THE FINAL FOUR AT THE RUGBY WORLD CUP 2019

One of England, New Zealand, Wales or South Africa will be crowned World Rugby Union Champions a week on Saturday. We probably have the 4 expected sides (I predicted this in my quarter final blog) at this stage and let’s be honest they are the best ones out there as we stand, I don’t think anybody would disagree that it is the 2 best northern hemisphere teams against the 2 best southern hemisphere teams. My word for these clashes has to be TITANIC because there isn’t much between the sides and all have shown they would be worthy champions, nobody has snuck through by pure luck or the draw opening up nicely for them. My preview and predictions as follows:-.

26/10/19 – ENGLAND v NEW ZEALAND – International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama

England are in the semi-finals, the minimum requirement for Eddie Jones and his men. They were functional against Australia in my opinion and whilst some, looking at the result, would say they were brilliant, my take away was the fact that they were brilliant in defence dealing with their opponents one dimensional tactic of essentially kicking to a minimum and trying to run the ball from anywhere and everywhere, including their own 22. The Red Rose put the squeeze on and took full advantage of any errors, enforced or not. What did impress me though was when it got to squeaky bum time at 17-16, they scored 10 quick points (the pass from Farrell and the line from Sinckler was genius) and from then on there was only one result. New Zealand followed that with an absolute demolition job on Ireland. Yes the Irish made a few mistakes, but the rugby played by the defending champions was brutal never letting up in the opening 20 minutes eventually ending up 22-0 up at half-time, basically game over. The second half wasn’t much different, apart from the fact Ireland scored some points, but the game was over by that stage. 46-14 in the end, just the 7 tries an awesome performance of pace, power, precision, and aggression which was saying come and take the trophy off us if you think you’re good enough.

CAN JONES DO IT AGAIN?

In 2003 an Eddie Jones team took on New Zealand in a World Cup semi-final and won, the All Blacks coach that day, John Mitchell, is now the defence coach at England. It was a brilliant defensive performance for his then Australia side snuffing out the opposition, the same and more will be needed this coming Saturday because New Zealand, in my opinion are the most pure sporting team on the planet. If Steve Hansen’s men play like they did against Ireland then they will most likely win, the difference here is that the English will not make the same mistakes and will also stand up to anything thrown at them, bodies will be on the line and to be honest when they met in 2018 it was only a marginal TMO decision that stopped England recording a well deserved win at Twickenham, losing 15-16 in the end. The 2003 champions will need to play the game of their lives and even then that might not be enough. At the start of the tournament my final had New Zealand in it and nothing has changed my mind as we stand, there will be late drama to come with the world champions showing their mettle to just get over the line, winning by 5-7 points.

27/10/19 – WALES v SOUTH AFRICA – International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama

Wales are fortunate to be in the semi-finals, if you take into account just the performance from their 20-19 quarter final victory, I don’t think that is up for debate, but what is also very clear is this is a Welsh team that just does not give up. Yes France imploded, with botched try attempts, missed very kickable conversions and penalties that may have given them more of a cushion, I’ve not even mentioned the blatant red card given to the stupid Sebastien Vahaamahina for a clear elbow, but the way a team who were being dominated and performing poorly held their nerve to somehow win the match has to be commended. Game management is a skill and when they were 13-19 down, a man up with a French team holding out well and the time running down they took full advantage of a scrum against them in front of their posts to eventually end up with a scrum in front of the opposition posts, again against them. A shove to disrupt, a ball was stripped, TMO intervention but eventually a try given, to put them ahead for the first time in the match with less than 10 minutes to go, perfect timing and shows the mind set of this team, and a 3rd World Cup semi-final for the Welsh. In their way are 2 time winners South Africa. They had to run the gauntlet of facing the host nation in their quarter final. The first half was tight and tense with the Springboks doing what I expected by using their forwards to try and overpower the Japanese, however they held out well and caused Rassie Erasmus’ men a lot of trouble with their own brand of running rugby. It was only 5-3 to the South Africans as the first half gong went. However in the second period the forwards absolutely dominated the game but their accuracy was so much better, a few words clearly had over the half-time break. They built a lead through penalty kicks and then set up a rolling maul from the halfway line and rumbled it on to break away just before the try line to essentially seal the game, another try followed for a 26-3 victory.

WHAT TRICK WILL GATLAND PULL THIS TIME?

Again another humdinger to come on Sunday. Wales have a few injury problems, Josh Navidi’s tournament is over due to a hamstring injury and Jonathan Davies, who was sorely missed in the quarter final, is touch and go with a knee problem. South Africa are pigeon holed as just a power team, but they have real quality in the backs especially on the wings with Cheslin Kobe and Makazole Mapimpi. Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am in the centre positions have really stepped up through the tournament and I have not even mentioned the quality of Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard as half backs. Add the experience of Willie le Roux at full back they can cut through any defence. On form especially if you look at the quarter final performances, South Africa have to be favourites, however Warren Gatland always has a rabbit to pull out of a hat so I expect something new to be on show. I thought before the start of the tournament South Africa would be in the final so whilst Wales will put up one hell of a fight, the South Africans will find a way by 10, with late points to make the score line look harsher than the game that takes place.

So there it is, my thoughts on what I will think will happen in the semi-finals at the Rugby World Cup 2019 – do you agree? Maybe, maybe not – let me know.

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