New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has paid tribute to South Africa after overcoming the Springboks to reach their fourth Rugby World Cup final. Tries from Jerome Kaino and Beauden Barrett, who replaced the injured Nehe Milner-Skudder in the second half, saw the All Blacks book a final against either Argentina or Australia after a brutal encounter.
The defending champions faced an uphill battle at half-time, trailing 12-7 and down to 14-men but Hansen's side - inspired by the boot of Dan Carter - rallied amid the Twickenham rain to remain on course to become the first country to successfully defend their title. Such was the effort from both teams, Hansen was keen to pay homage to the effort from the Springboks, whose coach Heyneke Meyer faces an uncertain future.
"I'd like to congratulate South Africa," he stated after the 20-18 win. "It was massive game for both teams and it is disappointing that someone has to go home and lose in a contest like that. The game could have gone either way and we're just thankful and humbled that we've been given the opportunity to go through to the final.
"I was really rapped with the composure our guys shows to come in at half time down in what was a do or did game, and to come out to get a little bit of the ascendancy. In that last 15 minutes we controlled the game pretty good so I am very proud of what our guys did. We'll enjoy the moment because that is what test rugby is about.
"I want to pay homage to South Africa. We have played them a lot over the last few years and the Rugby Championship has been given a few smacks from up this way but we saw tonight that it is a really physical competition. If you haven't got physicality you can't play it and if you haven't got skill you can't play it either and for South Africa it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge them because they're a good side."
Responding to a question regarding the fitness of Milner-Skudder, who was replaced by try-scorer Barrett during the second 40 minutes after suffering an ankle injury in a clash with Bryan Habana, Hansen added: Nehe is ok we just didn't want to risk leaving a guy out there who was not 100% fit but he's fine. Bringing Beauden on was something that we have done regularly anyway. It gives us the ability to have two guys driving at first receiver. He's fine and everyone else is good so we'e expecting to have everyone available next week."