Rugby World Cup Round Up: The Semi-Finals

14th September 2021

With the quarter-finals in the books, the Rugby World Cup moves forward to this weekend’s semis, pitting the last four teams against one another in what promises to be an intriguing weekend of action. For Australia, Ireland, France and Japan, the cycle for 2023 begins here – and, in some of those cases, it will begin with a change of coach and a raft of player retirements.

For England, New Zealand, Wales and South Africa, however, the run continues. Any one of these four could, realistically, find themselves holding the Webb Ellis trophy aloft on the opening weekend of November; for Wales, it would be the first time, while the others have six world titles shared (unequally) among them.

Viewers will also expect – with some justification – that these meetings of the final four teams will be at least a little more competitive than three of the quarter-finals. As we will cover in a moment, the one-sided nature of 75% of last weekend’s games left a sense of anti-climax that will have pleased only the bookmakers and fans of the winning teams.

England to face the All Blacks in titanic encounter

Last Saturday’s quarter-finals were both in large part decided by the half-time gong – although Australia gave England a scare with a brief resurgence at the start of the second half, it was quickly quelled, and Eddie Jones’ side won 40-16. In the other game, New Zealand were even more emphatic in taking out Ireland, getting 34 points on the board before Joe Schmidt’s men posted so much as a consolation. Both sides are sure to find this weekend’s semi more challenging than the previous week’s game, and most pundits are selling this as the game which will provide the winning finalist.

That description is more flattering to England than to the All Blacks. The UK sporting media has perhaps been guilty of painting this as a more even clash than it is likely to be. While England have smashed their way to the semis in an uncompromising fashion, they’ve yet to face an opponent with anything like the quality of New Zealand. It’s hard to use recent head-to-heads as a guide to likely outcomes here, as the sides have met just once in the last five years – last autumn at Twickenham.

On that day, England raced out to a 15-point lead within 25 minutes, only to fail to score again in the remaining 55. New Zealand won 16-15, with Jones and co. left frustrated at the referee’s decision to – correctly, as it turned out – disallow a late Sam Underhill try. The All Blacks are justifiably odds-on favourites to win again here, but a better bet would be, at Betfair, to pick them to win by 1-12 points. This probably won’t be a blowout, but New Zealand are, quite simply, better than their opponents here in just about every position; a place in the final should await them.

Wales need to improve to have a chance

The Warren Gatland era in Welsh rugby may end this weekend, after twelve years in which the nation has repeatedly punched above its weight. They’ll need to do it again to get past South Africa in the semi-finals, and to achieve this Wales will need to be much, much better than they were against France in the previous round. After conceding two early tries, Gatland’s side fought back, but still ended up going in 19-10 behind at half time. Only after French lock Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off for elbowing Aaron Wainwright did the tide turn, Wales finally moving in front with less than five minutes to go through Ross Moriarty’s opportunistic try.

South Africa, for their part, were far more serene in dashing the hopes of the home crowd who had turned out to see Japan play their first-ever World Cup knockout match. Yu Tamura’s early penalty, which took the score to 3-5 after an early Mapimpe try, was the sole score the Brave Blossoms would manage all match. The Springboks arguably left at least one try out on the pitch as they comfortably steered home a 26-3 win, and they suffocated the speedy backs play that Japan had deployed to beat their four pool rivals.

This weekend presents a bigger obstacle for Wales than some fans may be prepared to believe. They’ll come into the game without kinetic flanker Josh Navidi, victim of a hamstring injury against France. That’s definitely sub-optimal given the excellence of the Kolisi-Du Toit-Vermeulen back row that the Springboks will bring to this game. Although Wales are inveterate battlers, and perhaps the best-equipped Northern Hemisphere team to take on the Boks, we see South Africa pipping them to the win here. We also think it will be narrow, and you can get Wales at 6/5 to finish within 5.5 points of the 2007 champions (Unibet).

The latest outright winner betting

If you fancy Wales for the weekend’s action, then you might be well advised to put an outside punt on them winning the tournament outright. Certainly, if they are able to overcome the test that’s in front of them, they’ll be 80 minutes away from glory against either England – who they outplayed and beat impressively in March – or New Zealand, who are a tougher proposition but not unbeatable. Certainly, Betway’s odds of 9/1 for the tournament, on a team that need only win two matches to lift that trophy, seem long. The same bookmaker has England, another side who will probably lose their semi-final, pegged at 9/2 for the big prize.

New Zealand are, obviously, favourites to win the title for a third consecutive time, having timed their run seemingly perfectly. You won’t find them on any odds longer than Evens, so a dabble on South Africa, who are 100-30 with most bookies, might be the value bet here.

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