RWC 2015: Assessing the semi-finalists

It’s set to be a southern hemisphere semi-final party but who will prevail from the final four?

Can Australia recover from their last-gasp win over Scotland to beat Argentina and make it to the World Cup final? Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Can Australia recover from their last-gasp win over Scotland to beat Argentina and make it to the World Cup final? Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

New Zealand

Semi-final tie: v South Africa on Saturday at 4pm.

Path to the semi-finals: Group stages: beat Argentina 26-16, beat Namibia 58-14, beat Georgia 43-10, beat Tonga 47-9. Quarter-finals: beat France 62-13.

Odds to win the World Cup: 4/7.

It’s very difficult to look past the All-Blacks at this stage and, after Saturday night’s showing against France, you probably shouldn’t. Steve Hansen’s side made a mockery of a team that they only beat by one point in the final of the 2011 tournament.

Some might say that the New Zealand have peaked too soon but most likely they are only halfway up the ascent to that peak. Despite winning every game in the group stages they didn’t set the world alight with any of their performances. But, now that we’ve reached the knockout stages, they’re pulling out all the stops.

With Julian Savea looking more like Jonah Lomu (both visually and statistically) by the game, they are a terrifying prospect for any team.

Far from an early peak, what Saturday’s demolition of France will do is send out a clear message to the teams left in the competition that the All-Blacks are here and ready to play – just as fast, powerful and fearsome as ever.

If you’re looking for one saving grace that this tournament isn’t a foregone conclusion just yet then you need look no further than the All-Blacks World Cup record.

Twice they have lifted the Web Ellis trophy but, on both occasions, they have been the hosts. So, to add to everything else, they’re also looking to win the World Cup on northern hemisphere soil for the first ever time and banish that small doubt from the mind’s of anyone who feels it is their sole weakness.

South Africa

Semi-final tie: v New Zealand on Saturday at 4pm.

Path to the semi-finals: Group stages: lost to Japan 32-34, beat Samoa 46-6, beat Scotland 34-16, beat USA 64-0. Quarter-finals: beat Wales 23-19.

Second Captains

Odds to win the World Cup: 7/1.

The Springboks have come a long way since the opening day humiliation at the hands of Japan. That defeat, the embarrassment and national apology that went with it seems to have stirred Heyneke Meyer and his team into action.

Since then they have performed like the South Africa that everyone expected at this World Cup – brutal strength mixed with occasional moments of brilliant flair and pace.

Saturday’s win over Wales was as hard-fought as they come and will have sapped every ounce of resolve within the squad. Meyer’s side needed every single sinew of their grit and determination to break down a valiant Wales defence and that immense effort will surely have an effect on them going into Saturday’s showdown with the All-Blacks.

On the other hand, New Zealand were almost relaxing and recovering for the last quarter of their game against France.

It’s hard to see South Africa winning this one. They are probably a stronger side than the French and that will obviously help as they try to stop the All-Blacks powerful runners but, even if you do that, there are so many other ways New Zealand can hurt you.

Argentina

Semi-final tie: v Australia on Sunday at 4pm.

Path to the semi-finals: Group stages: lost to New Zealand 16-26, beat Georgia 54-9, beat Tonga 45-16, beat Namibia 64-19. Quarter-finals: beat Ireland 43-20.

Odds to win the World Cup: 16/1.

It’s safe to say that Ireland fans know all about Argentina at this stage and every other team should know that they should not be under-estimated.

Los Pumas have come a long way in the lost few years, emerging as a real force in southern hemisphere rugby – thanks mainly to their involvement in the Rugby Championship since 2012.

This is a young team that will play with absolutely no fear – three of the players brought off the bench against Ireland were 21 or under – and they are playing an exciting brand of rugby that has even Diego Maradona cheering in the stands.

Their passion during Sunday’s national anthems and the lightning quick start that they made shows how much winning means to Argentina.

The confidence that they will have taken from beating Ireland, as well as the fact that they recorded their first win over Australia in 17 years just last year, will see them go into this game fully in the belief that they can reach the World Cup final.

If Nicholas Sanchez can kick like he did against Ireland – scoring with nine out of 10 attempts – then Los Pumas are in with a real chance.

Australia

Semi-final tie: v Argentina on Sunday at 4pm.

Path to the semi-finals: Group stages: beat Fiji 28-13, beat Uruguay 65-3, beat England 33-13, beat Wales 15-6. Quarter-finals: beat Scotland 35-34.

Odds to win the World Cup: 11/4.

Of all the teams to reach the semi-finals Australia came the closest to not being there at all. A highly contentious decision by referee Craig Joubert to award the Wallabies a penalty in the dying minutes of their quarter-final clash with Scotland saved Michael Cheika’s side from embarrassment.

Looking at the flip-side of the coin they did score five tries in the game and all were without David Pocock and Israel Folau – both of whom are fit and ready to go for Sunday’s clash.

But, speaking of injuries, the loss of Scott Sio could hit the Wallabies hard as they face a notoriously adept Argentine scrum.

Coupled with some erratic kicking from Bernard Foley in their loss to Scotland and some might begin to fancy that Argentina could pull off another surprise in this one.

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