Japan huffed and puffed, but were unable to blow the Springbok house down as South Africa ground their way into the semi-finals with a convincing victory at Tokyo Stadium on Sunday.
The Boks withstood the sustained pressure exerted by the Brave Blossoms, who were roared on by chants of “Nippon! Nippon! Nippon!” from their noisy supporters.
The magic that Japan produced in a four-match unbeaten run in the pool stages was not evident this time around as the Boks secured a semi-final date with Wales on Sunday 27 October.
Left-wing Makazole Mapimpi scored two tries, but it was the South Africa forwards who laid the platform for the victory.
“We were very nervous at half-time. Overall, we were nervous going into this match, with the home support, and the way they played against Ireland and Scotland,” coach Rassie Erasmus said afterwards.
“Going into half-time and only being up a few points and leaving a few tries out there, there was definitely a lull and quietness in our change room. But having been together for 17 weeks, the guys knew which buttons to push and to get ourselves out of that lull. So, we were a bit proud of that.”
The Bok scrum set up the opening try by Mapimpi, pictured top, in the fourth minute.
South Africa loose-head prop Tendai Mtawarira was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle on opposite number Keita Inagaki in the 10th minute.
But South Africa defended courageously and repelled wave after wave of attacks from Japan, with wingers Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima unable to breakthrough.
“At half-time, the boys were a bit down,” Japan coach Jamie Joseph said. “There were a few niggles in our group, but at the end of the day, I am just so proud of my team – the courage, the tenacity, the sheer determination… I really must take my hat off to the team.”Japan reduced the deficit to 5-3 when fly-half Tamura slotted a penalty in the 20th minute, but while he attempted a few cross-kicks to his wings, it did not result in points.
The best scoring chance wasted by the Springboks came when centre Lukhanyo Am was in space before half-time, but delayed too long before passing to Mapimpi then threw too low.
The South Africans, though, displayed better composure in the second 40 minutes. They stuck to their gameplan of using the forwards to pound up the middle, and fly-half Handre Pollard kicked two penalties to stretch the lead to 14-3.
Then the Boks went into overdrive. A relentless maul from a lineout, which crept forward for about 45 metres, led to substitute hooker Malcolm Marx breaking away to put De Klerk over.
Mapimpi finished things off with his second touchdown – his 13th in 12 tests – with 10 minutes to go to finally put the lights out on Japan’s memorable World Cup party.
“I am very proud to be the captain of this team. Three years ago, Jamie (Joseph) and I got together and made this team. We did everything to win, and today we did everything we could. But South Africa were wonderful,” said Japan captain Michael Leitch.