TOKYO — There was no great shock this time, regardless of how much Japan threw at the Springboks.
South Africa advanced to the semifinals with a grinding 26-3 win over Japan on Sunday, bringing an end to the home team’s entertaining run at the first Rugby World Cup staged in Asia.
The week-long hype over a potential repeat of Japan’s upset over South Africa in 2015, the so-called Miracle of Brighton, was muscled out of reality by a big Springboks lineup that stuck to its attritional game plan.
With a halftime score of 5-3 it was still anybody’s game. The “epic moments” of Japan’s famous win four years ago were replayed on the stadium screen during the break but it seemed only to remind the South Africans of what was at stake in the second half.
Flyhalf Handre Pollard landed three penalty goals from the 44th to the 64th minutes to extend the margin to 14-3 before the South Africans finally opened up.
Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk scooted over in the 66th after a powerful driving maul from the Springboks had Japan on the back foot, and Makazole Mapimpi added his second try of the match by finishing off a long-range movement in the 70th to put the result beyond doubt.
Captain Michael Leitch and his Japanese squad won millions of converts to the sport for their high-intensity brand of running rugby, but were unable to cross South Africa’s line in what was their first ever trip to the knockout stages of the tournament.
The two-time champion Springboks are old pros at this end of the tournament, improving to 5-2 in Rugby World Cup semifinals and setting up a meeting against Wales next Sunday for a place in the final. England plays New Zealand in the other semifinal next Saturday.
The South Africans had to defend for most of the first half, were a man down for 14 minutes and only had 30% of the field position, but held their composure despite a mounting tally of handling errors.
Mapimpi gave South Africa a 5-0 lead in the 4th, easily beating an attempted tackle from Yu Tamuru on the short side after a big shove from the Springbok scrum and outpacing the cover defense to the left corner.
But Japan absorbed the early pressure from a much bigger Springboks pack and started to take control when veteran South Africa prop Tendi Mtawarira was yellow-carded in the 10th minute for a tip-tackle.
He immediately put his hands up to acknowledge the mistake, but left his team with 14 men for the next 10 minutes and Japan attacked relentlessly — even taking a scrum against the head.
That led to Japan’s points, from a calmly taken penalty goal by Tamura in the 20th minute.
Japan had done most of the running in the first half and went close after a Kenki Fukuoka surge on the left wing, but wasn’t able to turn almost 70% of possession and territory into a try.
That hurt after the break. Eventually the battering took a toll on the Japan side and possession and territory stats ended about even.
The Japan team did a lap of Tokyo Stadium, where die-hard fans stayed long after fulltime to celebrate their team.