NZ v SA
The score may have suggested this was close but I really felt that whilst having to work incredibly hard, New Zealand were in control. They took their try well down the right hand touchline for Jerome Kaino to reach over in the corner. South Africa applied the pressure in the first half and got good success with box kicks from Fourie de Preez on to Nehe Milner-Skudder. Habana was able to rise above him, catch the ball, to keep SA on the attack and more importantly in the NZ half. SA applied significant pressure, which resulted in NZ indiscipline. SA converted the penalties keeping them ahead but not getting the crucial tries.
The turning point, arrived bizarrely from a lack of indiscipline with a lazy retreat from Kaino. How much he knew of it, I don’t know but the intervention of the ball hitting his boot and into touch earned him a yellow card. Rather than the number disadvantage and statistical expectation to lose points, it rallied the NZ team. It also helped with half time and a chance to regroup. Whether stern words were required or just a clarification of the best way to win, the leadership and actions shone through. The NZ team returned early to the pitch to warm up, putting the ball through the hands in the ever challenging wet conditions. No sooner had the 2nd half started, Dan Carter with sheer grace dropped a goal. Clinical!
During this crucial period, I felt Ben Smith was prominent with his own ability to chase and receive New Zealand kicks going forward. We saw NZ adopt a completely different approach to their attack to suit the conditions and their opposition. It wasn’t flash like against France but it has taken them to the final.
Australia v Argentina
Argentina were the masters of their own downfall in the first 15 minutes. They wanted to ignite their attack like they had against Ireland. They wanted to keep the ball alive. Unfortunately, unlike the week before, they did not earn the right to attack in the wide channels and offload. They were not winning the collision at the tackle. It allowed the Australian defence to come up hard on the outside. After one near miss, Rob Simmons picked off an intercept to score the fastest try of the tournament.
Again, Argentina tried to keep the ball moving and in play but it backfired, as a hurried quick tap from a ‘mark’ was fumbled forward. Australia read the blitz defence and floated a wide flat pass to Adam Ashley-Cooper, for the first of his hat trick.
Argentina were courageous and finally starting getting more ball on the front foot. This resulted in meaningful breaks through the centre and out wide as the game went on. Argentina’s reward was a string of penalties that meant despite not being able to get tries, they were within striking distance of Australia. Australia may have scored 4 tries to nil but it was the quality of their defence that stood out, as Argentina threw everything they had.
David Pocock was again outstanding. It was another masterclass at the breakdown, as he snaffled 4 turnovers. He left the pitch battered and bruised but set for the ultimate battle against McCaw.
New Zealand v Australia
Are there two International teams that play against each other so regularly? Annually, they clash horns 3 times a year. They must have so much knowledge of one another. I wonder if Michael Cheika wishes he had held back the intellect of playing Hooper Pocock together during the Rugby Championship. Whilst NZ will have known about them as individuals, they may not have understood how the combination would work.
They were the favourites coming in to this tournament. I have to say with their leadership and ability they have in their squad, means that I see New Zealand winning this.