Springboks / 24 October 2019, 7:00pm / Mike Greenaway
Rugby World Cup semi-finals over the years have generally passed us by.
We vividly recall the finals but a semi-final will only jar in the memory if there was a major upset. Apart from the Boks v France in the rain at Kings Park in 1995, only two spring to mind for me, both involving New Zealand losing, and that’s why they are unforgettable, because of the rarity value.
The first was in 1999 when smug All Blacks coach John Hart took his all-conquering side for a holiday on the beach in the south of France before returning to play France in the semi-final, where the French produced a brilliant second-half performance to sweep the complacent Kiwis aside.
Four years later it didn’t get any better for the All Blacks although this time they were not as cocky and were simply outplayed by a very good Australia side.
The abiding memory I have of that game was of Wallabies skipper George Gregan standing over a floored Justin Marshall (his opposite number) while gloating: “Four more years! Four more years!” a triumphant reminder to the New Zealanders that they hadn’t won the Webb Ellis Cup since they hosted the first tournament in 1987.
And the All Blacks didn’t win it in 2007, as every South African knows, although that year they perished to France in the quarters, never mind the semis.
Going back to that 2003 semi-final in Australia, the rival coaches that day, Eddie Jones of Australia and John Mitchell of New Zealand, are now a coaching partnership plotting the downfall of Steve Hansen’s All Blacks on Saturday.
Love him, or hate him, Eddie and Mitch are a dream team, tireless in their approach.
I think this particular semi-final is going to be one of those that sticks in the memory regardless of who wins because the reality is this one is fitting of a final, and it cannot be anything but a classic encounter between two brilliantly prepared teams.
On Sunday, the Wales v South Africa semi-final understandably doesn’t have the same luster, probably because neither side has played anywhere near as well as New Zealand and England did in their quarter-final routs of Australia and Ireland respectively.
But this is another game where the teams are very evenly matched and while this game might not rise to the same heights as the first semi, I think it will be just as close.
An aside - I haven’t heard anyone talking of a Wales v England final. I’m definitely going to check the odds ...