game under a cloud, with talk of a player rebellion, and were a sorry sight at the end of a match that effectively became an 80-minute lesson in finishing.
“We worked hard for the last two months for this World Cup but each time we made a mistake, made a turnover, New Zealand punished us,” said France coach Philippe Saint-Andre, who saw his side concede more points than any other French side in over 700 tests.
Host England may be out of the tournament but the spiritual home of rugby was packed to the rafters and the noise deafening as Wales and South Africa produced a thriller in front of 79,572.
It wasn’t always pretty, as one would expect in an elimination game, but the level of physicality never let off.
“Knockout rugby is not about who plays the best rugby. It’s all about character,” said Meyer.
With referee Wayne Barnes giving a great lesson in man management, the first half was dominated by the two flyhalves.
Dan Biggar created a try for Gareth Davies with a great kick and chase and added eight points with the boot courtesy of a conversion, penalty and drop goal, while Pollard made the most of Welsh indiscipline to bang over four penalties from as many attempts as the sides went into the break with the Welsh leading 13-12.
The second half saw more of the same as the flyhalves exchanged kicks and the lead swung one way and then the other, before du Preez broke Welsh hearts.
Duane Vermeulen broke from the base of the scrum and put in a superb offload behind his back and du Preez defied the years and a long-standing issue with his ankle to scamper over in the corner.
“He’s a warrior and a tactical genius and it showed tonight,” said Meyer.