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Rugby World Cup 2023 Semi-finals Preview

Rugby World Cup 2023 Semi-finals Preview - Absolute Rugby

Matthew Buckland |

The Rugby World Cup just keeps on getting more important and we are now ready to decide who will be in the final next week. There are two very exciting semi-finals coming up and so let’s take a look at the games.

Argentina vs New Zealand

I don’t think there were many people who expected one of the semi-finals to be Argentina vs New Zealand, but here we are. Argentina were the first team to stamp their name into the semi-finals after an impressive comeback victory over Wales.

How do Argentina look?

Having been down five points with 15 minutes remaining, Argentina played the best rugby of their tournament in the last part of the game against Wales. An intercept try from Nicolas Sanchez secured the win for Los Pumas and meant they headed to the semi-finals for the first time since 2015 where they ended up finishing fourth.

It was a brilliant result for Argentina and they will be thrilled that they are this far into the tournament. When Michael Cheika’s side lost heavily to England on the first weekend of the tournament, it looked like Argentina could disappoint at this Rugby World Cup. But they have been exceptional since then.

They face an incredibly difficult test against New Zealand this weekend. Argentina only have two wins against New Zealand in their entire history. The last time these two teams played in a knockout stage of the Rugby World Cup, New Zealand won 33-10 in the 2011 quarterfinals.

What will encourage Argentina slightly more is that those two wins have both come in the last three years. In November 2020, Argentina beat New Zealand for the first time and just last year, Argentina defeated the All Blacks in New Zealand. They are playing some excellent rugby at the moment.

Los Pumas XV

Argentina head coach Michael Cheika has made just the one change for the match from the team that beat Wales. Usual starter Gonzalo Bertranou is back in the team, while Tomas Cubelli misses out on the squad altogether. It is slightly harsh, but Bertranou is a brilliant player and was the starter when Argentina beat New Zealand last year.

It is slightly surprising that Joel Sclavi had not been promoted from the bench, but Argentina are happy to have a lot of strength to bring on from the bench. They will still be without Pablo Matera who is out of the tournament, so Marcos Kremer has a big role to play in this game, up against the New Zealand captain.

Santiago Carreras is likely another player who will be crucial to this team. We haven’t really seen the flashy highlights from him that we might have expected at this tournament. If Argentina are to pull off an incredible upset, they might need a few moments of magic.

Of course, there might not be a more important man to this team than Julian Montoya. The captain is going to need a few turnovers to help Argentina defeat the All Blacks. If they can reach the final, it would undoubtedly be one of the greatest upsets in rugby history and an incredible moment for Argentinian rugby.

How do New Zealand look?

New Zealand are coming off an even more impressive result, able to continue Ireland’s quarter-final curse and defeat the number one team in the world. A lot of All Blacks would have been bitterly disappointed to lose a home series against Ireland last year, so last weekend would have been some pretty sweet revenge.

In one of the most unbelievable games of rugby in World Cup history, Ireland were never able to catch up to the All Blacks after their brilliant start to the game. But after that historic results, New Zealand need to quickly turn their attention to Argentina.

While last weeks game had the intensity of a final, the All Blacks will know that if they slip up, Argentina can beat them. While Los Pumas do have a couple of recent wins over New Zealand, the All Blacks also have some crushing performances over Argentina.

They have won the last two games between the two sides by 50 and 29 points respectively. Earlier this year, New Zealand scored four tries before Argentina were even able to get on the board. That was with a team missing a lot of key players like Will Jordan, Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick.

All Blacks XV

So New Zealand will be massively encouraged by their recent results over Argentina and they have just beaten the best team in the world. Despite that, the team have made two changes for the game against Argentina. Having been dropped due to disciplinary issues, Mark Telea is straight back into the team.

The other change is a straight swap with Sam Whitelock starting and Brodie Retallick dropping to the bench. Leicester Fainga’anuku was one of the scorers last week and yet he is still dropped from the team in place of Telea. A tough decision from Ian Foster with a massive game coming up.

With both teams now in place, it means we are set to see some very interesting matchups. Richie Mo’unga will be looking to be even more creative and spectacular than his opposite number on Friday night. Sam Cane will be looking for a repeat of his excellent performance in the quarter final.

One of the most interesting matchups on the pitch has to be between the number eights. Ardie Savea is a world class operator and he made a huge impact last week. Facundo Isa had a similarly impressive game, but you would imagine Isa is going to be more focused on controlling Savea than his own game.

Similarly in the backs, Santiago Chocobares is going to need to be extremely physical against Jordie Barrett. Jordie has been excellent at inside centre and so Chocobares is going to need to have a very big game.

