Australia vs. New Zealand – Rugby World Cup 2011 Semi-Final Preview

Tomorrow sees the clash of old adversaries New Zealand and Australia as both southern hemisphere giants have eyes firmly on the prize, and the second spot in the World Cup Final.

Jeff Ball

Contributor

Richie McCaw’s metatarsal and Dan Carter’s groin have occupied the minds of many New Zealanders recently, with more men than women thinking about the latter than is typical.

Luck was not something that smiled on the All Blacks in the last couple of weeks, highlighted by the loss of two fly half’s in a week, with Colin Slade suffering almost the same groin injury as the man he was understudying. Such is there fear of anything happening to 3rd choice Aaron Cruden he has been banned from his favourite past time of skateboarding.

To add injury to insult, Mils Muliaina fractured his shoulder last week in what was his 100th All Black appearance. But injury equals opportunity, and Stephen Donald and Hosea Gear are the chosen ones and who knows, they could be the next ones to “do a Priestland”

The Aussies are New Zealand’s closest enemy and will not be welcomed on Sunday. Part of it is location, a lot of it is because they are a threat. The last few matches between these two has been tantalisingly close, the success see-sawing between the two depending whose turn it was to field a full strength team.

The last match saw Australia win in what was a game of significance as it landed them the Tri-nations crown. For Kiwi coach Robbie Dean, a conflicted smile no doubt spread across his face, incited by his snub for the All Blacks job, ignored for previous incumbent Graham Henry, a man who was released from the role before being re-hired and actually made it into both lists in a New Zealand newspaper’s article on the country’s biggest heroes and enemies! They do say there is a fine line between love and hate – could this be the rugby equivalent?

Coming back to my original point, momentum. Do either of these sides have momentum?

No. 147 tackles to South Africa’s 53 explains a little bit of how Australia won last week, such was the flawed dominance of the Springboks who spurned countless opportunities, marginally assisted by the referee.

New Zealand too have not hit top gear at any stage, winning but not with the ruthlessness they are no doubt capable of and last week was no exception. Their victory over Argentina saw the Pumas rising with enhanced reputations, much like 2007, their preparation cruelly neglected by the world game and again raising the exciting potential of regular rugby for Argentina in the Four Nations.

Be it the weight of expectation, the perception that they ‘choke’ when getting to the business end or the kryptonite like effect Richie McCaw’s niggly foot has had on the rest of him, New Zealand are still to put out their stall and say ‘come and get it’ to their guests.

So my predictions. For Saturday’s game, I’m going for Wales. Their revolutionary cryogenic training has given them the energy to go for the whole eighty and beyond compared to the French who are more prone to bursts of Gallic brilliance. Such is the state of the French set-up, with a rift that Doctor Who would find grand between the players and management, that only the discovery of a field of four leaf clovers will deliver the kind of luck they need to put together a suitable performance befitting an appearance in the final. But that isn’t to say it will be easy. Oh no, history says they will win. But this Welsh side hasn’t read that textbook yet.

The other game is hard to call but my instinct says New Zealand. It has been too many years of hurt to even conceive of the notion of them not getting to the final of their own party. The kicking or Piri Weepu last week calmed many nerves concerned about the lack of Dan Carter and the backline is fearsome. Plus the way they shoved the Argentinean scrum around last time out will have worried the fallible Australian front row.

Australia are still to really get going, to play some tournament rugby. Yes they beat South Africa, but the complete lack of possession for large chunks of the game, well, let’s just say New Zealand won’t be so forgiving.
It is possible we see a game demonstrating the attacking ability of possibly the world’s two best sides. But Sunday will not be a day for that spectacular, 50/50 miss pass. New Zealand should edge it, but it will be crucial they win by trying to win, rather than trying not to lose.

Australia: Kurtley Beale/Adam Ashley-Cooper; Jams O’Connor, Adam Ashley-Cooper/Anthony Fainga’a, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander; Dan Vickerman, James Horwill, Rocky Elsom, David Pocock, Radike Samo

New Zealand: Israel Dagg; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Richard Kahui; Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu; Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks, Samuel Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (captain), Kieran Read