Bryan Habana scored two breathtaking tries as South Africa ended Argentina’s glorious Rugby World Cup adventure with a 37-13 semifinal win at the Stade de France in Paris on Sunday.
The Springboks will now face England, whom they beat 36-0 last month at this ground in a pool game, when they return for Saturday’s final.
South Africa, World Cup winners on home soil in 1995, had this match all but won at half-time thanks to tries from Fourie du Preez, Habana — who touched down again late in the second half to become the tournament’s leading try scorer with eight — and Danie Rossouw, which put them 24-6 ahead at the break.
Meanwhile, experienced fullback Percy Montgomery landed all seven of his goal kicks as South Africa made it 12 wins out of 12 against the Pumas, who were appearing in their first World Cup semifinal.
Argentina, who got this tournament off to a thrilling start with a 17-12 victory over hosts France in the opening match, were undone by South Africa’s greater attacking flair and defensive discipline.
After some engrossing battles between two powerful scrums, South Africa took the lead in the seventh minute with a 70m solo interception try from scrumhalf Du Preez, who picked off a pass from inside centre Felipe Contepomi.
Montgomery added the tricky conversion out on the left and the Springboks were 7-0 ahead. Then a penalty exchange between Felipe Contepomi and Montgomery left the Springboks 10-3 up.
Felipe Contepomi was off-target with a 19th-minute penalty attempt.
It was noticeable that when the teams tried to run the ball, after a series of aimless kicks, mistakes ensued with Felipe Contepomi kicking a penalty after South Africa centre Francois Steyn didn’t release on the edge of his 22.
However, individual flair from Habana saw him score South Africa’s second try two minutes later. Steyn saw his cut-out pass find left wing Habana out on the touchline where the flyer, after regathering his precise chip over the top of the Pumas’ defensive line, outpaced the remaining cover in style.
Montgomery, South Africa’s most-capped player and leading points scorer, made it three from three and the Springboks had stretched their lead to 17-6.
Worse followed for Argentina when a self-inflicted wound helped set up a third Springbok try on the stroke of half-time.
Juan Martin Hernandez dropped a ball in midfield that Steyn seized on before finding fellow centre Fourie, who released the onrushing Schalk Burger. The flanker then duly delivered a try-scoring pass to send in number eight Rossouw.
Argentina, whose rise to fourth in the world rankings has been all the more impressive given they don’t play in a major annual competition, then caught South Africa cold with a controversial try early in the second half.
After working an overlap, Manuel Contepomi dived over the line under a challenge from Montgomery. New Zealand referee Steve Walsh then called on English replay official Tony Spreadbury to check the grounding.
From one angle it looked as if the outside centre had lost control, but Spreadbury, an experienced Test referee in his own right, confirmed the try.
Felipe Contepomi converted his twin brother’s score and South Africa’s lead had been cut to 24-13. But he then missed a penalty that, had it gone over, might have rattled Springbok nerves.
Two more Montgomery penalties removed any doubt over the result before Habana, intercepting on the edge of his 22, raced clear for a flamboyant try under the posts four minutes from time.
That still left time for an unseemly mass flare-up that saw Springbok flanker Juan Smith yellow-carded. Then, in a separate incident, Felipe Contepomi was also sin-binned for flicking an arm into the face of South Africa hooker Bismarck du Plessis — a sad note on which to end Argentina’s World Cup campaign. — AFP