Rugby World Cup Predictions: Semi-finals

Billy Vunipola

Three out of the four quarter-finals last weekend ended up with a more one-sided score than expected, and despite picking all 4 winners, I didn’t manage a single margin point.

This weekend, we have two cracking semi-final ties to look forward to, with England facing New Zealand and Wales taking on South Africa. The two southern hemisphere teams are favourites to make the final, but can England or Wales make an impact?

Here are my predictions for this weekend’s Rugby World Cup semi-finals.

England v New Zealand
Both teams were comfortable winners of their quarter-finals last weekend, but I’m not actually sure how much to read into the results because with respect to Australia and Ireland, the opposition in both games performed relatively poorly. The All Blacks looked sublime, whilst England appeared in control throughout and you just wonder if they have another gear or two that we haven’t yet seen in this tournament.

The All Blacks’ selection of Scott Barrett at blindside flanker has surprised me, with Steve Hansen potentially spotting a weakness at England’s lineout that they’ll look to target, but it may give England an edge at the breakdown where Tom Curry and Sam Underhill will look to frustrate the All Black attack.

England have been kicking the ball a lot, usually playing with less possession than their opponents, and a lot will depend on their accuracy in this match. Their defence is outstanding, and they should stand strong in structured play with relatively slow ball for New Zealand – but if they kick poorly and gift New Zealand easy possession in open spaces, they could be vulnerable to a deadly attacking game feeding off quick ball.

Eddie Jones’ team will also need to bring the power game that blew away Ireland twice this year, and that we saw glimpses of at Twickenham against Wales. That’s not easy for any team to withstand, but we don’t always see it consistently, and Billy Vunipola – a key player in terms of that power – has been slightly off-colour in this tournament so far. If Billy turns up, if the Undercurry combination is effective at the breakdown, if Owen Farrell and George Ford kick accurately, if nobody gets sent off, then England have a chance – but that’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and England just haven’t been consistent enough to expect it all to come together when it matters most.

New Zealand by 5

Wales v South Africa
Wales are very lucky to still be in the tournament, playing poorly against France and coming from behind to steal a win at the end after Sébastien Vahaamahina had been sent off and with a slightly dubious-looking forward pass allowed for the winning try. However, that’s the thing about Wales at the moment – they just keep winning and they might well do so on Sunday.

Particularly as the Springbok performance was hardly flawless against Japan, profligate in attack in the first-half before pulling away in the second. South Africa have been poor at taking their chances, particularly early on in matches against New Zealand and Japan where they started strongly, and as the tournament progresses, chances become fewer and the Welsh defence doesn’t give much away.

The two teams are fairly similar in style and you know what you’re going to get – a strong set piece, ferocious defence and quite a lot of kicking. The Springbok set piece is likely to have the edge particularly at the lineout, but Warren Gatland will know this and prepare a suitable gameplan accordingly.

With Cheslin Kolbe out injured, and Willie Le Roux out of form, I expect to see Dan Biggar bombarding the Springbok back three looking to force mistakes and regain possession in South African territory. Jonathan Davies is fit to play and returns to the midfield, and he will orchestrate a much more effective defence than Wales managed against France, and I suspect South Africa will struggle to break them down. But Liam Williams is out as is Josh Navidi, who has been a star for Wales and they will both be sorely missed, and that is tipping me slightly in favour of South Africa.

South Africa by 3

37 thoughts on “Rugby World Cup Predictions: Semi-finals

  1. I feel whoever gets a lead in the End NZ game will cling onto it – predicting England to get early scores and hang on for dear life.

    Wales SA will probably be the same, with Wales forging a potential great comeback but falling at the last hurdle.

    Either way I am so F**KING excited!!!!!!

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  2. Just by pure optimism more than anything else I’m going to go England by 7 (ridiculous really because If I’m honest I haven’t seen much from England yet that should trouble the All Blacks, but I’ve got caught up in the hype for this one and why not). I actually think (hope?) S. Africa will beat Wales. I think losing Navidi and Williams takes a huge amount from Wales and with Davies and Parkes carrying injuries (Parkes definitely/Davies allegedly) I can see that making the difference.

    However it works out I would really not want a Wales / England final. The stress would be too much.

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  3. SA win for me as I am not sure how much the Welsh have left in the tank.

    Eng/NZ – not gonna lie I am nervous as hell. We just cannot let them start like they did against Ireland. If they approach the game with some respect for England (hopeful but doubtful) then I think we can go the distance and it will be close. If they show zero respect and carve out a first half like vs Ireland I have a horrible feeling we may be out of sight by halftime. Boys in white need a MASSIVE game. C’mon!!!

