RWC2019: Where the semi-finals were won and lost

Ben Youngs

The semi finals did not disappoint. The four best teams in the world hammered out a cracking couple of games. Each was very different, but equally engrossing in their own right. Here is a brief look at the crucial areas where the games were won and lost.

England v New Zealand

Ben Youngs

Yes, the often-maligned scrum half was crucial to England’s famous win. He may not have hit the headlines with anything particularly flashy, but the pace of the game was entirely dictated by him and his relationship with George Ford. He used his forward runners effectively and always chose the right pass. In addition, he temporarily slowed the game down when it was needed in order to realign the attack, but tried to keep the relentless pace whenever possible. Kept the defence honest as well, which was demonstrated by his disallowed try. It is no surprise that England’s better performances in recent times have coincided with his better days. Let’s hope he hits the ground running next week again.

Steve Hansen’s selections

It is a shame that the best coach of the last ten years got it wrong on his last (properly competitive) game in charge. His win ratio and 2015 World Cup will live with him forever, but so will a few key selections for that game. Not having Sam Cane in from the start enabled England to play with the speed off the ground that they did and turnovers came remarkably easily. Too much rested on Ardie Savea when England had at least three breakdown nuisances in their ranks. To target England’s line-out never really seemed like a game-winning idea – they’ve had their off days and lose the occasional one, but it was hardly an area of weakness.

Secondly, whilst the shift of Beauden Barrett to fullback has seemed like a good idea so far, the flaws were exposed ruthlessly on Saturday. The idea was to give him that extra space to work with and to get another great player in Richie Mo’unga. Unfortunately, with the quality kick-chase options that England had, Barrett was never really able to get his hands on the ball in any real space. The fact he was getting his hands on the ball less frequently effectively nullified the ability of the team to unlock defences. Mo’unga just didn’t seem to cope with the defensive pressure that came upon him again and again.

Wales v South Africa

Trust in the game-plan

South Africa under Rassie Erasmus are a different beast. He has identified the qualities of his players and devised a very simple game-plan to make full use of them. They are absolutely massive so he makes them run at the opposition hard (something Dan Biggar in particular couldn’t handle) and collide with aplomb in defence. On the rare occasions they do shift the ball, they keep it simple and use their fast men to run like gazelles into space until they get tackled, when they reset. Lastly, they chase kicks quite well – even when the kicks aren’t the best.

It may have been a little dull to watch in the first half, but South Africa were playing in the right places generally and were able to occasionally regather possession to put Wales under the cosh. When that happened, the Welsh tended to give away penalties or continue going backwards. Simple, but only effective if all the players buy in without deviation. South Africa do and whilst they continue to do so, they will be a tough nut to crack.

Identification of weaknesses

Or lack thereof…

Sunday’s game could very easily have gone either way because it was so even in almost all facets of the game. Wales seemed to have South Africa reeling a little bit with ten minutes to go, but they could have been out of sight earlier if they recognised where they were getting the most change and had the minerals to back themselves to go for it. Where? The wide channels. Wales were a completely different side this week with Jonathan Davies in the 13 shirt. His recognition of space and the timings of his pass caught the Boks off guard almost every time he had the ball.

Josh Adams is a predator and George North was having his best game for a long time before he went off. They were making ground every single time they went further than a couple of passes out. Why did they keep it quite so tight when they had so much of the ball in threatening positions during the second half? Only the Welsh players can answer that, but I am convinced they’d have won if they’d used that weapon even a few times more than they did.

Where do you think the games were decided? How will the final and the third place match be decided next week?

by Joe Large

27 thoughts on “RWC2019: Where the semi-finals were won and lost

  1. Erasmus believes in the kiss principle (Keep it straight and simple). will it prevail against England,?
    This question will be answered on Sunday.

    1. Seems to be working very well so far. England have far more in their armoury, but South Africa have laid waste to a couple of very good teams with significantly different games so far in the knockouts. Not going to be easy for either team and should be a worthy final.

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  2. Youngs’ being crucial? Without breakdown controlled ball? Really. Retro agree Hansen got S Barrett wrong to attack the Eng line out, but more so by not replacing him after c.10 mins. Also Taylor, who threw short, with Coles. As match hinged mostly on the breakdown, Hansen should have acted sooner. May, may not have altered a game with a try a piece, but we’ll never know. Irrelevant now. Also, Eng defence held. However, this stuff about the NZ’s d playmaker system not working is bogus. Ask Ire, SA. Without ball, any system would have struggled. The breakdown was almost everything. The thing now for Eng though, is to forget Sat & focus on SA. If they, like some fans, wallow for too long on this 1 win, they may find, as Gatland alludes, they played their final last Sat. Have they left it all out there last Sat? SA will have noted events & are lying in wait.

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    1. As I have said on the rate the match thread the team seem very grounded and focused on the next game even if us fans are getting carried away the team are not

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  3. As I said in another post, I think Wales lost this when they had SA pegged back in their own 22 at 16-16 and had possession. If they could have got some quick ball back from the rucks and kicked towards touch or sent up some garryowens I think they could have forced a penalty and got over the line or broke the line. They were out on their feet and likely to get turned over with ball in hand against the SA forwards that came on and that’s what happened. I don’t just say this with hindsight. It’s how I felt at the time as the Bokke defence was epic as usual. It was time to kick in behind. It’s all hindsight now, but it was so close. I think Wales could have closed it out with some more territorial kicking like we saw in the first half but it wasn’t to be. SA are worthy finalists.

