New Zealand beats South Africa, advances to Rugby World Cup final

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New Zealand advanced to the Rugby World Cup final by beating South Africa 20-18 in an attritional game in wet conditions on Saturday, keeping on track for a first successful defense of the title.

The All Blacks scored both of the semifinal’s tries at Twickenham, through flanker Jerome Kaino in the sixth minute and reserve back Beauden Barrett in the 52nd, and recovered from a 12-7 deficit at halftime.

South Africa’s game plan, based on tough defense and kicking at every opportunity, frustrated New Zealand in the first half but was less effective after the break. The Springboks’ points came from six penalties – five by flyhalf Handre Pollard in the first half and another from his replacement, Pat Lambie.

Flyhalf Dan Carter kicked the rest of New Zealand’s points through two conversions, a penalty and a dropped goal, in a match that stayed tense until the end.

Australia and Argentina meet on Sunday in the second semifinal.

All Blacks coach Steven Hansen doesn’t care who his team meets in the Rugby World Cup final next weekend, his only hope being that the other finalist is hurting.

“I don’t care. I really don’t. I just want them to bash each other to bits tomorrow,” he said.

Rugby Championship winner Australia will start as favorite against Argentina, given it has won two World Cups and has a superior head-to-head record, but the Pumas are hitting top form and using an expansive running game. The winner will advance to the final, the loser into a third-place playoff against South Africa.

Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer said it would be difficult to lift his team emotionally after the letdown against New Zealand, with not a lot really at stake.

“Mentally, it’s very, very tough,” to regroup after losing a semifinal, he said. As for the third-place game, “It does not mean anything to me, it’s like kissing your sister.”