NEWS
10/24/2015 14:15 EDT | Updated 10/24/2016 01:12 EDT

New Zealand beats South Africa 20-18 at rainy Twickenham to reach Rugby World Cup final

LONDON — New Zealand advanced its Rugby World Cup title defence to the final by overcoming archrival South Africa 20-18 in the wet, attritional semifinal on Saturday.

The hype around this first World Cup matchup in 12 years between the teams that have combined to win four titles was exceeded as they wrestled in an atmosphere thick with tension.

Despite both teams enjoying advantages in key areas, they managed to cancel out each other's edge.

The All Blacks enjoyed a majority of possession and territory, but the Springboks tackled to a standstill.

The All Blacks scored two tries, but their ill-discipline gave the Springboks six kicked penalties.

The All Blacks stole four lineouts, but the Springboks earned a scrum tighthead and vital scrum penalties.

The All Blacks had a player sin-binned and conceded three points. South Africa had a man sin-binned and conceded only three, too.

In the last minute, in teeming rain, it was the All Blacks who put up a wall as South Africa tried to run out of its 22 and still could find no way through, their hopes of a third cup triumph washed away with a final knock-on.

New Zealand moved into the final next weekend against either Australia, another two-time champion, or Argentina. That second semifinal was on Sunday, also at Twickenham.

The All Blacks, trying to become the first team to win consecutive World Cups, showed their desire to leave no stone unturned during the halftime break while trailing 12-7, when they came out of their dressing room early and went through running and passing exercises on the field in the rain. Even their reserves did the same.

By the time the Springboks came out, the All Blacks had huddled and refocused. Flanker Jerome Kaino was still in the sin-bin, but New Zealand started the second spell where it finished the first, pinning the Springboks deep in their half.

Within six minutes, Dan Carter landed a dropped goal from 35 metres, New Zealand was behind by only two, and Kaino was back.

Another six minutes after that, New Zealand used a knock-on by South Africa's Schalk Burger in his 22, to quickly find where the South African defence was thinnest. It was out left, where Ma'a Nonu drew in two defenders and unloaded to Beauden Barrett, who had only just got on the field for winger Nehe Milner-Skudder.

Carter converted from the left touchline, and New Zealand, at 17-12, led for the first time in half an hour.

The try was a double blow for South Africa. During New Zealand's buildup, Bryan Habana dived over a ruck to bat the ball away from scrumhalf Aaron Smith and, after awarding the try, referee Jerome Garces yellow-carded the star Springboks winger, the only player in the tournament who had played every minute of at least five games.

A scrum penalty gave Boks flyhalf Handre Pollard his fifth success from five shots, but that was immediately cancelled by a Carter penalty.

Pollard should have had another goalkick moments later, but the penalty was reversed when Springboks veteran Victor Matfield was caught doing a neck roll in a ruck.

Pollard was replaced by Pat Lambie, who slotted a 40-meter penalty to cut the gap to two again, and the Springboks forced an attacking lineout in the New Zealand 22. The lineout was uncontested, but New Zealand drove the Boks rapidly backward and turned over possession.

They managed the clock and territory to not give the Springboks even a peek at the tryline, and will have a shot at becoming the first All Blacks team to win the cup outside of New Zealand.

At halftime, South Africa led but had just as many concerns as New Zealand.

The Springboks played most of the half around their own 22, absorbing waves of black-jersey attacks, and having to make twice as many tackles. They didn't help themselves, either, by losing three of their lineouts and poor clearance kicking.

Meanwhile, New Zealand was conceding penalties at an alarming rate and, critically, each time South Africa dipped a toe in their territory. Pollard nailed every chance he received.

The penalties rubbed out the All Blacks' first try, after only six minutes, when Richie McCaw lob-passed to Kaino, who brushed off lock Lood de Jager to cross in the right corner.

But just before the break, Kaino was sent to the sin-bin for kicking loose ball from an offside position. That gave Pollard his fourth penalty kick.

Yet, halftime was welcomed by the All Blacks. The chance to start anew wasn't wasted.

Foster Niumata, The Associated Press