Eight becomes Four
Let me start with the blindingly obvious. It is so much better to make it to the Semi’s than being knocked out in the Quarters. But not only because your cause is still alive, but also because you are guaranteed 2 more games and will see the RWC through to conclusion. Even if you lose your semi, you still have a shot at a consolation bronze medal. Not much of a consolation at the time, but in years to come it is nicer to say you came third than you got dumped out in the Quarters.
So on to those Quarter-final results:
England 40 – 16 Australia
As the scoreline suggests, England were simply too strong for Australia. And while The Wallabies briefly threatened and brought the scores close – half time was 17-9 – the English were simply ruthlessly efficient in shutting Australia out in the second half. It helped them that the Wallabies employed some questionable tactics especially in terms of trying to play from deep in their own half, but ultimately England were simply the better team and deserved winners.
New Zealand 46 – 14 Ireland
The All Blacks swatted the Irish aside like a pesky fly. While not the perfect game from the All Blacks, the word imperious is probably most apt in describing this performance. There really only ever was one team in this contest and perhaps the most surprising part of the game was that the Irish managed to get in 2 tries in the second half.
Wales 20 – 19 France
The Welsh were bot unlucky and extremely lucky in this game. Unlucky because they ran into that enigma of a French team which having previously looked absolute pants, suddenly produced the sort of champagne performance they seem to save for RWC knockout stages. France were absolutely bossing this game until a moment of madness from the French reduced them to 14 players. Yet despite this, they still played well enough to look to have secured a win. And this is where Wales got very lucky. A few ref calls went in their favour and their winning try coming from a ball-rip which may / may not have gone forward.
South Africa 26 – 3 Japan
The Japanese fairytale started 4 years ago with these two teams, so it seemed fitting that it ended here too. A game with a few incidents and lots of complaints from fans on both sides about the refereeing, ultimately the Springboks found the recipe to smother the life out of the Brave Blossoms high-octane game. While the scoreline suggests a convincing victory, this was not secured until well into the second half. The Japanese can hold their heads high. They weren’t content with having made it through to the Quarters for the first time in their history, they truly believed they could win this one and their disappointment at the result is testimony to this.
So, on to the Semi-finals:
England vs New Zealand
The top two form teams of the tournament find themselves facing off one game before the finals. And I expect an epic battle. Eddie Jones has rebuilt England from the ashes of a disastrous previous RWC into a team that knows how to win and don’t fear anyone else. Good set pieces, simple, well structured game plan and some real pace out wide, this team can challenge anyone in world rugby at the moment. Whether they have the beating of the All Blacks though is a different question. The men in black have deservedly been the top team in World rugby for over a decade now. They have without a doubt the most skilled personnel across the park with every single player understanding space, knowing when to take contact and when to off-load, and playing the game at a speed that is probably second only to the Japanese. What will be interesting to see is whether the All Blacks repeat the mistake the Wallabies made against England, by trying to play too deep from their own half. I suspect not. While they rack up big wins, this is not a throw-it-around with abandon team. Structured and clever rugby is the AB hallmark, and my money is on them to win this one.
Wales vs South Africa
Of the four teams left in the competition, these are arguably the weaker two. South Africa have already lost a game in pool play and Wales had to rely on a lot of luck to get past their Q-final. Not that either team will give a damn about that. It’s a semi-final and to the winner goes the chance of getting their hands on the trophy. Wales will probably feel they have their off-day behind them now. A very well-drilled team that likes to play a structured game, Wales will fancy their chances of making their first ever RWC final. The Springboks equally will feel they can win this one. They have a set piece and defence that is amongst the best at the competition. A structured game will suit them well. The big concern though will be the accuracy of the backline players. In knockout rugby they simply can’t afford the sort of unforced errors