The semi-finals were a strange rollercoaster of exactly what one expected and exactly what one didn’t.
The way it was supposed to play out was a relatively comfortable win for the All Blacks and South Africa respectively.
But, England had other plans…
Let’s start with the first semi-final though.
New Zealand vs. Argentina
Argentina has shown in recent times that they can actually beat the All Blacks. They had a bad start to the World Cup with their loss to England but built up steadily from there. Their subsequent wins kept coming on the back of better performances although still not their very best.
When they finally hit the semi-finals, the All Blacks pitched up in full force and made light work of them.
There were a few times that the Argentinians threatened but this all faded away relatively quickly. Some more inconsistent refereeing decisions didn’t help the Argentinian team in their quest but the way the All Blacks played ensured there was only going to be one winner.
As Aaron Smith said, they had a couple of scores to settle. They settled the first one against Ireland the previous week and this week ensured they don’t stumble at the semi-final hurdle. As they did against England in the last World Cup.
It was also a historic day with Sam Whitelock continuing his amazing run as the most capped All-Black and Will Jordan equalling the most tries in a World Cup.
They laid the table for a mouthwatering final!
South Africa vs. England
I think only England had the belief that this game was going to be as close as it was. If you had a look at the game, England was absolutely amazing in how they completely shut down South Africa’s offensive efforts.
For the first 60 minutes of the game, they nullified South Africa’s kicking game, lineouts, scrums, rucks, and backline. South Africa honestly looked a little hopeless at times.
The only thing South Africa was getting right was keeping England from getting over the try line with their defensive efforts. The England team and Steve Borthwick deserve a ton of praise for the way they planned for this game and executed that plan on game day.
With the introduction of the Bomb Squad from South Africa, there was a slow but steady shift in momentum. There was a change in energy and the effectiveness of a couple of facets. RG Snyman started dominating the lineouts and created a platform to attack from.
In the scrums, Vincent Koch and Ox Nche were the catalysts for a South African comeback. Many have hailed Ox Nche and I can’t disagree with that. I do feel though that the credit should go to both front rowers.
On the back of those scrums and the penalties it produced, South Africa started rebuilding in the last 20 minutes. The RG Snyman try in the 69th minute, gave the South African team the belief that they could pull it off.
Then with two and a half minutes left, Handre Pollard stepped up for the 49m penalty goal that won South Africa the game.
Should South Africa have won that one? Many would say “no” and I won’t be able to disagree with them, but South Africa did find a way. Again. For the 2nd weekend in a row.
Despite the overall under-par performance, the manner in which they always find a way should be one of the things the All Blacks should be wary of.
One last thing: as much as it pains me to say it, I think that Owen Farrell showed a lot of class after the game in his interview. He commended the South Africans for their win and how they came back, despite the clear pain you could see on his face.
The England team really built something in this World Cup that is undeniable and it should be a warning sign for the other teams in the 6 Nations for 2024.