Saturday and Sunday saw some amazing and tense Rugby semi-final games with England overcoming New Zealand and South Africa beating Wales today.
England vs. New Zealand
For many, the England vs. New Zealand game was the final that should have been. England and the All Blacks have been the two best teams in the tournament so far, but New Zealand’s defeat came as a surprise to most. Quite rightly, New Zealand were the favourites for this game with many expecting New Zealand to win their third World Cup in a row.
Yesterday’s semi-final in this respect lived up to its billing. This was a fast-paced and breathless game, with astonishing physicality and free-flowing rugby.
England’s explosive start saw Manu Tuilagi score a try after only 2 minutes and 7 phases, with England throwing the ball around with purpose from the outset. Owen Farrell converted the additional 2 points with ease. A penalty on the stroke of half time by George Ford put England 10-0 up at the interval. Hearts were in the mouths of England fans early in the second half after a fatal error at the line-out by Jamie George on 56 minutes. He missed every white jersey with a long, arching overthrow straight into the hands of Ardie Savea from 5 metres out, who pounced and brought the score back to 13-7, once the try was converted by Richie Mo’unga.
However, England continued to dominate at the breakdown with the work of Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and man of the match Maro Itoje ensuring that England maintained the ascendancy with turnovers (16 in total) and forcing the All Blacks into uncharacteristic errors and ill-discipline. In the game itself, England conceded 6 penalties to New Zealand’s 11, which allowed George Ford to capitalise with a confident kicking game (he accumulated 12 points with 4 successful kicks from 5) and move England further ahead to 19 points by the end of the game.
New Zealand gracious in their defeat
Steve Hansen (the New Zealand coach) and All Black captain Kieran Read were both magnanimous in defeat, admitting England were the better team, fully deserving of their 19 – 7 victory.
"Sometimes you might find sport's not fair, but tonight it was, we got beaten by a better side"
Steve Hansen assesses the #RWC2019 semifinal loss to England.
Certainly, nobody could argue that England’s performance today was less than immense. It seems England were determined to reach their fourth World Cup final (having previously participated in 1991, 2003 and 2007) and avenge the last time England and New Zealand played each other (England lost 15-16 at Twickenham in November 2018 after being 15-0 up).
For Wales, their World Cup Final dreams came to an end today after South Africa triumphed with a final score of 16-19.
Despite another hard fought battle between two semi-final teams, the game didn’t kick off with the same intensity that we saw in the opening of the England vs. New Zealand game, but ended with a nail-biting close finish, with Handre Pollard dashing Welsh dreams with a 76th minute penalty.
The cagey first-half of this match was settled by the boot of Andre Pollard, who added to his tally as South Africa’s all-time leading point scorer at World Cups, scoring 3 penalties compared to Dan Biggars’ two for Wales.
Wales faced difficulties with injuries too. The game saw Tomas Francis and then George North limping off in the first half. Biggar thankfully came to the rescue for Wales early in the second half however, bringing them level after a third penalty. With just 30 minutes remaining, the score had reached 9-9.
However, Damian de Allende’s impressive try, which saw him drive through from 20 meters out and shake off two Wales defenders put South Africa in the lead.
The Welsh were not finished yet though, with resilience being a word that has personified this team in this World Cup. Josh Adams scored a crucial try after he found the ball out wide following a brave Welsh gamble on a scrum instead of a certain 3 points under the South African posts. The subsequent conversion by Leigh Halfpenny meant that as the game reached its final minutes, both sides had 16 points under their wing. But ultimately, it was Pollard’s 76th minute penalty and the maintenance of his 100% kicking record in this game that broke Welsh hearts, which somehow seemed all the worse given their semi-final defeat in 2011 and quarter final exit in 2015 (which was at the hands of the South Africans again no less).
Farewell Warren Gatland
Bearing in mind too, that this was Wales coach Warren Gatland’s last game after a fantastic 12 year career (that saw the Welsh win four Six Nations titles and three Grand Slams), the fairy tale ending many people were wondering about did not materialise.
Overall then, the two semi final games were scintillating but in different ways, with the winning teams fully-deserving of their places in the World Cup rugby final. Expect to see fireworks next week as the Webb Ellis trophy’s home for the next 4 years will finally be decided in the rugby final. We cannot wait to watch it unfold. Who are you backing? England or The Boks?