It’s crunch time at the Rugby World Cup with that terrible game on the horizon: the semi final. For 15 men there will be euphoria; a place in the pinnacle of the sport will be theirs. For 15 others, it is sheer, unadulterated heartbreak.
Australia suffered that fate in the 2011 tournament, and they will be hoping to avoid a repeat of that against Argentina this time round (Sunday, 4pm). Their conquerors that day, New Zealand, take on South Africa in what should be a colossal battle in the other last four encounter (Saturday, 4pm).
So what is the tale of the tape, and is there any betting value to be had?
New Zealand vs South Africa
The All Blacks are the reigning champions of course, and so far they have moved through this tournament in imperious fashion. Uncompromising up front and devastating at the back, they will take some stopping here; especially Julian Savea, who is the tournament’s top scorer with eight so far.
Incredibly, the Kiwis are yet to win a World Cup staged outside of New Zealand, although that could be set to change with even the South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer labelling them ‘the best team to have ever played the game.’ Tellingly, the All Blacks have won 47 of their last 52 matches.
So South Africa have a hell of a job on their hands, particularly in stemming the tide of points against them (New Zealand scored nine tries in their 62-13 quarter final win over France), and will be hoping for a tight game fought out on the deck amongst the forwards.
On the odd occasion they do spin the ball wide Brian Habana will be looking to cash in; the winger is just one try away from breaking Jonah Lomu’s all-time record.
But whilst we can chalk up their Pool B defeat to Japan to many things – rustiness, complacency the sometimes unpredictable nature of sport – one thing that cannot be denied is that they looked susceptible to attacking, ball-in-hand play.
The South Africans will be up for the battle up front, but that lack of solidity amongst their back division could be a defining factor given the power and pace in the back seven of the All Blacks.
In their past 12 meetings, New Zealand have won ten. It would be a surprise if they didn’t add to that record on Saturday. Back them with a -9.5 point handicap from 19/20.
Australia vs Argentina
Neutral observers love rugby matches that are packed with action and point scoring, and they could well have a cracker on their hands here.
The Aussies were pushed hard by Scotland in a surprisingly tight quarter final encounter, and the fact that they conceded 34 points – despite previously showcasing a rock solid defence – will please the Argentines.
The Pumas tend to be quite generous in defence themselves – even Namibia (19) and Tonga (16) found a way through, and that is due in part to their occasional ill discipline. But they look decent in attack too; they scored more points in the group phase than New Zealand, and put 40 past Ireland in their last eight fixture.
The omens are not good for Argentina however; they may have beaten Australia on home soil approximately a year ago, but other than that the Wallabies tend to dominate meetings between the two. They won the preceding nine games.
You’d fancy the Aussies’ big tournament experience to see them through here, but the best value comes from backing a high scoring clash: Over 44 Match Points is available from 11/10.