Sunday 13 October 2019

South Africa v New Zealand: Five things that will decide Rugby World Cup semi-final

New Zealand perform the haka before the start of the game. Photo: Reuters
New Zealand perform the haka before the start of the game. Photo: Reuters

Steve James

Rugged physicality and the performances of New Zealand's legendary McCaw-Carter axis are two of the keys to Twickenham showdown.

1. The legacy

Yes, that is the title of a very decent book about the All Blacks, but the legacy this side is in touching distance of leaving is huge. They can become the first New Zealand side to win a Rugby World Cup away from home, and the first side ever to win back-to-back RWCs. It would be some achievement. Can they cope with that burden? There is nothing really yet to suggest they cannot, but was the performance against France in the quarter-final just too good? Sometimes it can be difficult to back up such masterclasses.

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New Zealand's Dan Carter holds off France's Pascal Pape just before his daring reverse pass that had audiences 'oohing and aahing'

2. The legends

Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. We must never forget that this tournament is their last. Indeed this game could be their last. Or at least their last big match (a third place play-off would be a horrible way to end). It is not being spoken about, because that is the quality of the individuals we are considering here. They would not want anything to detract from the team. But deep inside you can be sure there are some strong emotions floating around. Suddenly last weekend Carter reappeared as the prince and the conductor at fly-half. It was magical to behold. McCaw has been good in this tournament but not necessarily outstanding. What price that now? What price him looking at Sam Warburton’s outstanding performance for Wales last weekend against South Arica and urging himself to go that little better?

Richie McCaw always leads by example for New Zealand

3. The physicality

South Africa will come at New Zealand like few sides have ever come at them. It has troubled the All Blacks before, and they are going to have to deal with the frenzied carrying of the likes of Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen, Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth, to name just a few, before they can begin to think about the type of width on their game that they know can run the South Africans into the ground. Expect the All Blacks to kick a lot early on. That is their way of diffusing such matters.

Rugby Union - South Africa v Japan - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool B - Brighton Community Stadium, Brighton, England - 19/9/15 South Africa's Schalk Burger in action with Shinya Makabe Reuters / Eddie Keogh Livepic

4. The midfield

It is often overlooked just how important inside centre Ma’a Nonu is to the All Blacks. For all the wonderful interplay that came later in the game against France, it was Nonu who set the All Blacks on their way with some trademark surges over the gain line early on. Yes, Nonu has been transformed as a player, acquiring passing and kicking skills that we never thought he might possess, but his primary purpose is still to carry. And carry hard. If New Zealand need to get physical, he is the man to do it.

New Zealand's Ma'a Nonu gets away from Morgan Parra to set up another attack

5. The driving maul

New Zealand do not like it. Indeed coach Steve Hansen described it as “bloody boring” last summer when Argentina had some success with it against his team. And therein lies the rub. New Zealand do not defend them well, and South Africa do have a particularly potent driving maul - even if Japan also showed them how to do it in that never-to-be-forgotten match earlier in this tournament.

New Zealand's head rugby coach Steve Hansen

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