Scrum Like It Cold

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-23 5:03:02

Southern sides take advantage of Northern hospitality at England 2015

New Zealand's Julian Savea runs to score a try during the quarterfinal match against France at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in Cardiff, Wales on October 17. Photo: AFP

The success of the Southern Hemisphere at this year's Rugby World Cup, where a side from south of the equator will lift the William Webb-Ellis trophy on November 1, has led to the postmortem of the Northern game.

The success of the South has come because of how comfortable with the ball and how quickly they move down the field, something at odds with the Six Nations and their Northern Hemisphere neighbors: brain over brawn, to put it in its most simplistic terms. Nowhere has this been more apparent than the media reaction to hosts England crashing out, a team whose fortunes were not helped by tabloid hype more suited to expectations of victory akin to their counterparts in the code Webb Ellis so famously deviated from back at Rugby School by picking up the ball and running back in 1823.

Regardless of the real or imagined failings of the European powerhouses, this is the first time that a World Cup will be played without a team from the continent in the semifinals, we are faced with four teams who can still win the tournament and two games at Twickenham to decide who will play it out for 80 final minutes at the same ground for this year's trophy. Here's a preview of the semifinal games this weekend.

New Zealand v South Africa - Saturday

The Kiwis are the top-ranked team at the tournament and barely broke a sweat in qualifying from their opening group. The All Blacks put aside any fears that they would be ill-prepared for the knockouts after strolling to that stage by hammering the French by 45 points in the quarters to establish themselves in pole position to retain their trophy and secure a record third World Cup victory.

South Africa stand in their way and that's apt given the battle between the current top try scorers at England 2015. The Springboks' Brian Habana might be the wrong side of 30 but his trio of touchdowns against the USA meant that the South African veteran now has 15 tries at World Cups and is joint record top try scorer in the event's 28-year history with former New Zealand superstar Jonah Lomu. The Kiwi legend's current heir, Julian Savea, already has eight tries at this tournament, which is a record for most at one World Cup matched by his South African counterpart at No.11 ­Habana and the aforementioned Lomu. If ­either adds to their tally then they write their name in the record books but, more importantly, they also get their team a step closer to having one hand on the biggest trophy in the sport. His teammate Dan Carter has been as unflappable as ever when it comes to conversions and an extended run of form from the pair, backed up by Ben Smith's carrying of the ball, would spell trouble for the South Africans.

The Springboks have come a long way from their opening group game loss to Japan, a shock that reverberated around the sports world. Their performances since have proved that the team who went into the World Cup as the third-highest rated team in rugby are Bok with a vengeance. Their struggles behind them, the most force-focused and powerful team of those remaining in the hunt will hope that tough-tackling Lodewyk de Jager continues to punish the opposition while starlet Handre Pollard's excellent form from the kicking tee doesn't falter. A tactical master class from the team's heartbeat and captain, Fourie du Perez, who scored a late try to clinch their quarterfinal against Wales, will be vital. The formbook certainty favors the All Blacks, who have won six of the last seven meetings between the sides but a resurgent Springbok side will want to add to their victories of 1995 and 2007. 

Australia v Argentina - Sunday

Australia's head coach might have been magnanimous in victory over Scotland, condemning World Rugby for their decision to criticize match referee Craig Joubert for his call to award the Wallabies a last-gasp penalty which saw his team edge the Scots 35-34 last weekend, but he is unlikely to give any quarter against the most unfancied team left in England. The Aussies are serial winners and will want to establish themselves as the pre-eminent Rugby World Cup team with a record third triumph.

Zimbabwe-born David Pocock has been fundamental in stopping the opposition regaining the ball and allowing Australia to play. But, boy, can they play. Bernard Foley is the star of the show for the Southern Cross nation, instrumental in destroying England, he also kicked the team to victory against Wales.

The Pumas have risen from eighth to fourth in the rankings since the World Cup began, and it is clear of the long-term benefit of them being invited into the Rugby Championship rather than the Six Nations, something that their coach Daniel Hourcade has cited for the South Americans' success this year. 

As important to this unexpected run as their free-flowing Southern Hemisphere rugby, a chance to better their third-place finish in 2007, has been Nicholas Sanchez's success with the boot. The fly-half has 74 points so far, the highest of anyone still at the tournament, and he needs to add to that if there's any chance for the sky blues to dream against a team who have won four of their last five meetings.

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