Rugby World Cup 2015 – Semi-finals: Run The Cutter

2011 tournament-winners the All Blacks will meet Bledisloe Cup rivals Australia in the World Cup final after the weekend’s two semi-finals. The Wallabies, who have experienced a turnaround less than 12 months on from the appointment of Michael Cheika as their head coach, held off Argentina and New Zealand came from behind at the break to beat South Africa. They will meet for the first time in a World Cup final whilst South Africa will hope to avoid defeat for the sixth time this year when they play Argentina for third.




Throughout the pool stages in the World Cup in England, and Wales, our wrap touched on each team per their place on the pool ladder. In the knockout phase we will go match by match in review and look ahead, in this case, to the final and much-maligned playoff for third.


South Africa v New Zealand – Twickenham


Steve Hansen’s side have given themselves a chance to create World Cup history with an opportunity to be the first side to defend their title after they snuck home 20-18 against the Springboks. All Black back-rower Jerome Kaino scored the game’s first try after Handre Pollard had piloted home a penalty goal for the Africans. Pollard’s boot became key as most of the early penalties New Zealand conceded in the first half were punished by three points and resulted in a 12-7 lead for the 2007 champs. Kaino’s yellow card just before the interval threatened to swing the game if the All Blacks continued to play in an ill-disciplined manner in their own half. Surprisingly a yellow card for either side made no material difference to the result with 3-3 the scores in each ten-minute period when first Kaino and then South Africa’s Bryan Habana in the second half were sanctioned. New Zealand looked assured as fly-half Daniel Carter wrenched control of the game early in the second period and after sustaining some slight concerns that come with only a two-point lead in a knockout game were able to dominate territory and secure a fourth spot in a final.


Of the winners


Nehe Milner Skudder’s shoulder injury in the 49th minute changed the game with Hurricanes teammate Beauden Barrett entering the fray and dotting down not long after. If Milner-Skudder doesn’t come up for the final Hansen has an interesting dilemma with the ‘Ben Smith to right wing and Barrett to fullback’ option the first choice. Milner-Skudder wasn’t great under the high ball getting caught out so should he play it’s something the side in yellow will look to exploit. Probably the biggest concern for Hansen will be the penalty count. Whilst the second half infractions weren’t as major, conceding 14 penalties in a knockout game is item one in the ‘ingredients to lose a knockout game’ receipe so the All Blacks need to do better in that regard. Referee for the final Nigel Owens isn’t afraid to march players if needed as the Welshman marched France’s Louis Picamoles in their quarter-final defeat to the All Blacks. One significant factor will be line-out plays with New Zealand pulling off two key plays around that set piece in the semi-final. Sam Whitelock will be crucial in this department.


What next for the beaten?


Chasing the game since Barrett’s 52nd minute try Heyneke Meyer elected to only use his first backline replacement 13 minutes later. In a game when South Africa never threatened the New Zealand line for a sustained period of time the lack of substitute backline depth spoke volumes. Even with a clutch of brilliant youngsters 23 years of age or younger like Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende a point of difference on the bench in the outside backs would have been useful. de Allende made way for Jan Serfontein at the very end of the game but it was in the last minute. Unless de Allende was injured what’s the point of that play? Meyer needs to give his wider group of 31 a run against Argentina but that will need to be balanced with the obligatory ‘farewell to senior players’ test.


Argentina v Australia – Twickenham


David Pocock’s return and Adam Ashley-Cooper’s treble helped lead Australia to a 29-15 win over Argentina but the margin of victory doesn’t show how well Argentina responded after threatening a France-like effort when down 19-6 after 32 minutes. Despite been 22-15 down with eight minutes to go after having suffered injuries to three key players during the game Daniel Hourcade’s side still threatened to grab an unlikely win. But, like South Africa the night before at the south-west London venue, one always felt the favourites would prevail especially given in an eight minute period from the 24th minute the Argentine’s lost Tomas Lavanini to a yellow card, lost skipper Agustin Creevy to injury and conceded a try. If Argentina had scored when hard on attack in the last minute of the first half instead of spilling possession things could have been different. Australia weren’t at their best throughout the game (see Will Genia’s box kick which went out of the full) but their ability to ‘kill the game’ in the final ten minutes showed why they are an improved side under Michael Cheika. They chased a try with five minutes to go after getting a penalty when Kurtley Beale could easily have gone for a long range penalty and pushed the margin out to 17 points. I wonder if they would have done that against New Zealand or South Africa.


Of the winners


Like All Blacks back Milner-Skudder Israel Folau was troubled in kick reception and hasn’t been as impressive as he is capable of in this tournament. Australia got lucky when Tevita Kuridrani wasn’t sin-binned for kicking the ball away and when halfback Genia failed to retreat before involving himself in a play. Wayne Barnes did see fit to sanction Lavanini but not the Wallabies duo. As noted Owens isn’t likely to take kindly to similar shenanigans in the tournament decider for either team. Australia’s ability to endure pressure from Argentina, who did have the weight of possession, without conceding a try is positive heading into the decider. Like New Zealand, Australia’s ill-discipline (they gave up 12 penalties) would be somewhat of a worry but that is countered by the ability to get pressure at the breakdown highlighted by the ten turnovers they generated (three of which Pocock got in the first 18 minutes). By way of comparison the All Blacks picked up nine turnovers in their win.


What next for the beaten?


Daniel Hourcade rolled the dice with his decision to start Agustin Creevy and it came up snake eyes as the skipper hobbled off just before Ashley-Cooper scored his second try.

Argentina’s Nicolas Sanchez probably won’t have a horror start like he did on Sunday when Los Pumas feature in the third-place playoff against the Boks. Sanchez served the ball up on a platter for Rob Simmon’s to open the cording. With some key players plying their trade in the UK and Europe such as Saracen’s Marcelo Bosch there will be a few club coaches and executives hoping for no major injuries in the game. Marcos Ayerza and Creevy, if he is fit, will feature on the World Cup stage for the last time so the South Americans will have equal motivation in terms of farewelling key players on this stage as their opponents will. In addition to Creevy’s injury Argentina will have concerns around winger Juan Imhoff and Juan Martin Hernandez, the former having left the game early on Sunday.


Tip: All Blacks by eight. Dan Coles to get a try at some point.


More from earlier in the tournament can be found on the blog:


About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

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