PARIS, France – South Africa set up a Rugby World Cup final showdown with England after ending the hopes of underdogs Argentina with a 37-13 victory at the Stade de France on Sunday night.
The Springboks ran in four tries to one in the semifinal, with record-equaling winger Bryan Habana scoring two breakaway efforts, to book a place in next Saturday’s tournament showpiece in Paris.
Jake White’s team, who thrashed England 36-0 in the group stage, had too much attacking potency for a Pumas side who had never before reached the last four.
The South Americans had the better of the early stages as their renowned forward pack held sway, but suffered a sucker punch in the seventh minute when Boks scrum-half Fourie du Preez intercepted a pass by Felipe Contepomi on his own 22m line and sprinted away to score untouched.
Percy Montgomery converted, but Contepomi cut the deficit with a penalty after an infringement by Springboks captain John Smit in the 14th minute.
Montgomery landed another penalty soon after before a miss by Contepomi, but the Argentina center made it 10-6 in the 29th minute with his second goal.
However, Habana gathered his own clever chip down the left to score two minutes later when Gonzalo Olongo lost the ball in the tackle and the Boks pounced on the counter attack.
Montgomery’s conversion made it 17-6, and South Africa took an 18-point lead when No. 8 Danie Rossouw crossed the try line in support after Francois Steyn snaffled the ball following an error by fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez just before half-time.
The Pumas got back into the match five minutes after the break when Manuel Contepomi was awarded a try by English video referee Tony Spreadbury after several replays — due to doubt over whether the center had forced the ball down correctly under pressure from full-back Montgomery.
His brother Felipe converted, but then missed a penalty in the 53rd minute which would have put Argentina only eight points adrift.
Ten minutes later, Habana had a try ruled out in the corner for a forward pass by fellow winger JP Pietersen, and then Steyn missed a long-range penalty from inside his own half.
But Montgomery returned to kicking duties with two vital penalties in the 71st and 74th minutes as Argentina began to lose their discipline.
Then Habana sealed victory with another runaway after intercepting a pass by Hernandez to score his eighth try of the tournament, matching the record set by New Zealand’s Jonah Lomu in 1999.
Montgomery again converted to end with a personal haul of 17 points before the match boiled over with some ugly scenes.
South Africa flanker Juan Smith was sin-binned by New Zealand referee Steve Walsh for a high tackle on Hernandez in the 77th minute, causing a mass melee.
Felipe Contepomi, who was warned for entering the fray, was also yellow-carded soon after for a retaliatory slap in the face of Springboks replacement Bismarck du Plessis.
It was a sour ending for the Argentina veteran, whose side had progressed unbeaten through the so-called “Group of Death” after beating France in the opening match.
However, the Pumas’ limited match plan of swamping the opposition with deep kicks and relentless forward play finally came unstuck against a South Africa side who go into next weekend’s final as favorites to stop England’s bid to become the first nation to retain the title.
Smit said of the resurgent English: “They’ve proved a lot of people wrong. They’ve been playing World Cup-winning rugby in their last two games.
“They seem to have got the formula right and there seems to be a good spirit amongst the players. They have done well to get respect, and they all work for each other.”
Argentina coach Marcelo Loffreda, who will join English club Leicester after the tournament, said: “It was a really tough game. South Africa are a really good team. They were very consistent. We made a lot of errors and we paid a high price.”