SEMI-FINAL 1 – New Zealand v South Africa: 2.00am (AEDT), Sunday, October 25 at Twickenham, London
The storyline: Two of world rugby’s perennial superpowers – and the last two winners of the tournament – clash in their biggest World Cup match since the 1995 final in what shapes as an absolute belter of a semi.
Form guide: The scintillating All Blacks scored nine tries to one against France – including a Lomu-esque hat-trick to Julian Savea – in a match that ranks among the nation’s greatest days in a glittering rugby narrative. The completeness of the All Blacks’ display marked a telling mental shift. So often struggling under the weight of public expectations, the defending champs brushed off an underwhelming pool campaign and the gnawing memories of their French bogey to confirm their standing as world rugby’s preeminent force.
Meanwhile, the lead changed hands six times in a typically tense clash between South Africa and Wales at Twickenham, with Springboks captain Fourie Du Preez scooting in for a memorable match-winner with five minutes to play after Duane Vermeulen broke off the scrum and put his halfback into space. Handre Pollard’s booted proved vital, slotting five penalties and a drop goal.
2015 RWC attack: New Zealand 1st (236), South Africa 3rd (199)
2015 RWC defence: New Zealand 1st (62), South Africa 3rd (72)
The selection table: Boom All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder left the field injured soon after scoring a brilliant try against France, but he seems certain to take his place on the right wing. Prop Wyatt Crockett, however, is out with a groin injury and has been replaced by Joe Moody, who only joined the squad a week earlier when Tony Woodcock was ruled out. The All Blacks’ 23 will otherwise be unchanged. South Africa have named an unchanged starting XV, but the return of veteran lock Victor Matfield on the bench after a lengthy injury spell is big news.
The match-up: The No.10 duel between Carter and Pollard will be central to the outcome, with both linchpins in superb form.
The history: The nations have played 90 Tests, with New Zealand winning 52, South Africa 35 and three drawn.
The last time they met: Charles Piutau and debutant Lima Sopoaga – both unlucky omissions from the World Cup squad – starred as the All Blacks pulled off a thrilling 27-20 victory at Cape Town during this year’s Rugby Championship.
The stat: The Springboks have managed six wins in the last 17 clashes, but the All Blacks have won 10 of the last 12.
Watch out South Africa: If the ABs produce anything like the sizzling display they did against France, the Springboks could be in trouble. Their attack was absolutely humming.
Watch out New Zealand: South Africa’s physicality and ability to wear opponents down make them a formidable proposition every time they step on the field.
The verdict: South Africa will provide far stiffer competition for New Zealand than France did last week, and if they can drag the All Blacks into a grind then this one will be fought on a knife’s edge. The ABs have hardly been tested during the tournament to date, while the Boks’ tight quarter-final will hold them in good stead. The Springboks’ ability to shut down the All Blacks’ myriad backline weapons will be critical, but the defending champs, ultimately, are deserved clear favourites and should come home with a wet sail if they keep their cool. New Zealand by 10