We’ve now reached the business end of the Rugby World Cup and with history on the horizon for one of four Southern Hemisphere sides in contention, it’s time to assess the chances of the remaining teams, as we take a look at the upcoming crunch semi-final showdowns at Twickenham.
Opening their campaign with a disastrous defeat to an inspired Japan, South Africa got their World Cup back on track in rapid fashion, stampeding to convincing wins over Samoa and Scotland and crushing the United States 64-0, the largest winning margin in the entire tournament. With Fourie du Preez’s late score ensuring a dramatic triumph over Wales in the quarter-finals, the Springboks appear battle-hardened by the events of the last five weeks, but will surely face their toughest challenge to date in London this weekend against the reigning champions.
Continuing their mission to become the first team to retain the Webb Ellis Cup, the All Blacks justified their billing as pre-tournament favourites with a 62-13 mauling of France in Cardiff, in a remarkable rematch of the 2011 World Cup Final. While disarray in the French camp might have proven a factor in their ultimate capitulation, the near 50-point thrashing handed out to the current World Cup silver medallists affirmed the notion that holders New Zealand remain the team to beat. With 236 points across their five matches so far, an average of more than 47 points per game, the All Blacks’ scoring prowess is also supported by statistically the strongest defence in the competition.
Australia’s path to the semi-finals has not been without its controversies, particularly the manner in which they squeezed past Scotland in Sunday afternoon’s breathless quarter-final. The Aussies have not claimed a Rugby World Cup title since the turn of the century, though they did lift the trophy the last time the tournament was played on UK soil in 1999. Winners of the Pool of Death with back-to-back victories over England and Wales, their performance in the latter especially showed championship-calibre resilience, as Michael Cheika’s team weathered the Welsh storm by way of a world class defensive display. In offensive terms, the Wallabies’ Drew Mitchell will continue his pursuit of the all-time try-scoring record now co-held by Bryan Habana; with his individual dual with the South African an intriguing sub-plot to the chase for the Webb Ellis Cup.
Rightly or wrongly viewed as the last underdog standing, Argentina have gone about their business in devastating fashion, moving up to 4th in the World Rugby Rankings in the wake of a decisive 43-20 quarter-final win over Ireland. With a total of 179 points to their credit, the Pumas progressed as the leading scorers of the entire Pool Stage, while the South Americans also possess the tournament’s second most prolific point scorer, in the form of kicker Nicolas Sanchez. Should Argentina fail in their efforts to reach a first-ever Rugby World Cup final then either New Zealand, Australia or South Africa will be guaranteed of becoming the competition’s inaugural three-time champions.
Rugby World Cup Semi-Final
South Africa vs New Zealand
Saturday 24 October 2015 at 4pm
One of international rugby’s true marquee fixtures, this repeat of the epic 1995 final has many of the ingredients to stir up another Rugby World Cup classic two decades on. As ever, New Zealand retain a formidable wealth of attacking riches, with the 2015 tournament’s leading try scorer Julian ‘The Bus’ Savea and its top conversion kicker, the inimitable Dan Carter, both in the All Blacks’ ranks. South Africa however will be in no mood to roll over against their Southern Hemisphere adversaries, with lock Lodewyk De Jager typifying their endeavour; delivering more tackles than any other player still in the tournament (a total of 60 in all). The Kiwis must also be weary of the drop goal offence of Handre Pollard, with the South African fly half landing points from the field against Scotland and Wales in the tournament thus far. However, the cumulative strength of the New Zealand team across the park will likely prove sufficient to see them through to the final; albeit after a highly-competitive and physical clash between two of world rugby’s perennial superpowers.
Our prediction: South Africa 16 New Zealand 23.
Rugby World Cup Semi-Final
Australia vs Argentina
Sunday 25 October 2015 at 4pm
Argentina head into Twickenham’s second semi-final with considerable momentum in tow. With a tournament points haul trailing only New Zealand, the Pumas have won all but one of their matches to date and even led the All Blacks in the final quarter of their opening Pool Stage encounter (before ultimately falling in defeat). For a chance of retribution on the grand stage of the final,Argentina must overcome quite the roadblock in the form of Australia. However, the aura of invincibility that carried them through much of the Pool Stage took considerable damage against the Scots, who would have progressed at Australia’s expense should a certain late call have fallen in their favour. For Australia, this fortuitous escape could prove a timely wake-up call, vanquishing any thoughts of a mere procession to the final. For in-form Argentina meanwhile, Saturday provides what could be their best ever opportunity of a World Cup Final appearance, as they continue to reap the benefits of joining the re-vamped Tri-Nations competition in 2012. However, the big match experience of the Wallabies should be enough to see them over the line, at the expense of a Pumas side who will solidify their status as a major force heading forward. With both teams piling on the points, a high-scoring game is anticipated, particularly if the inevitable big match tension is broken early on.
Our prediction: Australia 30 Argentina 25.
As it stands, we expect to see a New Zealand vs Australia showdown in the Rugby World Cup Final at Twickenham on 31st October and a South Africa vs Argentina play-off for third place at the Olympic Stadium the night before. Do you agree with our assessment or do the Springboks and Pumas have what it takes to forge their way to the final on October’s final day? Let us know.