IRB Rugby World: South Africa vs New Zealand Preview

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

South Africa v New Zealand |Saturday 24 October | Twickenham, London | 17:00

Well, so much for the Northern Hemisphere producing the goods on their own patch. The final four teams remaining in the World Cup are all Southern Hemisphere sides. The first semi-final will pit the Southern Hemisphere's, and arguably world rugby’s, greatest rivals against each other.

The All Blacks and Springboks have been the two dominant forces in international rugby since the South Africans returned from sporting exile in the early 1990’s. The rivalry is filled with mutual respect and admiration. As is evident in both sets of players declaring that this is the toughest game they will play this year, despite a World Cup final awaiting the winner.

With the World Cup drawing to a conclusion, this game offers one of the final few opportunities to make some money off the showpiece event. 

To Win (80 Mins)
South Africa  33/10
Draw  25/1
New Zealand  1/4
South Africa  (+8.5) 9/10 
New Zealand  (-8.5) 9/10

South Africa
The Boks have endured one of the strangest campaigns ever seen at a World Cup. Not many sides have lost to a minnow team and still made it through to the semi-finals, in fact, it has never been done. However, records are meant to be broken and this South African side is more than capable of shattering a record or two. 

Last weekend’s match against Wales summed up South Africans tournament quite nicely. They should have put a cushy point’s gap between themselves and the Dragons but an erratic place kicking display from Handre Pollard ensured the game was tighter than it should have been. While Pollard’s kicking performance contributed to tense nature of the game, the South Africans were also guilty of butchering a try-scoring chance or two. Thankfully, though, Duane Vermeulen and Fourie du Preez came to the rescue with a try that conjured up memories of Teichman and van der Westhuizen.

With Wales leading by a solitary point and time fast running out, the back row brute that is, Duane Vermeulen, picked up the ball from the tail of the scrum. While many were hoping the Province number eight would make a dash for the corner flag, he decided to carry the ball up almost directly into the Welsh blindside flanker. The Welsh were wary of the threat that Vermeulen carries from the base and winger Alex Cuthbert was already on his way in from the wing to assist with the tackle before Sam Warburton had even detached from the scrum. With all the Welsh blindside defenders focussing on Vermeulen, there was a huge opening left outside him. The ‘Bok number eight spotted the gap and with a delicate ball out the back of his hand, put his newly installed skipper into it. The South African nine may not be as quick as he was earlier in his career, but there was enough still left in those aging legs of his to get across the line and seal the win for his side.
While du Preez and Vermeulen will rightly receive the majority of the plaudits for the victory, the ‘Bok front row also deserves a moment of praise. They managed to get the right shoulder at the scrum that led to the try, and without that, Vermeulen and du Preez would have had no chance of implementing their moment of magic.
For all the grief I gave Jannie du Plessis last week, the veteran prop was integral in gaining the shoulder in the match-deciding scrum. I may have been a bit premature in predicting his international demise. The one thing I will say, though, is that he looks a hell of a lot better coming off the bench than when starting. I would like to think Heynecke Meyer has spotted this, as it could work to the Springboks' advantage in the semi-final.

Another man who could come off the bench and make an impact this weekend is Victor Matfield. The veteran lock is the only change that Heynecke Meyer has made to his matchday twenty-three. Matfield takes Pieter-Steph du Toit’s place on the bench.

New Zealand
Firstly, I must apologise, for my horrendous prediction that the French would prevail against the All Blacks last weekend. Never in the history of the Rugby World Cup has there been a more emphatic quarter–final victory than there was last weekend. The All Blacks were at their rampant best, and at a point, I feared the French might actually have gone in search of a white flag to forfeit the game. 

The win added to the All Blacks' impressive unbeaten record in the tournament, which now stands at twelve games.  

While the win against Wales would have seen the South Africans more upbeat about their chances of advancing to the final, what the All Blacks did to France later on in the day may have seen that hope extinguished somewhat. The men in green and gold will know that they are in for an onslaught at Twickenham come Saturday afternoon.

There is a famous sporting colloquialism that was first coined by Arsenal Football club manager, Arsene Wenger, that perfectly sums up the All Blacks performances at the tournament prior to last week’s game. The term is “playing with the handbrake on”. The Frenchmen often used the phrase to describe his team’s inability to click on attack. While this was evident in the All Blacks' group stage games, the handbrake was well and truly released last weekend.
The most impressive part of the All Blacks first half performance, wasn’t their dominance at the lineout, nor was it their fleet-footed backs, it was the simplicity of their game that really caught the eye. They cherished the ball and weren’t willing to kick it away, nor were they willing to throw a 50/50 pass. They kept it simple and moved the French pack around the field. The net result was that as soon as the French tired the All Blacks were able to run riot.

Like his counterpart, Steve Hansen has opted to make minimal changes to his side. He has brought Joe Moody into the run fifteen in place of Wyatt Crockett, who has been ruled out with a groin strain. Moody’s place on the bench is taken by Ben Franks  
The Stats That Matter
In total, the two sides have met in ninety matches. The All Blacks have won fifty-two of these encounters and amassed 1745 points in them while the ‘Boks have won thirty-five and average 14.58 points per game. The All Blacks' average is slightly healthier at 19.38 points per game.
New Zealand have dominated the last five games played between the sides winning four out of the five while South Africa’s last win over their  came at Ellis Park last year. They met at the same venue in the Rugby Championship earlier this year, and despite a brave performance from an injury-maligned springbok outfit, the All Blacks still managed to claim a seven-point victory. The last five games have seen a total of 232 points scored at an average of 46.4 points per game.

The South Africans edge the World Cup meetings between the two sides. Nobody will forget the Madiba inspired Springbok performance in the 1995 final, where the ‘Boks won by fifteen points to twelve after extra time. The Duo met again at the 1999 tournament in the third and fourth playoff match, South Africa won the game by twenty-two points to eighteen. They then met in the quarter-final at the 2003 tournament and the roles were reversed with the All Blacks running Rudolf Straeuli’s side rampant. They eventually won the game by twenty-nine points to nine.

Both teams are in relatively good form heading into the semi-final. The South Africans managed to scrape past Wales last weekend but the big concern to come out of that match will be Handre Pollard's place kicking. The ‘Bok ten missed two second-half penalties that would have given his side a comfortable lead. Dan Carter has also endured an underwhelming tournament with the boot. However, despite the All Black sharp shooter’s struggles, he has still managed to contribute an average 13.25 points per match. 

Both tens will need to find their kicking togs for this one, as it's likely to be a close-run thing.

Verdict: South Africa 33/10
It’s a huge risk and there may be a bit of patriotism involved in my decision, but there’s just something about this All Blacks side that makes me feel like the World Cup is not destined to continue its residence in the Land of the Long White Cloud. 

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