Fiery Wales take on resurgent South Africa in rugby semi-final

A titanic battle between two gargantuan packs and plenty of kicking all over the park can be expected.

    Wales are used to playing in the damp conditions they'll likely face in Yokohama for their semi-final against South Africa [Matthew Childs/Reuters]
    Wales are used to playing in the damp conditions they'll likely face in Yokohama for their semi-final against South Africa [Matthew Childs/Reuters]

    Excitement is building ahead of the second World Cup semi-final on Sunday, as the Dragons of Wales take on the South African Springboks.

    South Africa may feel they are close to perfecting an attritional game plan, but Wales have transformed a brick-wall defence into the best form of attack.

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    While South Africa's physicality and pragmatism brought an end to Japan's effervescent run through the tournament last weekend, Wales made a meal of struggling past a France side reduced to 14 men for half an hour.

    But the South Africans will not find it as easy to beat up a Wales side that prides itself on its suffocating defence, and Warren Gatland's side will probably believe they cannot perform so poorly for two weeks in a row.

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    Both sides have lost fine running backs to injury in the shape of South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe and Welsh fullback Liam Williams - only encouraging the suspicion that this might be a forward-dominated game for the rugby purist.

    A titanic battle at the set-piece between two gargantuan packs, plenty of kicking all over the park and big men from both teams trying to smash their way over the gainline can be expected.

    The band of fleet-footed outside backs might struggle to find room to shine, especially on a Yokohama International Stadium pitch likely to be at the very least damp from the typhoon season rains, but Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales are no strangers to a spot of bracing moisture.

    Pride

    "I've loved the last two weeks out here," Wales fan Anita Aggarwal told Al Jazeera from Japan. "I light up whenever I see the red of a Wales shirt ahead or the sound of a Welsh accent. I've loved the feeling of constant excitement at what could be - and pride at our achievements so far."

    The Welsh have won four of their last five games against South Africa; all four wins have come in Cardiff at the close of South Africa's season, however, and the Springboks will feel they won the one of the five that mattered most - the 2015 World Cup quarter-final.

    There is an intense and respectful rivalry

    Anita Aggarwal, Wales fan

    The clashes have mostly been won by one or two scores and the expectation is that it will again be a tight affair with South Africa flyhalf Handre Pollard believing a single kick will probably settle it.

    "It's going to be an incredibly tense and physical game, which will be so exciting when so much is at stake," said our superfan Anita, who has made the 9,650-kilometre (6,000-mile) journey to Tokyo from Cardiff, the Welsh capital. "There is an intense and respectful rivalry."

    Motivation

    Both teams have had a sense of mission driving them at this tournament. The 2011 semi-final loss to France after Sam Warburton was sent off has haunted Wales ever since and there will be a determination from a battle-hardened squad to send Gatland off at the end of his 12 years of service with some sort of prize.

    "You get these opportunities once in a lifetime potentially and you've got to grab them with both hands and make the most of it," the Wales coach said this week.

    "It's about having no regrets and that's the message of this week."  

    South Africa have won the World Cup twice - firstly as hosts of the 1995 tournament in a newly democratic country, when captain Francois Pienaar received the trophy from a jubilant Nelson Mandela in one of the sport's greatest ever moments - but they feel honour-bound to make up for a couple of years in which their performance has not matched their historic successes.     

    "I think we have been under pressure for the past couple of years to redeem ourselves," said coach Rassie Erasmus.     

    "We've been number five, six, seven in the world over the last three years since 2015, and we've got some proper hidings against almost all the teams. Now we are at that stage where we want to become number one in the world again."     

    Can Wales spoil that dream?

    "Absolutely," says fan Anita Aggarwal. "But there can be no mistakes from here. Cymru am byth! ['Wales for ever!]"

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies