Gerry Thornley on the Erasmus-Nienaber combo; United break away duck

The Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the Rugby World Cup with The Irish Times sports team

Manchester United players applaud their fans after the 1-0 victory away to Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League. Photo: Andrej Isakovic/Getty Images

Manchester United players applaud their fans after the 1-0 victory away to Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League. Photo: Andrej Isakovic/Getty Images

With just over 24 hours to go, all eyes are on New Zealand and England and a potential Rugby World Cup semi-final for the ages. The All Blacks are bidding to make it three Rugby World Cup titles in a row while England are looking to stop the juggernaut 2015’s embarassment in the most spectacular style. Reporting from Tokyo this morning, Gerry Thornley writes “maybe it’s simply the all black, all white nature of it, but there are no grey areas about a New Zealand-England game, all the more so as this one has that rare commodity in elite Test rugby; it has something bordering on novelty value.” For Eddie Jones this looks like being the defining match in his tenure as England coach and yesterday he urged his players to go out and “change history” by knocking New Zealand off their perch. Don’t forget you can follow all of the action from Yokohama on our liveblog from 8.30am tomorrow and you can keep up to date with all of the Rugby World Cup news on our dedicated website.

On Sunday the second semi-final sees South Africa meet Wales. Warren Gatland has just named his starting 15 for Sunday’s showdown with Leigh Halfpenny coming in to replace the injured Liam Williams at fullback. The Springbok coaching ticket of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have turned South African rugby around just the 24 matches they’ve been in charge and, as Gerry Thornley writes, it’s a partnership that was forged in the crucible of Munster. “So yes, I think I grew as a coach. I understood what we actually could be if we got our house in order in South Africa, and then the last thing. Overall I just think Irish people are really good people,” Erasmus said yesterday.

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