This week Matt and Jamie talk through some of the other nations...
A slightly different take on the Rugby World Cup Semi Finals
OPINON – Now it’s pretty safe to say that we’re approaching the time that famous Football coach Sir Alex Ferguson often liked to refer to as “squeaky bum time”.
While I don’t like to use that particular term, this weekend’s matches will really separate the men from the boys – the equivalent of that fine line between being that 17 year old longing to go out and being the cool, calm, casual 18 year old having a pint in the pub.
And despite those margins being very slim, the enjoyable truth is that any one of these teams could very well win the tournament. The truth is also that all four teams have played such brave and enjoyable rugby worthy of at least a Rugby World Cup final, a style of rugby that is an absolute credit to the development of the sport and one that I’m so incredibly glad has been vindicated by these semi finalists.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves and start analysing a potential final, we have two mighty fine games ahead on Saturday and Sunday afternoons respectively.
Instead of looking at the previews, we’re just going to have a look at each team because, well let’s face it, it could easily be a South Africa v Argentina final as it could be a New Zealand v Australia final.
If the World Rugby rankings table was a house and the All Blacks an early 30s couple, they would have been loyal and tidy tenants for 13 years with two children, a housekeeper, two pug dogs and a big backyard – such has been their domination of World Rugby.
Though like the tax man, All Black fans’ hunger for more intensifies year on year which has fostered the national team’s desire for World Cup success.
Coles, Retallick, Kaino, McCaw, Read, Carter, Nonu, A, B and C Smith – the class is immeasurable but very well enclosed by a down-to-earth management team, one which has seemed to learn from previous misjudgments. It’s hard to see where this team can be beaten and it’s also hard to dislike the brand of rugby they play.
While they have an ageing squad, they might be able to squeeze the last out of their best players before they fade into retirement.
Strength – Their ability to change game plans shows that they’re a completely different beast from the one that choked in the 2007 World Cup.
Weakness – If any, it would be their susceptibility to high balls but even that is clutching at straws
There was no real need to mention the l-l-l-loss against Japan at the beginning of the tournament. But it was exactly what the South Africans needed to annoy them into some form and they haven’t looked back.
While they have quality, it’s not so well spread with South Africa having a less-experienced side than usual, particularly in the back line. And despite reverting to their much-maligned kicking game plan against Wales last week, it was impressive that the reasonably young team had the experience to revert to that game plan.
Where South Africa make inroads is up front and in that first channel with big guns like Schalk Burger, Duane Vermuelen and Francois Louw running at the defensive line. But it will all determine whether they can get parity at the scrum and at the breakdown.
With the likes of Victor Matfield, Adriaan Strauss and Jannie du Plessis coming off the bench, they are a formidable pack. And if they can get ascendency at the set piece and the break down than they’re a chance.
However they’re going to have to stay well away from their kicking-orientated game as it’s not likely to work as well against the All Blacks as it did against Wales.
Weaknesses – They have a tendency to go back into their shell once they’re challenged up front and in the 10 channel.
Strengths – They have a mighty backrow that are full of match winners. They also have a lot of experience coming off the bench.
After their Welsh-flavoured Irish demolition, you can’t help but admire the style of rugby that Argentina have been playing at this World Cup. Since falling short to New Zealand in their first match at Wembley, they have gone from strength to strength.
They have truly shown what value their involvement in the Rugby Championship and have really surprised some Northern Hemisphere heads with their style of rugby.
They have runners across the field and the team has shown its willingness to run the ball from virtually anyway. They have a big powerful back row which is driven forward by its huge front row and has delivered front foot ball to the backline.
The problem with Argentina and it’s something that has hindered their rugby is their tendency to play too loose of a game. And in trying to play too much of a complex game, their basics let them down all too often which is why they struggle to win a match in the Rugby Championship.
Weaknesses – In trying to play too much rugby, the basics often let them down. They can be very threatening but they need to remember to keep it simple stupid!
Strengths – They love having the ball in hand and then quick hands mean their wingers see a lot of the ball.
After playing arguably one of the performances of the tournament, they have struggled to fit the bill in their previous two performances with a very scratchy match against Wales and their under par showing against Scotland.
In the semis by the skin of their teeth, they will know that Argentina will take some beating after the Pumas turned them over in the Rugby Championship last year.
However, they will be buoyed by the fact that their kingpin pilferer turned no.8 David Pocock has been declared fit and will hold nothing back against the South Americans.
They have been made stronger through the absence of Will Skelton and Wycliff Palu but they will need their backrow to be a dominant force against the versatile Argentinians.
With a tendency to carry passengers like Kuridrani, Fardy, McCalman, Simmonds and Douglas and in recent times, Israel Folau, they can’t afford to fall asleep like they have in a few of their World Cup games to date.
They will be hot favourites and with a strong performance and a convincing win, they can almost wrap up the William Webb Ellis Trophy.
Weaknesses – A tendency to fall asleep and make mindless basic errors
Strengths – They have quality across the park and despite a number of players being rather out of form, they’ve got the talent to really burn the Pumas.
It wouldn’t be a Rugby Drum post if we didn’t throw in a prediction so here it is…
*drum roll please
New Zealand and Australia will prove to be too strong. Their squad depth and their game styles will ultimately determine the match outcomes.
New Zealand 28 – 13 South Africa
Australia 22 – 19 Argentina