London - New Zealand advanced its Rugby World Cup title defense to the final by overcoming archrival South Africa 20-18 in the rain on Saturday.
In an atmosphere thick with tension at Twickenham, the All Blacks clung to their two-point lead for the last 12 minutes and stayed on course to become the first team to win consecutive Rugby World Cups.
The Springboks’ own quest to win a third title was washed away, and they had no chance to kick a late drop goal like they did to beat the All Blacks in the iconic final 20 years ago at Ellis Park.
The All Blacks repelled an attacking lineout by the Springboks, then managed the clock and pinned the South Africans back to not even give them one last peek at the tryline.
“The intensity, the physicality, and what both teams threw at each other was right up there,” said New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, who has won 20 of 26 contests against South Africa. “You look back on a game like today, and giving yourself a chance to make a World Cup final, and it’s pretty satisfying.”
Both teams enjoyed an edge in key areas, but managed to cancel them out.
The All Blacks had a majority of possession and territory, but the Springboks tackled to a standstill.
The All Blacks scored two tries, but their ill-discipline gave the Springboks six kicked penalties.
The All Blacks stole four lineouts, but the Springboks earned scrum penalties.
The All Blacks had a player sin-binned and conceded three points. South Africa had a man sin-binned and conceded only three, too.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said the win was even better than the 62-13 hiding the All Blacks gave France in the quarterfinals.
“Great performances don’t always look the same, but we enjoy them,” Hansen said. “Today was a special occasion.”
New Zealand will return to Twickenham next weekend for its record fourth final against either Australia, another two-time champion, or Argentina. Hansen was hoping those teams “smash each other” in the semifinal on Sunday.
Fans fret over McCaw
The All Blacks’ advance to a second successive World Cup final appearance was feted in New Zealand on Sunday, but local media fretted that a stray elbow could rule talismanic captain Richie McCaw out of the title-decider.
The defending champions will play the winner of Australia and Argentina for the Webb Ellis Cup after a tense win over South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.
But rugby-mad New Zealand faces a nervous wait to see whether McCaw will be cited for his contact on Francois Louw after he felled the Springboks flanker early in the match.
Video footage posted online shows McCaw charging into a ruck after 20 minutes of the match and Louw reeling from a blow as the New Zealand captain brushed past in pursuit of the ball.
The loss of the inspirational 34-year-old to suspension would be a big blow to the All Blacks’ hopes of back-to-back championships and a likely sad ending to the playing career of one of the game’s finest players.
McCaw has not declared he intends to retire from the game after the World Cup but is widely tipped to do so.