With the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-finals now in the books, what are five notable trends from the knockout action last weekend? Two Cents Rugby investigates.
Slippery when wet
The weather for England and South Africa’s semi-final was far from conducive to running rugby.
Both sides combined for a mere 426 run metres, compared to Argentina’s 522 in their loss to the All Blacks.
There has been some criticism of both sides for not showing more ambition, but given the risk of handling errors neither side had much of a choice.
Obviously when you see a player like Cheslin Kolbe only have two carries, Joe Marchant just one, it feels like the game is missing out on some potential excitement.
But with the seven-day forecast showing more rain on the horizon for Paris, it could be a preview for a low scoring final.
Springbok bench impact
It was Argentina in the quarter-finals who showed what impact could be had from the bench. In the semi-finals it was South Africa who won the game thanks to their replacements.
Some of the calls were bold and sometimes directly after players had made errors – Manie Libbok off after just half an hour, RG Snyman on for Eben Etzebeth who usually plays the full 80.
Handre Pollard ended up slotting a 49-metre penalty with two minutes to go as the game winner, this after Snyman scored the only try of the game and was the only Springbok player to successfully complete an offload.
Perhaps most impressive though was the South African scrum in the second half. Without that set-piece dominance, there’s no way the comeback happens. Ox Nche and Vincent Koch won multiple penalties for their side, with the English replacements unable to offer the same punch up front.
Pollard’s winning kick came directly from a scrum infringement which was perhaps a fitting conclusion.
With the home side going out, and without the mass of Irish followers supporting their team, the semi-finals felt less intense in terms of atmosphere.
French support during the Rugby World Cup has been incredible. They have put full support behind some of the smaller teams and La Marseillaise has been a constant feature.
We did hear La Marseillaise again this weekend, but the crowds were certainly quieter.
There were clusters of vocal Kiwis and South Africans backing their teams to victory and ‘Swing Low’ was belted out a few times by English fans too. Pumas fans had less to cheer about, but overall it felt a touch different from the rest of the tournament.
Perhaps it was to be expected when the home side went out, but let’s hope the final has a fitting atmosphere.
Lucky number seven
For the second time this year the All Blacks have racked up seven tries against Argentina. The first time was during the Rugby Championship back in July where it finished 41-12 in Mendoza. On this occasion it was in a Rugby World Cup semi-final.
This All Blacks side definitely has some tries in them. Even the week before against Ireland they were relatively prolific, becoming the first team to score three tries against the men in green in 2023.
For the final, it may well be goal kicks rather than tries that decide the contest, especially when you consider the last time the All Blacks played South Africa they only managed one consolation try.
But if there is a side well placed to finally score a Rugby World Cup final try against the Boks, it’s this New Zealand team.
The other game
Nobody wants to play in the Bronze Final, but that’s where England and Argentina are heading.
With both sides having a few veterans in the ranks likely playing their last game, this one should still be an interesting watch.
Los Pumas coach Michael Cheika said after the game that he wants to go home with a medal so we may still see two fairly full-strength sides.
With experienced hands like Dan Cole, Agustin Creevy, Danny Care and Nicolas Sanchez available, it’d be good to see them get a start and pushing to go out on a high.
We saw the way some of the All Blacks veterans went out with bronze in 2019 and got to say goodbye to their fans in a fitting way. Let’s hope both sides play it like it’s a match they want to win.