After one of the more engrossing Pool stages in the competition’s history, the quarterfinals continued to deliver on the entertainment front at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. While South Africa and Australia both scored dramatic late points to secure victories, the latter in controversial circumstances, New Zealand and Argentina put in superb displays to progress. It all means that for the first time ever the semifinals of the World Cup will be an all-southern-hemisphere affair. Not only have England been frozen out of their own party, but all of Europe has, too.
Here’s how the two matchups this weekend are shaping up
New Zealand vs. South Africa (Saturday, 11 a.m. EDT, Twickenham, London)
New Zealand barely had to get out of second gear to saunter to top spot in their Pool, raising questions about whether they would be undercooked coming up against France. And while the French had offered little of note in the competition, there was trepidation, too, from an All Blacks point of view given France’s famous upset victory at the same stage in 2007 and how close they came to repeating the feat in the 2011 final. But New Zealand simply blew France away, winning 62-13 thanks to the outstanding performance of the World Cup so far. The task should be tougher next time.
Since a stunning opening loss to Japan, South Africa have bounced back with a focus on grinding the opposition down. Yet it was when shaking off that one-dimensionality that they scored the crucial points to get past Wales in the quarterfinals. Trailing by a point into the final six minutes, a wonderfully inventive pass from Duane Vermeulen found Fourie Du Preez for the winning try. The Springboks will need all that and more if they are to beat a New Zealand side they have tasted victory against just once in their last seven meetings.
Prediction: New Zealand win
Australia vs. Argentina (Sunday, 11 a.m. EDT, Twickenham, London)
Australia had been the most impressive side through the Pool matches and were expected by many to handily dismiss of Scotland in the quarterfinals. Instead the in-form Wallabies required a last-gasp penalty, courtesy of a deliberate offside call that World Rugby later admitted was erroneous, to survive by the narrowest of margins, 35-34. It was a contest in which Michael Cheika’s side missed the influence of David Pocock and Australia will now be sweating on the recovery of his calf strain ahead of their attempts to make a fourth World Cup final.
The Wallabies will be taking on opponents seeking a first ever final, but will be wise to avoid even a modicum of complacency. Despite scoring more points than any team in the Pool phase, Argentina were still flying somewhat under the radar heading into their quarterfinal with highly fancied Ireland. But the Pumas announced their talent on the big stage in style by not just beating Ireland, but doing so emphatically, 43-20, in a thrilling quarterfinal. A meeting with Australia will hold no surprises given that since 2012 they have competed against them in the Rugby Championship. Argentina came out on top last year, too, although that was their only win in their last 11 encounters with Australia.
Prediction: Australia win