2019 Rugby World Cup

Wales vs South Africa: How'd We Get Here?

Wales vs South Africa: How'd We Get Here?

Wales and South Africa got the job done over the weekend to set up a rematch from 2015 in the semifinal.

Oct 21, 2019 by Alex Rees
Wales vs South Africa: How'd We Get Here?

Wales and South Africa each progressed their way to the semifinals on Sunday, beating France and Japan, respectively. 

Whereas South Africa comfortably handled brave hosts Japan, Wales survived by the skin of their teeth to make it through alive against the French. 

It sets up a rematch from the 2015 World Cup, when the Welsh were defeated in the quarterfinals by a last-gasp try from Springboks. Since that encounter, Wales have beaten South Africa in five of the past six meetings. 

However, the past means little in a World Cup semifinal, and both teams know it will take a monumental effort to get through to the final. 

Here's how they got to this stage over the weekend:

- Wales 20-19 France -

Wales scored an eighth victory in nine games over the French on Sunday, but this one was surely their most fortunate. 

Aided massively by an early second-half red card from French lock Sebastien Vahaamahina, the Welsh erased a 12-0 deficit to advance their third semifinal all time.

The red card was an utterly senseless move from Vahaamahina, who delivered a brutal elbow to the face of Wales' Aaron Wainwright just as France looked sure to score again and extend their 19-10 lead.

Grit from Wales

Despite their lackluster performance, Wales did what they do best and ground out a hard-fought win. They were definitely second-best on the day, but they stayed with it all game and finally took the lead in the 74th minute following replacement No. 8 Ross Moriarty's try. 

People laughed when coach Warren Gatland stated after the Six Nations that Wales "have forgotten how to lose," and although they may have gotten lucky this weekend, it appears he may just be right. 

Excluding their World Cup warmup tests over the summer, Wales have incredibly won 19 straight competitive matches. 

No Jonathan Davies, big problem

Shortly before kickoff, Welsh outside center Jonathan Davies was ruled out after aggravating a knee injury he sustained against Fiji in pool play. 

Davies is unquestionably one of the very best centers in the whole world, having been capped 79 times for Wales and another six for the British & Irish Lions, for whom he won man of the tour for the 2017 trip to New Zealand. 

Not only does he serve as Wales' best attacking option with his speed, power, and distributing, but he is an unbelievable defender in the #13 channel. 

Davies is one of the best in the world at making defensive reads, which is a huge reason for why Wales are able to play such an aggressive defense in the middle.

In his absence, French outside center Virimi Vakatawa had a blinding first half, making a break to set up one try and then blasting through the defense to score one of his own. 

Fingers are crossed that Davies can return to fitness for the South Africa game and put his stamp on a battle that will be on a knife's edge. 

- South Africa 26-3 Japan -

The Springboks advanced to their second consecutive World Cup semifinal after taking down Japan. Major kudos to Japan for being exceptional hosts, and especially for proving to the world that they are truly a rugby power.

It wasn't the most exciting game of all time, but it was a vintage South African performance which relied on a massive defensive effort from the Springboks. They suffocated Japan with high pressure and enormous hits, taking away the Brave Blossom's penchant for spinning the ball wide and playing free-flowing rugby. 

In all reality, the Boks probably could have won by a few more tries but their ball-handling let them down a few times, and a couple of questionable decisions from referee Wayne Barnes limited the damage. 

De Allende is finding his form

South African center Damian de Allende was absolutely superb on Sunday. He consistently rampaged through Japanese tacklers, putting his team on the front foot and giving Faf de Klerk sexy ball to work with. 

De Allende is a player who can dominate an entire game when he's on form, but has at times been somewhat inconsistent at the test level. Should he carry on and deliver another rocking performance in the semis against Wales, the Boks will have a great chance to reach the final. 

His counterpart next week will be the defensively rock-solid Hadleigh Parkes for Wales. There's no question the two are set for some bone-crunching collisions, and whoever holds up better could make the difference for his team. 

Not overplaying

Similar to the way England took care of Australia, South Africa kept their game plan simple and relied on playing the game in the right areas of the field. 

The Springboks chose not to try and run the ball from everywhere against Japan, instead often hoofing kicks deep into their territory and daring them to run it out. 

It's the same tactic South Africa used in 2007 when they last won the World Cup. It makes sense to do that when you've got a defense as ferocious, and a kicking game as deadly as the Boks do. 

If teams are not willing to run it out against South Africa, it plays right into their hands. The Springboks' most deadly threats on the field are in the back three, with superstar Cheslin Kolbe, veteran playmaker Willie le Roux, and World Cup breakout star Makazoli Mapimpi covering across the back. 

If teams elect to kick to touch, the Springboks will employ their dominant lineout maul to grind their way to the line.

There is just enough firepower in the South African attack to manufacture a few tries in the big games to supplement their excellent defense. 

It will be the 2019 Six Nations winners against the 2019 Rugby Championship winners with a berth to the ultimate game on the line. It will be extremely close, as two of the world's most passionate rugby nations get together for an incredible occasion.