TOKYO, 27 Oct -  Tries are rare in Rugby World Cup semi-finals, and winning margins slim.

At the past four tournaments, one semi-final has been decided by five points or fewer. At RWC 2019, each of the last four teams crossed over only once. A reliable kicker, then, is a godsend.

South Africa and England's successful placekicking strategies were deployed in different circumstances.

Handre Pollard scored from four of South Africa's eight penalties in Sunday's semi-final, and converted Damian de Allende's try, booting the Springboks into the final.

South Africa and Wales laboured in vain to set up try-scoring opportunities until Damian de Allende scored in the 56th minute. Both teams took their chances to kick points instead.

At half-time, each had entered the other's 22 just twice.

Wales left the red zone with three points on each occasion. Duane Vermeulen knocked the ball on during one of South Africa's visits into the Wales 22 but on the other, Handre Pollard scored three points.

The other six points for South Africa came from longer shots.

The Springboks won a penalty 44m out on the left in the last five minutes with the score at 16-16, below, and Pollard picked a fine moment to rediscover his aim after a below-average tournament with the boot.


Prior to the semi-final, Pollard's success rate was 63 per cent. On Sunday, he scored all five of his opportunities, edging back towards his career average, and sealing the match with his last attempt.

Rhys Patchell missed a drop goal attempt that would have given Wales the lead, but Pollard, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny all had 100 per cent success rates with their kicks at goal, maintaining their reputations as three of the best placekickers in the world.

By contrast, England ran out on Saturday with tries uppermost in their minds. When those did not flow freely, England's dominance ensured the scoreboard kept ticking over.

England scored only seven points from seven entries into New Zealand's 22 in the first 25 minutes. George Ford also missed a drop goal attempt in the 33rd minute.

Soon afterwards, he built on England's early try with a huge 47m kick, below, taking the score to 10-0.

FORD 47M PEN.mp4

It is rare to see a 10-point lead pulled back in international rugby, still less a 13-point one, which England secured through a Ford penalty in front of the posts.

Though New Zealand's try brought the advantage back to 13-7, England hit back almost immediately with another penalty, extending the margin to nine points.

Ford closed the match down with a 44m penalty goal on 69 minutes, below, winding up the score at 19-7.

FORD 44M PEN.mp4

The two semi-finals were very different spectacles, showcasing almost opposite approaches. But the scoresheet does not lie, and at the end of each, the kickers were king.

RNS sdg/ar