Simon Mail previews the second World Cup semi-final and expects a close contest between Wales and South Africa in Tokyo...
"While South Africa won with something to spare against Japan, Wales were pushed to the limit against France and this could take its toll in the semi-final."
Wales v South Africa
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Wales leave it late to snatch semi-final spot
Wales will bid to reach their first World Cup final when they face South Africa in a huge physical showdown on Sunday in Yokohama. While the first semi-final between England and New Zealand has the potential to be high-scoring classic, the likelihood is Wales' clash against the Springboks will be a much more of an arm-wrestle between two of the best defensive teams in the world.
Warren Gatland is leaving at the end of this tournament and he could yet depart as a world champion with Wales. After topping their pool, Wales survived an almighty scare against France and were fortunate to win the quarter-final 20-19. Trailing 12-0, Wales benefited from the needless red card for an elbow from Sebastien Vahaamahina with Ross Moriarty's late try snatching a dramatic victory.
Wales suffered a major setback leading into this tie after full-back Liam Williams was ruled out with an ankle injury in training. Leigh Halfpenny comes in for Williams, while Jonathan Davies is fit to start at outside centre after withdrawing from the France match at the last minute. Moriarty comes into the team in place of Josh Navidi after his tournament was ended by a hamstring injury.
Springboks' power too much for Japan
South Africa will have to create history if they are to lift the Webb Ellis Cup with no World Cup winners losing a match during the tournament. The Springboks were beaten in their opener after a 23-13 defeat to defending champions New Zealand but their response since has been impressive. Rassie Erasmus' side have won their last four matches, overpowering Japan in the quarter-finals to end the hosts' brilliant run.
At half-time in their knockout tie against Japan, South Africa only led 5-3 and had to resist the frenetic offloading game of the Brave Blossoms. But the Springboks stepped up a gear in the second half, easing to a 26-3 victory with their relentless power suffocating Japan. Makazole Mapimpi continued his scoring streak, with two tries to take the wing's tally to five in the tournament. Mapimpi scored on his debut against Wales last year and has a phenomenal record of 13 tries in 12 matches. The prolific finisher looks worth backing to cross the line in this weekend's semi-final.
South Africa will have to cope without outstanding attacker Cheslin Kolbe after he failed to recover from an ankle injury. The electrifying wing was forced off during the win against Japan and Erasmus has decided not to risk him in the hope of Kolbe being fit for a potential final. His place goes to S'Busiso Nkosi for the semi-final in their only change.
Wales have won their last four clashes against South Africa although only one of these was on neutral grounds with three of them taking place in Cardiff. The Springboks' last victory against them came at the World Cup four years ago in their 23-19 quarter-final win. Gatland's side may have had the edge recently but this South Africa team has improved significantly over the last year and are worthy favourites.
While South Africa won with something to spare against Japan, Wales were pushed to the limit against France and this could take its toll in the semi-final. Wales will have to play much better to have any chance and the Springboks' outstanding defence could prove decisive. South Africa appear to be improving whereas Wales have regressed during the tournament and it only gets harder from here. In 11 of the last 13 games between the teams, it has been settled by no more than ten points and South Africa are backed to win another tight encounter to reach the World Cup final.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
P/L 2019-20 season
Back South Africa to win by 1-12 points at 2.588/5
Back Makazole Mapimpi to score @ 7/5 (Sportsbook)