I’ve been tasked with previewing this round of the Rugby World Cup or as many have taken to calling it ‘The Rugby Championship 2.0.’
But instead of Southern Supremacy, these teams are battling for the title of Best In The World.
New Zealand are the defending champions, South Africa are the loud challengers. Whoever wins this game will have truly earned their spot in the Grand Final.
Here we will look at what each team needs to do to advance to the last game and key player match ups that will determine this epic Semi Final clash.
What a team! Look at the names. Du Plessis. Burger. Habana. Staples of South African rugby, legends of the modern game.
This team is full of experience and old warriors ready for their final battle and they’ll be making damn sure that their last game doesn’t come this week.
South Africa haven’t played their best at times during this tournament. They were famously upset by Japan in their first game and were extremely lucky to slip past the Welsh in the quarter-finals.
While on paper their games against USA, Scotland and Samoa seemed one sided, they were physical match ups. They had to fight for every inch on many occasions and now they take on the current World Champions in New Zealand.
Much of South Africa’s game plan will likely focus on putting pressure on the younger All Blacks players. Halfback Foruie du Preez will be looking to dictate the pace with ball in hand-wear down the All Blacks forward pack and then will most likely target Milner-Skudder with box kicks with Habana/JP Pieterson in chase, testing the younger wings nerve under pressure.
Joe Moody has already stepped up in more ways than anyone has expected but will have to step it up another couple of notches when it comes to taking on Malherbe. Look for the large forward pack to harass the man with only 9 caps to his name, scanning for any little weakness in his scrimmaging.
South Africa need to play to their strengths. Their forward pack will have to put in their biggest game of the tournament, looking to capitalize on counter attacking after quick turnovers.
The All Blacks have a tendency to use some of their forwards in the backline often so South Africa will have to try and pick their moment and strike with turnovers.
The backline for the Boks will have to give this everything they have. South Africa and New Zealand are the only 2 teams in world rugby that constantly play it like an 80 minute game.
The second half and bench interchangers will be vital for South Africa because, as seen last week, the 2nd half is when the All Blacks go from a top rugby team to best on the planet.
This will be a tough, physical game for the Boks and no doubt that win or lose, it will take a toll on their bodies. The winner of this match still has to take on either Australia or Argentina in the Final next week which will be no small task.
If the All Blacks are Superman, then the Springboks are Batman. On paper, it looks like there will be one clear winner but if there is anyone who can stop New Zealand prematurely, its South Africa.
After the French Demolition last week, the World Champs set their sights on their long-time rivals, South Africa. The Boks are no walk over and a focused South Africa outfit can topple the best of teams.
New Zealand has had an interesting climb to this stage. After an under-whelming performance against fellow Semi-Finalists Argentina in Pool play, the current Champs then had a walk through against teams in a very one sided affair.
Their first real test came last week against France where we first caught a glimpse of an All Black side playing to win a World Cup.
New Zealand will have to be New Zealand. They need to strike early and hold the ball in hand. Steve Hansen is a master of using his reserves at the right time. The impact of people such as Sam Cane and Sonny Bill Williams can easily turn the tides of this match as seen last week against France.
As mentioned earlier, Joe Moody will have to really step it up against the fearsome forwards of South Africa.
He’s had a Stephen Donald like rise this World Cup – suddenly having pressure thrust upon him in a matter of weeks. He was extremely impressive last week against France and Steve Hansen wouldn’t have named him to start if he wasn’t confident that Moody can preform at this highest level.
Dan Carter has found some great form, putting many of his doubters to bed. His attacking has had some of his flair from ’05. His combination with the backline cannot be undersold.
The midfield combination of Nonu and Smith will have a tough task ahead. Jesse Kriel has risen to prominence on the world stage and is arguably one of the world’s best centres at this time.
Many people will be watching Nehe Milner-Skudder and how he preforms in a big match situation. He has jumped over ever hurdle that has been put in his way to date but now he is marking up arguably one of the best wingers in World Rugby with JP Pietersen.
Whitelock and Retallick are the best locking combo in the world and anyone who says otherwise is seriously misguided. These two men will have to be on point against a ferocious South Africa lineout and will have to be every bit as physical as their counterparts all with the knowledge that waiting for them on the South Africa bench is the legendary Victor Matfield.
Richie McCaw will go into battle once again with Schalk Burger. The two best openside flankers of the last 15 years will battle one last time, ending a rivalry that has spanned many Tri-Nations, Championships, Super Rugby and World Cup campaigns.
Both men will want to prove to each other who the real number one is because if there is any other number 7 in World Rugby that can come close to McCaw, its Burger.
Richie McCaw vs Schalk Burger.
This will be a key matchup for the forwards. At this World Cup, Burger has the advantage over McCaw on paper. 2 tries, 20 more tackles, nearly 3 times the ball carries and over 100 more metre gained than McCaw. Richie, however, does lead Burger in turnovers won with 4-1. Both of these men will be looking to lead their forwards by example and will add an epic final chapter to this long rivalry.
Du Preez & Pollard vs Smith & Carter.
The battle of the halves combos will be vital. Both halfbacks will be looking to dictate the pace of how their side plays, both first-fives will be scanning the defensive line and looking to put their outside numbers into space. Very few halves have the chemistry that these 4 men have. They have subtleties to their game that are often over-looked. The game could be ‘make or break’ from these positions.
Savea vs Habana.
It’s the case of the veteran against the young buck. As far as physical match ups, this is probably as one sided as it gets. Saveas attacking stats put him above Habana but only just. However, it’s the defensive stats that make this match up interesting. Habana has made 3 times more tackles than Savea AND has a 100% tackle rate so far in this tournament. Can the smaller frame Habana take the wheels off the bus known as Julian Savea?
I have every confidence that The All Blacks will win this battle before continuing on and beating Argentina in the Grand Final. It will be close. It will be physical. But I believe the All Blacks will come out on top by a margin of 8 points and under. Final score 28-21.