    Unfortunately now, I think Wales will have to content with 4th. again when it really could have been 1st or 2nd. But I never write Wales off. They did themselves proud already, no matter what happens this weekend.

    As for England V NZ, it’s the old adage: Forwards win you games and Underhill, Curry, Itoje were all mentioned as England’s key players in this game. They won the breakdown. They won the physical battle. Their centres also delivered to get them on the front foot. Brilliant rucking and tackling comes to mind. Cane wouldn’t have prevented that, just stemmed the flow a bit.

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    1. I will add that I concur it was a mistake putting Barrett at 15. A classic AB counter attack comes to mind when Retallick had the ball and threw a bad pass at a critical moment when it could have been the imperious Barrett instead and there was men over on the overlap at the pace we know they play at.

      It’s tough punch in the gut for New Zealand because you will always regret trying to fix something that isn’t broken and losing as opposed to just leaving it working and losing. We will never know but if there’s one thing I take from this whole world cup as I prepare to get cold turkey, it’s that you don’t upset the rhythm and fix something that’s working like clockwork. You can enhance it or augment it but don’t go against the grain and sacrifice something that may mess with the greater holistic rhythm of the team. I think what I mean is this beautiful game is complex and if you tinker with something significant, you tinker with the whole.

      England won the strategy and management battle too. I do believe they deserve to win this cup now although there’ll be no living with them after this. lol

      Hope it’s an epic final. England are more worthy winners but my heart edges to SA. Best of luck to all four teams next week. Let the beautiful game end on a high note. Please no red cards and crappy decisions. Owens to ref the final?

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    2. Agree with this Mr. Bigglesworth. You knew that SA pen was coming. Wales really had no idea what to do with it at 16-16 camped in the SA 22, chuck in 75 min fatigue as well and they ended up doing nothing. For me, they should’ve worked a DG position straight away.

      It felt like they were playing for a penalty that was not likely to come. To get the pen that led to the scrum that led to the try i think they went through something like 20 odd phases before Garces pinged SA for off their feet. DG would’ve been the smarter play. I cannot for one second imagine they were playing for extra time.

      As for Friday, 4th is a shoe in. 5 day turn around, injuries abound, a mix of A and B team personnel. I can’t see anything other than a heavy, heavy loss.

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      1. Hi Anarky,
        Not if Wales bring it to them. That’s one thing this AB team hasn’t done well. They haven’t been able to respond well to a heavy assault. I would like them to come back against Wales. Would be good to see Wales really bring it them and see if they can respond. But I share your fear that Wales may be too injured and tired for it. I agree that 70 odd min fatigue may have got the better of them mentally, when they got tuned over and SA got back on the front foot.

        1. So the Ire & SA ‘heavy assaults’ were actually as lightweight as yr carefully thought out conclusions were they? Not to mention that Barrett at 15 seemed to work v the 2 aforementioned opponents to the extent that he got a MotM gong didn’t he? How do you reckon these? Do you ever think before you type? Perhaps as it also only took 2 or 3 goes before you got it that I was’nt actually English (PMSL), can it be concluded that you are as dim as the Chinese dish Biggles? Will you now resort to yr usual subjective response, like, oh, ‘grapes’ or abuse or such like, or will you simply do a runner, as per Andy’s advice? Slancha.

      2. We should credit SA’s discipline too though. They could have given away a penalty at 16-16 and didn’t. But this adds to the reasoning why they should have played territorially at this point. SA weren’t likely to give away a penalty. A tiring Wales were more likely to get turned over. Anyway, all over now. Hope they can get back up and bring it to the AB’s. They will need to.

  4. Re: SAF
    “They are absolutely massive”
    it is a myth Wales pack was heavier on Sunday (until fatty Francis went of injured at least)

    The South Africans are powerful not massive but then again so are England.

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    1. I can’t quite remember, but I seem to recall the commentators questioning some of the official weights of the players. Anyone else remember this?

      1. God, I’ve been doing that for years! Clubs are just as guilty about inaccuracies about player weights etc.
        Having said that, I thought billy looked a lot lighter at the start of this comp but seeing him standing next to Youngs for example, you see how deceptive camera angles and such can be.
        Yes, the Saffers have some big lads but heft is useless without the explosive power to use it. SA have excelled at this for years. They are big but they are also dynamic. Having said that, we are fitter and i just pray that we don;t get dragged into a stupid “my dad’s bigger than yours” arm wrestle as it will negate our ability to play at pace and move them around.

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    2. I think you mean heavier? This was stated by the commentators too.
      Think the front 5 were pretty equal but Wales back row definitely had more bulk.

  5. I think that the main reason the semi finals were won was that the winning coaches identified their teams strengths over the last six months and played to them. To be fair Gatland has also been doing that for Wales for his full tenure, but the were just edged by the SAs.

    I think that the one team that didn’t play to their strengths were NZ who have chopped and changed over the last six months in selection and it showed.

    1. It is hard to find sympathy for New Zealand considering that amount of high quality players they have,but I think this die was cast when Duncan Mackenzies knee went.

  6. AS AN SA I CAN SAY I DONT THINK OUR SQUAD HAS IT TO TAKE ON ENGLAND, IT IS JUST A KICKING FROM THE SCRUMMY FUFF AND WILLIE THIS IS NOT GONNA WORK THIS WEEKEN SORRY TO SAY BUT STILL I WANT SOUTH AFRICA TO COME BACK WITH THAT TROPHY

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