The Top Two will fight it out to be in the final two
For the first time in Rugby World Cup history all four semi-finalists derive from the southern hemisphere and the opening final four encounter between South Africa and New Zealand promises to be a mouthwatering showdown between the two dominant forces of the sport.
The two nations have claimed four of the seven previous World Cups but it’s perhaps unsurprising to see the All Blacks chalked up as 3/10 favourites to clinch victory in 80 minutes and playing off an eight-point handicap.
Steve Hanson’s men produced the performance of the tournament thus far when tearing France apart 62-13 in the quarter-finals and have now W40-D2-L3 since taking the 2011 honours – a huge 32 of those triumphs were achieved by eight points or more.
New Zealand’s outstanding efforts extend to their recent head-to-head duels with the Springboks too. The Men In Black have proven too strong for South Africa in 10 of the last 12 encounters including six of the seven since Heyneke Meyer took the reigns of the Rainbow Nation. The last two losses came by fewer than eight points but the previous eight arrived by an average margin of 16 points.
The All Blacks have suffered two of their three defeats against Rugby Championship rivals but with 18 wins from their last 21 against the same opposition, as well as 16 by a total of at least eight points, plus their spellbinding display over Les Blues still fresh in the memory, another exhilarating performance could well be on the cards.
Hanson’s charges ran in nine tries during that one-sided affair against the French as they showcased their outstanding brand of attacking rugby. Unstoppable wing Julian Savea crossed for his second tournament hat-trick and if the Kiwis can come close to that level in the next fortnight again, they’ll surely be crowned world champions for the third time.
Indeed, no side has ever won a quarter-final match by such a margin and as we suspected pre-match, New Zealand were readying themselves to rise to the challenge of knockout rugby.
South Africa will at least aim to give the All Blacks a serious run for their money and the Springboks were made to work hard to edge past Wales in a tense quarter-final encounter at Twickenham.
The underdogs pack power should give the Kiwis a good contest and their physical and confrontational approach should at least keep fans of big-hitting rugby happy. However, it’s worth noting that Meyer’s men only beat the understrength Welsh thanks to a Fourie du Preez five minutes from time and the Boks’ aggressive style is often neutralised by New Zealand’s power and pace.
South Africa have fought valiantly back from their horrendous shock against Japan in their curtain raiser and have selected an unchanged team for the first time since 2007 in World Cup competition. But it’s worth reminding ourselves that this Boks squad were beaten in all three of their Rugby Championship matches this summer and are unlikely to be good enough to end a sorry record against the best team in the world.
The Springboks can make this competitive but New Zealand are still the best value bet and backing the All Blacks to win by 1-12 points at 27/20 looks the best form of attack on Saturday afternoon.