TWICKENHAM, United Kingdom (AFP) - Dan Carter anchored New Zealand to a 20-18 victory over South Africa to reach the World Cup final at the end of a bruising clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
With the All Blacks down 12-7 at half-time, and Jerome Kaino in the sin-bin, Carter snapped a neat field goal to start an All Blacks revival.
The defending champions followed with a try to Beauden Barrett to continue their domination of South Africa. With one key rival out of the way, New Zealand now play the winner of Sunday's clash between Australia and Argentina in the final.
In the pressured Twickenham atmosphere, the match went down to the wire with never more than five points in it.
"I guess we did it the hard way today, but that was always going to be the case against the Springboks," New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said.
"We wanted to make our country proud and we didn't," commented Heyneke Meyer after the defeat.
The battle was a far different game to the All Blacks's 62-13 thrashing of France in the quarter-finals.
This was hand-to-hand combat. Francois Louw ensuring South Africa had an edge at the breakdown, with the All Blacks holding the upper hand with lineout steals.
The wet weather did not help either side trying to kick for territory.
The All Blacks were punished early for a lack of discipline in the first half but tidied up their game as replacements were made in the second half.
They scored an early try to Jerome Kaino while Barrett scored in the second half with Carter adding two conversions, a penalty along with his drop goal.
South Africa were forced to rely on the boot of Handre Pollards who landed five penalties before he was replaced with 15 minutes to go by Pat Lambie who also kicked a penalty.
The two star wings, Julian Savea and Bryan Habana were both snuffed out of the game.
Habana bows out with 15 career World Cup tries and remains tied for the competition record with Jonah Lomu.
The Springboks pressured the All Blacks early forcing Ben Smith to rush a clearing kick out on the full.
From the resulting lineout the All Blacks were penalised and Pollard landed a handy penalty to have the Springboks on board first.
The All Blacks responded immediately, attacking down the right flank where Habana was caught out of position allowing Richie McCaw to put Kaino over in the corner.
Carter landed the conversion but penalties were proving costly for the All Blacks with Pollard finding the posts twice more to have South Africa ahead 9-7 after the first quarter.
The Springboks were winning the aerial battle. If the All Blacks went high, Willie Le Roux was safe, and when the 'Boks kicked Habana was up high for the ball.
The All Blacks had a chance to regain the lead before half-time when awarded a close-range penalty, but the decision was reversed with the television match official reported prop Joe Moody for grabbing a Springbok around the neck.
It allowed South Africa to get back on attack again when further New Zealand ill-discipline, which cost Kaino a yellow-card, saw Pollard kick his fourth penalty to give the Springboks a 12-7 lead at the break.
Carter narrowed the gap with a drop-goal soon after the restart and the All Blacks regained the lead with a try to Barrett, in his first touch after replacing Nehe Milner-Skudder, after a sustained attack on the Springbok line.
Carter kicked the conversion and exchanged further penalties with Pollard.
A further opportunity for Pollard to close the gap to two points again was cancelled out when the penalty was reversed after the television match official detected a neck grab by replacement lock Victor Matfield.
Lambie, who replaced Pollard at fly-half kept South Africa in touch with a penalty 12 minutes from time but stout All Blacks defence prevented them getting any closer.