Prediction

This is not an easy fixture to predict considering the mixed results between the two teams. I still think however, at the biggest moment, New Zealand have the player’s to step up. After beating the number one team in the world, I think they can handle Argentina and reach another Rugby World Cup Final.

 

South Africa vs England

Four years ago, the age-old matchup between South Africa and England was saved for the final. This time the fixture will determine who goes to the final and the circumstances around this game are very different.

How do South Africa look?

If you take a look, they aren’t exactly massively different for South Africa. The Springboks have already lost once in the tournament, just like it was four years ago. Also, four years ago South Africa beat the host nation in the quarterfinals, just like they did last week.

So by the sounds of it then, South Africa are in a very similar position to four years ago which is a very bad sign for England. Everyone remembers that in what was seen as England’s final to lose, South Africa pulled away from England in the final twenty minutes for a pretty comfortable victory.

The result was similar the last time these two teams faced, with South Africa winning 27-13 in the Autumn internationals last year. The Springboks defeating France last week was an incredible result and South Africa will take a huge amount of momentum from that game into the semi-final.

Springboks XV

As they did just knock off the host country, it is not a huge surprise that South Africa’s team remains unchanged for the game against England. No changes have been made to the XV or he bench, which means that some of the surprise selections from last week will continue to start this week.

Mannie Libbok and Cobus Reinach are the two headline surprises, just as they were last week. Libbok had a good game against France, missing just one conversion. But with Handre Pollard back fit, you would have thought that Pollard would start as he did four years ago against England.

Similarly, the Springboks continue to go with the experience of Cobus Reinach over the play of Faf de Klerk. Not only was Faf important in the win four years ago, but he was also crucial in South Africa beating England in the previous meeting between the two teams in 2022.

The other main surprise for a few people is that despite his excellent cameo performances at this tournament, Kwagga Smith still does not get a start. It is understandably difficult to break up the core of Kolisi, Du Toit and Vermeulen so maybe not the biggest surprise.

Outside of that, England fans will be concerned about Cheslin Kolbe. He tore the English defence apart four years ago, with Kurt Lee Arendse also an incredibly dangerous option. South Africa have a very strong bench and they will be able to bring on a lot of power late in the game.

That power late on was the difference four years ago and England will be looking for revenge this weekend. While the Springboks seem like a similar team to the Rugby World Cup winning side of 2019, England are an incredibly different team to the one that lost in the final.

 

How do England look?

For one thing, England have not been convincing in the past few years. They have dropped some terrible results in the last few years and did not make it to this stage with a huge amount of comfort. Despite starting the tournament with an impressive win over Argentina, they were very close to losing to both Samoa and Fiji in the last few weeks.

But that won’t matter as much to England fans because they were able to get through that game and now reach the semi-finals. While South Africa won the biggest game between the two sides over that time England have won three of the previous five matchups between the two teams.

In fact, it was only two years ago that an England side missing some of their key players were able to kick their way to a win over the Springboks. This is a very different England team to the one that beat South Africa two years ago. A new head coach and a new philosophy means England are a very different side to the team that lost in Yokohama.

England’s XV

There are still a few similarities between the 2019 team and this current team, particularly when it comes to selection. Steve Borthwick surprised more than a few people when he named his team for this game. Joe Marler and Dan Cole start, the pair that struggled against the South African power four years ago in the scrum.

Jamie George keeps his place in the team from last week, while George Martin starts and Ollie Chessum drops to the bench. Owen Farrell keeps his place in the team despite his wavering performances recently. Manu Tuilagi is still preferred to Ollie Lawrence at 12, while there is an interesting change at 15.

Freddie Steward returns to the team to replace Marcus Smith in the third change. Considering the physicality of the Springboks team, it is not a massive surprise that Steward has been brought back in. It is slightly more surprising that after a good performance against Fiji, Smith is dropped from the squad altogether.

The Harlequins fly-half really put his body on the line last week and let’s not forget, he was England’s starting fly-half the last time that they beat South Africa. The England team as a whole does not look like it is going to matchup to South Africa brilliantly, especially considering the physicality of the Springboks pack.

Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje are going to need similar performances to last week if England are to have any chance in this game at all. It is certainly going to be a physical game between these two teams.

Prediction

With the physicality of their pack, I don’t see how South Africa lose this game. The Springboks were able to beat one of the toughest teams in the world last week and have such a strong bench to call upon. I think we will be seeing a Springboks vs All Blacks final in a couple of weeks time.

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