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    1. You make it sound like England have no say in the game and it all depends how much NZ come at us in the first 20.
      What if England come out all guns blazing and its NZ to weather the storm, what if the defence is on point and we pressure NZ into kicking away or even better turnover their ball. England are capable of outplaying the AB’s but to do so we need to have the tactics right and play for 80

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  4. Bit surprised at tight score lines, esp with NZ, Eng game. Being away, NZ are more used to pressure in 6N & 2 b2b WC’s. They’re playing effective rugby with & without ball. Where will Eng dominate? Line out, scrum, loose? If NZ have nr parity at set piece, which they should & have had so far, then that’s one issue for Eng. Therefore, unless Eng decisively dominate at breakdown, how are they going to win? The vaunted twins will no doubt give their all in broken play, but so will NZ. With the in form, more versatile Read, the dynamic, awkward, quick Savea & the ballast & mobility of S Barrett (not to mention his additional l out prowess too), I just don’t see NZ being really dominated here either. NZ have momentum, been clinical with a more varied attack, efficient defence & then there’s the bench. Hardly weakens them. There’s talk of B Barrett’s missing a couple of tackles & the AB wings being untested. Well BB’s been described as the best player in the world. Whatever, but for sure, he brings more than he doesn’t. Both wings have spent enough Crusader time catching high balls, so will see if they can catch some more. Also, if Eng likely kick it some, they’ll have to land it on a sixpence (5p) or get punished by a pretty deadly back 3. Be a combative game. Never know on the day, cards, decisions etc & getting out of the blocks fast could be telling, but I just see NZ pulling away by the end. I dunno? NZ by 10-15? Saffa game tighter, but SA by 7? Wales have a couple out, SA one & Wales have been scraping & riding their luck for me. OTOH, SA a bit blunt in attack, so could go the other way? Maybe.

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    1. Basically sums up how I feel – there we go, twice in a week!

      It will take an inspired afternoon by England to win this won and I refuse to discount this, otherwise why tune in!?

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  5. New Zealand fairly comfortably for me. I just feel that when it comes to the crunch they tend to react more instinctively and therefore usually more effectively than England, and are more ruthless at turning defence into counter-attack very quickly because they have two scrum halves who are very quick to spot space and get the ball delivered to someone running into it. England tend to play to fixed patterns and without enough consistent pace on the ball to trouble the NZ defence too much. If it turns out to be wet, I also think they may give Daly a traumatic afternoon. If NZ get in front early I don´t see them letting us back in, whereas the other way round we have a bit of a recent track record. NZ by 16.
    The other game is not so clear cut, but I think Wales have been dead lucky so far and may be a bit short of fire power up front, particularly with Navidi missing. SA by 7, and thus hopefully spared a final with Biggar, Whinge Jones and Davies constantly bending the ref´s ear and appealing for penalties.(Not that they are the only culprits, Connor Murray has a definite future with a whistle, and Farrell should learn that petulance just gets their backs up). Just hope they are both good games.

    1. Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones have acted disgracefully with their haranguing of officials. I wish one of them would at least march the bastards back 10 metres.

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  6. Very reasoned post Don, very hard to argue with any of it to be honest. Other than its sport and it’s just one game, and we all know what can happen in sport;
    England in ‘91 being goaded into playing against game plan by Campese et al, the French in 99 oh là là . SA against Japan and then Ireland. And then the ironic Wales win last week against France with an almost identical reversal of fortunes to 2011.
    With the rugby gods in this mood who knows, maybe Eng by a point with a disallowed NZ score….

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  7. England by 3-6. Will have to do a repeat of their 1 point defeat a year ago except with a major difference. Maintain it for the whole 80 (attack being the best form of defence) and pin them back with accurate kicks and good ball retention. Easier said than done against the AB’s who are not the best team in the world for nothing!

  8. Here’s what I’m hoping to see:
    Lawes to do at least one of his trademark halfback scything jobs on Mo’unga and/or Smuth, haven’t seen one of those in a while. Put them under pressure.

    UnderCurry to dominate the breakdown.

    Read somehow finding it within himself to shut up, or get marched back ten and wipe that shit-eating grin off his face. (I’m actually a big fan of Read, I’m just getting fired up – and in my view he takes too much advantage of his admittedly well-deserved relationships with the Refs).

    Tuilagi to pull out a similar performance to his incredible game in 2012. When you watch video of that game now, it really was quite extraordinary wasn’t it!

    Ford & Farrell using the ball intelligently. Don’t mind a bit of kicking but there’s more value to be had from quick hands out to Tuilagi and get him running hard at Mo’unga who seems to get put in the 13 channel a lot in defence.

