Commodities: Rugby World Cup: New Zealand Beats South Africa, 20-18

By Joshua Robinson 
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LONDON–It took five weeks’ worth of rugby to confirm what everyone seemed to know when the tournament kicked off: The New Zealand All Blacks will be in the World Cup final. They earned the right to defend the trophy they won at home four years ago with a bruising 20-18 victory over South Africa.

But 40 minutes from the final whistle, before 80,090 fans at Twickenham Stadium, the surest thing in rugby was in trouble.

The All Blacks trailed 12-7 and were down to 14 men with Jerome Kaino in the sin bin. So during the halftime break, New Zealand captain Richie McCaw led his team back into the rain, several minutes before the Springboks. They ran some drills. They offered words of encouragement. Then McCaw–cut, cauliflower-eared and swollen like a prizefighter–rallied his troops.

“Rather than be scared of it, you just back yourselves [with] all the practice that you did, to nail those moments,” McCaw said.

Over the minutes that followed, New Zealand began to look like itself again, slick, powerful and prepared to pounce on any opportunity South Africa coughed up. And the Springboks, who upset the All Blacks on this field in the 1995 World Cup final, offered them just enough.

“In 2007, as a young captain he was criticized a lot. And that hurt him, but he’s grown,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said of McCaw. “We’ve got a leadership group on the pitch that has a massive amount of self-belief.”

The All Blacks came into the semifinals with World Cup losing records against just two teams. They beat one here on Saturday. Now they might have to beat the other, Australia, here in the final on Oct. 31. The Wallabies play in the second semi against underdog Argentina at Twickenham on Sunday.

“Whoever we get will be very, very tough,” Hansen said. “That’s why I don’t care. I just want them to bash each other to bits tomorrow.”

Before the tournament started, it seemed almost impossible that the All Blacks wouldn’t make the final. But throughout their first five games, there were signs–small ones, admittedly–that a top side in peak form could trouble them. Argentina harassed New Zealand physically for 60 minutes in the opener. Blown handoffs or mishandled balls occasionally dotted the victories that followed, even the drubbings, such as the 62-13 quarterfinal victory over France.

“Sometimes great performance can look like they did against France and sometimes good performances can look the way they did against South Africa,” Hansen said. “They don’t always look the same.”

In the first half against South Africa, though, the mistakes returned. New Zealand sabotaged itself by giving away nine penalties despite having 65% of the ball. Four of them resulted in successful kicks for the Springboks’ Handre Pollard. The All Blacks’ early try by Kaino, plus the conversion by Dan Carter, had been canceled out.

Carter smartly took a drop goal six minutes into the second half to chip away at the deficit before the All Blacks capitalized on a South African turnover within 10 meters of its own goal line. New Zealand worked the ball wide to Beauden Barrett who dove over the line and Carter tacked on the conversion. Adding insult to injury for the Springboks, Bryan Habana received a yellow card on the sequence.

What had been a two-point, one man advantage for South Africa just three minutes earlier was now a five-point, one-man deficit. As turning points go in international rugby, this one couldn’t have been more obvious.

“Only a win is good enough for South Africa,” Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer said. “It’ll never be enough if I coach South Africa to come close and don’t win.”

South Africa awoke from its slumber in the final 20 minutes. Two more penalties by Pollard closed the gap to two points. But it couldn’t live with the barrage of kicks from New Zealand launched into the purple-gray sky.

The Springboks spent nearly all of the closing exchanges penned in their own half. The All Blacks were moments from the match they see as their birthright, the World Cup final, and had no intention of letting it slip by them in the rain.

“Unfortunately we came up two points short,” said the Springboks’ Schalk Burger, who committed the key turnover before New Zealand’s second try.

“I’ve seen this movie before and it’s bloody horrible.”

Write to Joshua Robinson at joshua.robinson-wsj.com

By Joshua Robinson 
 

LONDON–It took five weeks’ worth of rugby to confirm what everyone seemed to know when the tournament kicked off: The New Zealand All Blacks will be in the World Cup final. They earned the right to defend the trophy they won at home four years ago with a bruising 20-18 victory over South Africa.

But 40 minutes from the final whistle, before 80,090 fans at Twickenham Stadium, the surest thing in rugby was in trouble.

The All Blacks trailed 12-7 and were down to 14 men with Jerome Kaino in the sin bin. So during the halftime break, New Zealand captain Richie McCaw led his team back into the rain, several minutes before the Springboks. They ran some drills. They offered words of encouragement. Then McCaw–cut, cauliflower-eared and swollen like a prizefighter–rallied his troops.

“Rather than be scared of it, you just back yourselves [with] all the practice that you did, to nail those moments,” McCaw said.

Over the minutes that followed, New Zealand began to look like itself again, slick, powerful and prepared to pounce on any opportunity South Africa coughed up. And the Springboks, who upset the All Blacks on this field in the 1995 World Cup final, offered them just enough.

“In 2007, as a young captain he was criticized a lot. And that hurt him, but he’s grown,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said of McCaw. “We’ve got a leadership group on the pitch that has a massive amount of self-belief.”

The All Blacks came into the semifinals with World Cup losing records against just two teams. They beat one here on Saturday. Now they might have to beat the other, Australia, here in the final on Oct. 31. The Wallabies play in the second semi against underdog Argentina at Twickenham on Sunday.

“Whoever we get will be very, very tough,” Hansen said. “That’s why I don’t care. I just want them to bash each other to bits tomorrow.”

Before the tournament started, it seemed almost impossible that the All Blacks wouldn’t make the final. But throughout their first five games, there were signs–small ones, admittedly–that a top side in peak form could trouble them. Argentina harassed New Zealand physically for 60 minutes in the opener. Blown handoffs or mishandled balls occasionally dotted the victories that followed, even the drubbings, such as the 62-13 quarterfinal victory over France.

“Sometimes great performance can look like they did against France and sometimes good performances can look the way they did against South Africa,” Hansen said. “They don’t always look the same.”

In the first half against South Africa, though, the mistakes returned. New Zealand sabotaged itself by giving away nine penalties despite having 65% of the ball. Four of them resulted in successful kicks for the Springboks’ Handre Pollard. The All Blacks’ early try by Kaino, plus the conversion by Dan Carter, had been canceled out.

Carter smartly took a drop goal six minutes into the second half to chip away at the deficit before the All Blacks capitalized on a South African turnover within 10 meters of its own goal line. New Zealand worked the ball wide to Beauden Barrett who dove over the line and Carter tacked on the conversion. Adding insult to injury for the Springboks, Bryan Habana received a yellow card on the sequence.

What had been a two-point, one man advantage for South Africa just three minutes earlier was now a five-point, one-man deficit. As turning points go in international rugby, this one couldn’t have been more obvious.

“Only a win is good enough for South Africa,” Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer said. “It’ll never be enough if I coach South Africa to come close and don’t win.”

South Africa awoke from its slumber in the final 20 minutes. Two more penalties by Pollard closed the gap to two points. But it couldn’t live with the barrage of kicks from New Zealand launched into the purple-gray sky.

The Springboks spent nearly all of the closing exchanges penned in their own half. The All Blacks were moments from the match they see as their birthright, the World Cup final, and had no intention of letting it slip by them in the rain.

“Unfortunately we came up two points short,” said the Springboks’ Schalk Burger, who committed the key turnover before New Zealand’s second try.

“I’ve seen this movie before and it’s bloody horrible.”

Write to Joshua Robinson at joshua.robinson-wsj.com