Saturday, October 24, 2015

Springboks and All Blacks Face Off

by Ciarán Duffy


Records there to be Broken


At the start of the tournament I had the same feeling I had about South Africa as I did in 2007.  When they lost to Japan, I piped down about that.  They still managed to top their pool, tearing through Samoa, Scotland and the United States in the process.  Then last week they got a crucial late score to get past an injury hit Welsh side.  

New Zealand were lacklustre in the pool stages, which is a scary thought because they still accumulated 174 points only conceding 49.  The All Blacks were stop-start in their pool games, they survived a scare against the Pumas to open their campaign with a win, and then made Namibia and a second-string Georgia side look pretty good before beating Tonga.  But if you can score 25 tries without playing particularly well that’s not too bad at all.  Last week the New Zealand we all love to watch (when they are not playing Ireland) showed up and they battered France.  

A few facts.  If South Africa win they will become only the third team to reach the final having lost an earlier game, joining England and France.  They will also become the only team to beat New Zealand 3 times at the World Cup.  New Zealand have played in the most semi-finals, this is their 7th appearance, they have won 3 and lost 3.  South Africa and New Zealand have played each other 3 times at a World Cup.  The first of these was in the 1995 final, where the Springboks earned that historic World Cup victory.  The two would meet again four years later, in the 1999 bronze final, with the Springboks again coming out victorious.  In 2003 New Zealand beat South Africa in the quarterfinals and they have not met since in this competition.  

A big subplot throughout the next two-weeks will be the record books.  On October 7th, Bryan Habana scored his 13th, 14th and 15th World Cup tries to see him match Jonah Lomus record.  One more try and he can claim the record for himself.  Last week Julian Savea scored a hatrick to give him a total of 8 tries in the 2015 RWC.  Not only is he top try scorer, but he has now matched Habana and Lomu for most tries in a single world cup.  Not that a World Cup semi-final needs extra drama, but with Habana trying to take a record from a New Zealand great, and Savea trying to take a record from his opponent, there is an extra bit of intrigue about this one.  

New Zealand are favourites, but not by a long way.  South Africa will need to rely on their physicality to win the game.  They need to get to the breakdown quicker than they have been.  The Springboks have a 91% rate of tackles completed, that is the highest in the tournament and that may have to improve to prevent lethal offloads.  They will also need to put pressure on the scrum, with the All Blacks having won all 30 of their own scrums so far.  Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Louw and Schalk Burger represent South Africa’s biggest ball-carrying threats, they will need to be on form with Duane Vermeulen also continuing to improve since his return from injury.  Etzebeth and de Jager will need to be faultless in the lineout, and Kriel solid as a rock defensively.  If they can maintain their physicality and strike through JP Pietersen and Habana, they can win.  

However if New Zealand play as they did last week not a team in the world can beat them.  Savea and Milner-Skudder have been in fine try-scoring form, if New Zealand can ensure that the game is played out wide they will reach their second successive world cup final.  If they are gifted possession through the aimless South African kicking we saw last week, they are already there.  

Two of the best playing two different games on a huge stage will give us a great game.  I notice I haven’t used a cliché yet so here we go, the bench is going to be crucial in this physical fast paced encounter.   South Africa need to remain calm in their build up and take their points when they are on offer, the All Blacks need to do exactly what they did last week.  Call it?  If they keep their hands on the ball, South Africa by 4 points. 

Ciarán Duffy (@VoiceQuakeDuffy) is a Leinster supporter who would watch any game of rugby while undoubtedly taking it too seriously.  He enjoys over analysing and taking a pessimistic look at the bright side while talking about Irish, European, and World Rugby issues on and off the field.  

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