Rugby World Cup 2019: South Africa scrape past Japan to advance to semi-finals

South Africa ended Japan's dream World Cup run to reach the semi-finals, with a bruising 26-3 win against the host nation on Monday (NZ time). 

The Springboks will now play Wales in the semi-final next weekend, with the winners facing England or New Zealand in the final.

Japan had won all their four pool matches, including victories over Ireland and Scotland, but South Africa got the upper hand in Tokyo, after a tight first half in which the hosts trailed 5-3.

As the "epic moments" of Japan's famous World Cup win four years ago were replayed on the stadium screen during the break, they seemed only to remind the South Africans of what was at stake in the second half.

First-five Handre Pollard landed three penalty goals to extend the margin to 14-3, before the South Africans finally opened up.

Halfback Faf de Klerk scooted over in the 66th minute, after a powerful driving maul from the Springboks had Japan on the back foot, and Makazole Mapimpi added his second try of the match by finishing off a long-range movement in the 70th to put the result beyond doubt.

Captain Michael Leitch and his Japanese squad won millions of converts to the sport for their high-intensity brand of running rugby, but were unable to cross South Africa's line in their first-ever trip to the knockout stages of the tournament.

The two-time champion Springboks are old pros at this end of the tournament, improving to 5-2 in Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.

They had to defend for most of the first half, they were a man down for 14 minutes and only had 30 percent of the field position, but held their composure, despite a mounting tally of handling errors.

Mapimpi gave South Africa a 5-0 lead, easily beating an attempted tackle from Yu Tamuru on the short side, after a big shove from the Springbok scrum, and outpacing the cover defence to the left corner.

But Japan absorbed the early pressure from a much bigger Springboks pack and started to take control, when veteran South Africa prop Tendai Mtawarira was yellow-carded in the 10th minute for a tip-tackle.

He immediately put his hands up to acknowledge the mistake, but left his team with 14 men for the next 10 minutes and Japan attacked relentlessly, even taking a scrum against the head.

That led to Japan's points, from a calmly taken penalty goal by Tamura in the 20th minute.

Japan had done most of the running in the first half and went close after a Kenki Fukuoka surge on the left-wing, but wasn't able to turn almost 70 percent of possession and territory into a try.

That hurt after the break. Eventually, the battering took a toll on the Japan side, and possession and territory stats ended about even.

The Japan team did a lap of Tokyo Stadium, where die-hard fans stayed long after full-time to celebrate their team.

Join us at 10pm Sunday for live updates of the Wales v South Africa Rugby World Cup semi-final.