And then there were four. The Rugby World Cup has reached its penultimate weekend, and for the remaining quartet the prize for their weeks of hard work is tantalisingly close. For two of New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina, a place in the final of the sport’s premier competition awaits. For the losers, their shot at immortality is gone for another four years.
New Zealand square up with South Africa in Saturday’s first semi final (16:00 GMT), and then on Sunday (16:00 GMT) the Australians take on the Argentines at Twickenham.
The All Blacks and the Wallabies are the favourites to take their places in the final, but as we know in knockout competitions funny things can happen when the pressure is on. So where is the smart betting money going this weekend?
New Zealand vs South Africa
All of the signs in this one point to New Zealand. They are the reigning champions – although surprisingly they have never won a World Cup anywhere other than on home soil. They are unbeaten in five matches in this tournament to date, and have now won 47 of their last 52 matches. It’s no wonder that Heyneke Meyer, the South Africa coach, has labelled this All Blacks side as ‘the best team to have ever played the game.’
The South Africans are up against it then, and they will be relying on the power and discipline of their forwards to drive them up the pitch and withstand the Kiwi onslaught. As they showed in their semi final against Wales, they are capable of defending very solidly.
So whilst much of the battle will take place up front, the real storyline is the tale of two wingers. The South African, Brian Habana, needs just one try to break Jonah Lomu’s World Cup record, whilst the Kiwi Julian Savea is closing on the record for the most tries at a single World Cup; he needs to add two more to his current eight.
If there’s anything that the Pool B defeat to Japan highlighted, it’s that South Africa look susceptible to teams willing to carry into the final third of the pitch and then spin wide to the backs quickly; New Zealand are the masters of this.
The All Blacks are red hot favourites then, and should really take advantage in the final 20 minutes of the match. So take them with a -9.5 point handicap from 1.95.
Australia vs Argentina
Australia were looking like the team of the tournament up until last weekend; overcoming both England and Wales in Pool A to top the group. Amongst those performances were an impenetrable defence and the laser-like precision of the right boot of fly half Bernard Foley.
But those two factors went missing in their nail-biting 35-34 quarter final win over Scotland – a match which, without a poor refereeing decision, the Scots could have won. The Wallabies’ defending was fragile, and Foley missed a series of penalty kicks and conversions.
There’s plenty for Argentina to look forward to then, and despite being the underdog here – they can be backed from 3.25 to Australia’s 1.40 – those prices perhaps aren’t reflective of the two teams’ abilities.
Argentina outscored New Zealand in Pool C and put 40 past Ireland in the quarters, and their defence is ill disciplined enough to the extent that they conceded 19 points against Namibia and 16 to Tonga.
There should be plenty in this game too, and that’s why the Over 44 Points market looks so tempting from 2.20.
By: Craig Simpkin