    Massive carries from the Vunipolae, Sinckler, Itoje and Tuilagi – plus decoys from the same players opening up some massive gaps to put Messrs May, Daly and Watson through.

    Awesome defence throughout.
    Both teams have achieved utterly miserly defence so far.

    Could be a very low scoring game.

    England 10-6 New Zealand

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      1. Well yes I *would like* to see an exciting game too. But look at it this way:

        So far in this tourny, England have conceded only three tries, and the one against USA was just a comedy consolation one – pissed me off no end, but it can almost be discounted. New Zealand have only conceded two tries across all games. The logical conclusion here is both teams are bloody brilliant at defending and scoring against either of them will take some doing.

        Whilst I admit it’s borderline heresy to suggest it, I actually think England have more chance of breaching NZ’s tryline than the other way round. But if they score more than once against this lot, I’ll be bloody amazed.

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  9. A quick one – gonna say England by 4. That’s with my fan hat on and not my rational journo hat, but if you can’t get a little carried away before a semi-final when can you…
    ¯\_(?)_/¯

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    1. Well at the very least I think your scoreline will be closer than Brian O’Driscoll’s. He was off by 34?

      Semis are typically more nervy. I didn’t put any wager on any team for the QF’s and I don’t feel like it here either. Anything can happen on the day.

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  10. Wales to get absolutely slaughtered.

    They were crap against Australia and got lucky.
    They were utter shite against Uruguay.
    They were average against Fiji.
    They were absolute dogshit against France.

    Not only do I think their luck has to run out, but they’re also carrying a number of injuries to key players – Navidi, Williams, Davies, Parkes, even Jon Davies I’m not convinced can go from crocked last week to fully semi-final match-fit already.

    South Africa by at least 10, maybe 15-20 points.

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    1. I don’t know. Ireland are a team I think that would still find a way to lose even when they get lucky in QF’s (maybe because a bit of luck would make them believe it was their time and it might get to their head! although to be fair they never seem to have any luck in quarter finals. More like a curse). Wales at least capitalise on what luck they have.

  11. Am not entirely sure why some people here think that this won’t be a close game. The most recent games between the 2 saw NZ win by just 1 point. The one prior to that by just 3 points.
    I think this is going to be very close with just a score in it – but everything says it should be a Kiwi win.
    Think SA may well put quite a few points on Wales who looks like they may have run their race

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      1. I really want to believe this England team have an extra gear we’ve not seen yet. They seem more of a solid team than previous world cups have seen and I am hoping they can step up to the AB level
        If we are within a score with 10 mins to go, I will still be hoping – after all this is knockout rugby and anything can happen – just ask the Kiwi teams of 1999, 2003 and 2007…

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  12. Really hope Ford has a good game and proves that he can bring his best game in pressure situations. Am mind-bogglingly nervous and hope the team can play great rugby. We have a chance and a chance is enough to win!
    At least with Nige refereeing there is unlikely to be a red card unless someone does something egregiously stupid!

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    1. We need Faz to be sage and warrior. Sage in getting Nigel onside and a within the rules warrior thereafter. He can do the last part quite easily, it’s the sagacity part that worries me.

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  13. English rugby blog so comments as expected. I’m welsh so optimism the other way.

    Eng v NZ for me is too close to call. I think NZ have that clinical edge in pressure games so if I had to pick NZ by 3 but I think Eng could just as easily take the game.

    Wales v SA again a tight game, despite the replacements I feel HP is a better fit for SA than LW. We need his strength in defence more than the loss in offence, which I expect to be more a territory kicking game. Wales however have played poor and keep getting the results so Wales by 5. Again could go either way and optimism on my side.

    Can’t wait for the weekend, best of luck my English friends (hopefully foes in a Final next week)

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    1. Yep can’t disagree with that neither team has been all that impressive in their attacking performances so far this WC but Wales have shown that gritty edge where they know how to win dirty and i think it is going to be the perfect game for them to use that.
      God its gone 3am and i cant sleep thinking about rugby

  14. Half an hour in. NZ off the pace and England bringing it to them. England really got them on the back foot as they had to.

  15. Disappointing. Case of what happened on the day? Eng got more ball. NZ didn’t. Too many t/overs. Taylor overthrew. S Barrett didn’t work at br’down. Cane, Coles on too late. Eng ‘D’ held. End of. Leave it to others to reveal retro pearls of wisdom. Eng prob go on to win it. Can’t see the Welsh doing so, if they get through. Mind you, SA might fancy their chances more now if they win tomorrow. Potential danger to Eng is if they played their ‘final’ today.

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