South Africa line up ahead of their RWC quarter-final v Japan at the Tokyo Stadium. Photo: Steve Haag Sports / Hollywoodbets
South Africa line up ahead of their RWC quarter-final v Japan at the Tokyo Stadium. Photo: Steve Haag Sports / Hollywoodbets
New Zealand players leave the pitch following their match against Ireland at the Tokyo Stadium. Photo: Steve Haag Sports / Hollywoodbets
New Zealand players leave the pitch following their match against Ireland at the Tokyo Stadium. Photo: Steve Haag Sports / Hollywoodbets

CAPE TOWN – The best four teams in world rugby will contest the semi-finals. There can’t be any shocks because so little separates all four teams. There isn’t a score between the four.

England played the All Blacks at Twickenham less than a year ago. The New Zealanders won 16-15  it took a very controversial officiating decision to deny England in the final few minutes. England beat South Africa by a point at Twickenham, but it could have been a Springbok win had the referee and TMO ruled that Owen Farrell’s tackle on Andre Esterhuizen was illegitimate.

The Boks beat the All Blacks 36-34 in Wellington in 2018 and lost the return match in Pretoria 32-30. This year they drew 16-all in the Rugby Championship and a month ago the All Blacks led the Boks 17-13 with 10 minutes to go before winning 23-13.

Wales have beaten the Boks in three of their last four matches, and in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final the Boks won in the final minutes 23-19.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland looks on during the Wales warm-up before their match against France in Oita, Japan. Photo: Dave Winter/Icon Sport) - Oita Stadium

England were brilliant in dismantling the Wallabies 40-16 last weekend. The All Blacks were as impressive in humiliating Ireland 46-12. The Boks were clinical in dispatching Japan in the quarter-finals and Wales survived the scare of France to advance to the semis. 

There simply are no favourites for the semi-finals and both matches present a clash of hemispheres and also a contrast in style. England are more like SA, while Wales are likened to the All Blacks.Former Wallabies and Crusaders head coach and All Black assistant coach Robbie Deans cautioned the New Zealand rugby public to respect England. Deans warned that it would be very different against England, to what it was against Ireland.

Wow, only a fool would dismiss England’s challenge.

England, under Eddie Jones, have developed into one of the best teams in the world. England won 18 games in succession. They, alongside the All Blacks, have been the most impressive team at the World Cup, with the Boks a shade behind the Kiwis.

Respect is due for the quality of the teams that line up this weekend.

England celebrate winning the Rugby World Cup 2019 quarter final match against Australia in Oita, Japan. (Photo: Dave Winter/Icon Sport) - Oita Stadium

I wouldn’t be surprised if England triumphs because if they do it will be based on their execution on the day. Ditto, the All Blacks. Man for man, there is so little to separate the teams. This match will come down to a penalty, a moment of genius or a crappy interpretation call from the officials, when it comes to a yellow or red card.

World Rugby’s leadership will be euphoric that the best four teams are in the semi-finals, but a reality check is due when assessing the finalists.

England are far better than the layman critics would suggest and the All Blacks are more vulnerable than these keyboard warriors want to acknowledge. SA have been imposing and Wales have wobbled, but don’t discount Warren Gatland’s team, who have found a way to beat the Boks in three of their last four Tests.

I’ve never been as excited for the World Cup semi-finals because any one of the four teams is good enough to win the World Cup.

This will be a World Cup in which a team doesn’t lose it, but one in which the victor would have earned it.

@mark_keohane