In the quarter-finals round the motto is “Win or go home”.
No such luck for the semi-final losers who will have to stick around another week to play in the
Rake in More Dosh By Making The Losers’ Play Again Bronze Final. Which is incentive enough to win this weekend.
Semi-Final 1: New Zealand vs England
In three previous World Cup encounters England have never beaten the All Blacks. Now would not be a good time to start. Never would be a good time to start.
Their previous World Cup semi-final match was the 1995 Jonah Lomu Benefit where the big fella scored four tries and Zinzan Brooke kicked a droppie from halfway.
The 2019 version of England is a far better side than 2015, and indeed 1995. Eddie Jones has got them drilled to automaton status. They know what they’re supposed to do, and go about doing it relentlessly. In Owen Farrell they have the best goal kicker in the tournament, and they’ll collect three points every time you give away a penalty in your own half.
Their whole game is based around winning collisions. And they go looking for collisions, running straight at the defensive line again and again. It’s the “Move Lord Kitchener’s drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin” strategy. Attrition rather than movement.
The 2019 version of the All Blacks is … well, turn around three times and spit, because we won’t know how good they are for ten days yet. And I will not be tempting the gods with any rash prediction about what will happen.
What we do know from their performances against Australia at Eden Park, and against Ireland in Tokyo, is that this team wants to play at relentless pace with ball in hand. They want to find gaps, and create them with magical running lines, and go through them with multiple players in support. And on their day they can do all of that and more.
‘On their day’. But as Shag and I know only too well, not every day is your day.
Probably the best guide to this match was the AB’s opening pool match against South Africa, which they won 23-13. Two tries in three minutes, while the rest of the game was a tight clinch of control.
England will be better than South Africa were that day, so the All Blacks need to be better again. The opening ten minutes will be epic, but not the decider. Look for the ABs five minutes either side of half time. And please oh please, for the sake of my heart, liver, spleen and brain – let us be up by 15 with ten minutes to go.
Semi-Final 2: Wales vs South Africa
Wales have never appeared in a World Cup Final. They have two world-class players in Alun Wyn Jones and Dan Biggar.
Warren Gatland wants this so bad. He’s been chasing it for 12 years, using the same formula. The only problem is that the recipe is now 12 years old, everybody’s read it, and it’s so stale it’s getting whiffy.
Wales in the pool matches were meh, but you figured they were working on getting steadily better through the tournament rather than showing too much too early.
Their squeaky win against France in the quarters shows that theory was wrong: they really were playing as well as they could, but it just wasn’t very good.
South Africa’s quarter-final against Japan got the job done, but without much finesse, and with less control than you would expect. That suggests that the on-field thinking is not there yet, which is not something you want to be tweaking at this stage of a tournament.
South Africa should take this one, if not at a canter, then at least at a trot.