Japan 3 South Africa 26
TOKYO • There was never a chance of 2015 repeating itself as South Africa shattered Japan's Rugby World Cup dream with a 26-3 win.
While there was no shortage of courage, not even the bravest of blossoms could punch through Springbok brawn yesterday.
It was always going to be an enormous ask for Japan to replicate what had been their greatest moment on a rugby field - beating South Africa 34-32 in the group stage at the last edition in England - until this year's tournament.
Unlike the "Miracle of Brighton", Japan this time had no element of surprise as they clashed with the two-time world champions. They played with the flair and verve they have shown at this tournament which yielded wins over Ireland and Scotland, but were eventually crushed by the power of Rassie Erasmus' men up front and in the tackle.
Captain Siya Kolisi revealed their defence had steeled themselves for the hosts' lightning-quick backs and "it was exactly what we expected". He added: "We knew what (Japan skipper Michael) Leitch and his boys would bring today. They came for us in the set piece and it took a lot out of us to keep fighting.
"We knew how fast they can play. They have a style that is fearless so we knew we had to get up... that is what we pride ourselves on."
South Africa, with Wales waiting in the semi-finals, can now make history as the only side to lift the title despite losing their opener (23-13 to New Zealand).
The players and the brand of rugby we have been playing has always been inspiring, but the difference is everyone is watching us now.
JAMIE JOSEPH, Japan coach, on the impact the Brave Blossoms have had during this tournament.
The first half was a captivating contrast between the frenzied movement of a red and white-shirted side that swarmed around, and the strong green line that kept its shape, thundered into tackles and looked to feed off mistakes.
After 30 minutes, the Springboks had attempted 90 tackles to Japan's 16, yet they only led 5-3. That they could not add to the score before the break was mostly due to their profligacy with the line at their mercy. An unconverted try by winger Makazole Mapimpi was countered by a Yu Tamura penalty for Japan, but South Africa should have had two more tries.
It was a different story after the break, though, as Japan ran out of energy, ideas and, finally, hope.
They had not been tackled as fiercely as they were last night, nor had they faced such a disciplined defence, although Erasmus said he had to "calm the guys down to execute" as they were "very nervous at half-time".
He added: "They (Japan) were definitely building momentum. It's more trying to get the guys' confidence up and that was the challenge at half-time."
Whatever he said worked, as his team scored two penalties within 10 minutes before extending their lead with two more tries and another penalty.
Erasmus also hailed their opponents - the first Asian team to make the knock-out stage - as being "in a really good space" and they have to be "proud of the way you are hosting this World Cup".
His counterpart Jamie Joseph felt "Japanese rugby is in a good place now" even though he conceded that South Africa were a class above. He added: "I am going to celebrate the efforts and achievements of this team.
"The story for me is there are obviously good rugby players here and if you can put the right system in place, it's going to keep on growing.
"The players and the brand of rugby we have been playing has always been inspiring, but the difference is everyone is watching us now... it has created a lot of noise for the team. So in that regard, for promoting the game to Japanese kids, it has been ideal."
Defending champions New Zealand face England in the semi-final on Saturday with the South Africa-Wales match the following day. Both ties will be held in Yokohoma.
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