The battle of Twickenham between New Zealand and South Africa left broken teeth, black eyes and stitches, but All Black warhorse Dan Carter escaped the carnage to see the All Blacks through to a fourth World Cup final.
Carter, the highest scorer in Test rugby, kicked 10 points, including a crucial drop goal in a second half resurgence, as New Zealand fought back from 12-7 down to beat the Springboks 20-18 Saturday.
“You should have seen the smile on my face at the end of the game. To hold out there in that last five minutes was awesome,” said the 33-year-old Carter who will now get to play in his first World Cup final next Saturday in probably his last game for the All Blacks.
The win under driving rain at Twickenham also took New Zealand a step closer to their ambition of becoming the first country to win three World Cup titles and the first to claim two in a row.
They will face the winners of Sunday’s second semi-final between Australia and Argentina next week.
Defeat left the Springboks nursing badly wounded pride and injured faces they will not forget in a hurry — symbols of the harshly fought clash.
South African captain Fourie du Preez, 33, said he had probably played his last Test after suffering a broken tooth and badly swollen cheekbone and eye.
– Rugby in rain –
Flanker Francois Louw needed stitches in two head wounds after the game. “I’ve got 16 here and four there,” he said pointing to a gash down the left hand side of his forehead and then to his right temple.
Video images emerged after the game showing New Zealand captain Richie McCaw’s elbow apparently striking Louw as he chased a player with the ball.
Most commentators said the images appeared inconclusive but some New Zealand media fretted that McCaw could be cited.
With his side losing by five points at half time and try scorer Jerome Kaino in the sin-bin, it was McCaw who brought his team onto the pitch before the end of the half-time break to lay down the law in public.
In a six minute period after the restart, Carter got his drop goal and replacement Beauden Barrett got a try with his first touch to swing the game New Zealand’s way.
“Sometimes when you get put under adversity, you are down to 14, you just find that little bit extra. Everyone had to make up for that,” McCaw said explaining the half-time summit.
South African coach Heyneke Meyer said the Carter drop goal was the turning point.
“All credit to Carter,” said Meyer who apologised for the Springbok defeat. “When they needed it he put it through.”
The battle between two of the biggest rivals in rugby went down to the wire with never more than five points difference between the two teams.
“I guess we did it the hard way today, but that was always going to be the case against the Springboks,” said McCaw.
The wet weather did not help either side trying to kick for territory.
And the All Blacks were punished early on for a string of errors.
South Africa relied on the boot of Handre Pollard who landed five penalties before he was replaced, with 15 minutes to go, by Pat Lambie who also kicked a penalty.
Pollard got his first three points with just three minutes gone. Though Kaino got a try, New Zealand’s indiscipline left them 9-7 down after 20 minutes.
Carter’s heroics and Barrett’s try set up the game for a tense finish. But New Zealand held on in the rain.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen praised his side’s “composure” under pressure but expressed concern about the 13 penalties conceded during the game — including nine in the first half when Pollard did most damage.
“It’s worrying,” Hansen commented, adding that he would looking closely at the match video.
The Springboks were left despondent.
“We should have won this game, we had it in our hands, especially in the first half,” said Meyer.
Lood de Jager, one of the young stars of the South Africa squad which fought back from losing their opening game to Japan, said there was a grim changing room atmosphere.
“It is quiet and there is a lot of reflection because a lot of guys are ending their careers.”
South Africa play the losers of the Australia-Argentina game in the third place playoff next Friday. – Agence France-Presse