Simon Mail previews the first World Cup semi-final and thinks New Zealand can stay on track for a successful trophy defence with victory over South Africa...
"New Zealand's recent dominance in the sport has also been reflected against South Africa with ten victories from the last 12 matches."
South Africa v New Zealand
Saturday October 24, 16:00
Live on ITV
The opening semi-final of the World Cup takes place on Saturday at Twickenham and it is a mouthwatering showdown between two of the dominant forces in the sport. New Zealand have shortened as tournament favourites after their spellbounding performance which tore apart France while South Africa had to work much harder to edge past Wales in a tense encounter.
The All Blacks may have taken a few matches to peak but their outstanding brand of attacking rugby was showcased in an exhilarating display against the French. New Zealand were not at their best in the pool stage as they battled to a victory over a strong Argentina side and the team were not as fluent as anticipated in their subsequent routine wins over Tonga, Georgia and Namibia.
But New Zealand were at their mesmerising best after a virtually faultless 62-13 thrashing of France at the Millennium Stadium. The All Blacks ran in nine tries including a hat-trick from the unstoppable Julian Savea. France were abject but this was the new benchmark of the tournament and if they come close to this over the next fortnight New Zealand will surely become the first country to retain the trophy.
South Africa were on the wrong end of the biggest upset in World Cup history in their opening game when they were beaten 34-32 in an incredible shock. This left the Springboks in turmoil and there was huge pressure on Heyneke Meyer's side. The major setback left them with no margin for error but they recovered strongly with wins over Samoa, Scotland and USA.
Topping their pool secured a quarter-final tie against Wales and South Africa were pushed all the way at Twickenham. The Springboks found themselves trailing Warren Gatland's team by a point at half time but a late try from Fourie du Preez snatched a 23-19 victory to send them into the last-four of the competition.
South Africa have selected an unchanged team which means it is the first time since 2007 they have picked the same starting XV for back-to-back World Cup matches. Lock Lood de Jager and hooker Bismarck du Plessis have both recovered from injuries to keep their place in the side while Victor Matfield is fit to take his place on the bench. There is a wealth of experience in the team with a collective 701 Test caps throughout the side.
New Zealand's recent dominance in the sport has also been reflected against South Africa with ten victories from the last 12 matches. But the clashes have been increasingly tight in recent years with the last four meetings settled by a maximum of 11 points. The most recent contest came in July when the All Blacks won 27-20 in Johannesburg.
The All Blacks were at their brilliant best in the quarter-final and if they come close to this level then South Africa will not be able to handle them. The Springboks are a step up in class, with their strength and power of their pack a real threat, but New Zealand hold all the aces in their hands. The defending champions could be pushed though and, as the recent meetings have shown, a victory by 12 points or less appeals at the prices.
Julian Savea was tipped as the top tournament tryscorer before the World Cup and the favourite has lived up to his billing with a phenomenal exhibition of brutal pace and power. The New Zealand wing has been in breathtaking form with two hat-tricks already taking his total to eight tries from just four matches. Quite simply he could easily be odds on to score and anything bigger than this should be snapped up for the most prolific finisher in the sport.
Back New Zealand to win by under 12.5 points at [2.64]
Back Julian Savea to score a try at [2.2] or better
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