It certainly was contradictory to the common belief of your everyday rugby fan. And after the ‘revenge of The Rugby Championship’ nations to put themselves into 2023 RWC semi-finals contention, many Northern Hemisphere teams have found themselves left wondering how?
Any Rugby World Cup (RWC) will throw-up the odd upset, a match maybe lost when it was so predictable that odds makers are some looking for new employment. Yet when form and continuity are thrown out the window, then it needs further analysis. Indeed, many Irish rugby followers will still be confounded by what occurred last weekend.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 18, 2023
These are the last matches of this event. Four great fixtures for sure, yet with a certain ‘lack of representation’ by Northern Hemisphere sides; including hosts France, it might seem like the revenge of The Rugby Championship sides [less the Wallabies] will be a defining moment in the final outcome.
Revenge of The Rugby Championship in 2023 RWC semi-finals contention
For context, Fiji were the only side who could feel they were matched equally by their opposition; considering their prior result to England. So Steve Borthwick is outwardly proud of his men, yet inwardly feeling he has been rewarded with a poisoned chalice. Facing the toughest of the remaining four sides. South Africa are reigning and defending World Champions, and will not fear the red rose come Saturday.
The way that the Springboks emerged from their colossal battle against France will be the best build-up they’d have asked for. Rassie Erasmus might enjoy the banter this week more so than any English rugby fan can endure! (And that is saying something after their Eddie Jones era). Though he should be guarded in not foretelling a win without respecting that his men complete the first task of two stages necessary >> defeat a rebuilding England, before they change focus to a probable Cup Final.
‘Don’t look too far ahead, as one indiscretion could be costly in the 2023 RWC semi-finals.’
Mind you, South Africa has a good disciplinary record at this tournament. When counting Yellow Cards, the World Champions are one of the best performing – England have already had one red card at this event. If both teams regress to a defensive attitude, the second 2023 RWC semi-finals match could be calculated in 3-point increments. Basic, yet safe play when the risk of advancing your opponents any points is so costly at this stage of the competition.
2023 disciplinary record for the 8 teams left in the RWC.
England – 3 Yellow 4 Red
New Zealand – 4 Yellow 2 Red
Wales – 10 Yellows 0 Red
France – 3 Yellow 1 Red
Fiji – 6 Yellow 0 Red
South Africa – 4 Yellow 0 Red
Argentina – 3 Yellow 0 Red
Ireland – 1 Yellow 0 Red #rugby
— Joe Naughton (@JoeNaConnacht) October 12, 2023
Then again, how does one explain how New Zealand again had two men sent from the field, only for Ireland to fail significantly in their set pieces and practised movements. That must still be harsh for the top ranked team to swallow. Indeed, the official standings already see them falling to an unrecognisable fourth place. Somewhere head coach Andy Farrell and his group will feel is quite inconceivable.
Still, it happened, and it also happened to Wales. The Celtic nation went from earning a favourable draw to copping a loss to Argentina that seemed out of the question; Sir Warren Gatland had returned to redeem his group, yet they only were adequate and succumbed to a better motivated Los Pumas team. In fact, Michael Cheika might find that he becomes the Pub Quiz question (if they win on Saturday) as a second-time head coach in a RWC Cup final. Although it would take everything in his group’s power to overcome New Zealand on Saturday.
Will there be any upsets remaining in 2023 RWC semi-finals?
For a pundit like Sir Clive Woodward, you would now want to be cautious. Because he and others have been found to be flawed in their certainty [a reason Last Word on Rugby contributors do not openly call match results]. He now seems to be in a reactive stance, feeling that his loyalty to England means he cannot call any result other than a win for England.
Sad, while being realistic. It happens across all boards. World Rugby bring in former Cup winners as ‘experts’ and unless they are completely neutral, always vouch for their home nation. So many will feel like the host nation – who do they cry for?
Argentina may seem the underdog, as do England [to a degree]. So will there there be anymore upsets at this RWC?
In the same manner as Fiji ending the Australian sides hopes, in knockout rugby there is so much more on the line. Yet it is unfathomable to project that New Zealand will fail from here. It is just, pundits will say that South Africa seem the more assured, while Los Pumas may still create a result by their shear will alone. It would take a marathon effort, and would equal the likes of France in 2007 [putting the brakes on the All Blacks path]. So, could Michael Cheika become a second-time Cup Final’s coach? Maybe, it is not out of the question.
How? By asking whether New Zealand can complete 80 minutes of 2023 RWC semi-finals playoffs without a disciplinary issue is like playing the lottery. There is a certainty in fact, that the All Blacks will concede a Yellow Card. That is based on data, as much as behaviour and referee interpretation. Take a forward away from their pack’s strength, and they would be have to rely on the opposition not invading their space; something Argentina did twice before.
You would need to be very brave to pick it, like a stoic Englishmen committing his or hers life savings on Owen Farrell progressing to another World Cup final – but that occurred once before. Los Pumas have only reached one semi-final in their history. So that is why their theoretical chances are at less than 10%.
— Rugby Vision (@rugbyvision) October 16, 2023
Still, theory goes out the window when the blood is boiling. Augustin Creevy will cherish nothing more than to play his final International match in these 2023 RWC semi-finals, and to take away the dream finish for New Zealand greats like Sam Whitelock or Aaron Smith. Fate hangs in the balance for many. Cheslin Kolbe will do all he can to remove the ambition of England men like Dan Coles or Courtney Lawes. LWOS senior contributor Charlie Inglefield cannot see the Northern Hemisphere finding a way through the solid wall of Rugby Championship teams; whether they reach a final, or not.
They would need to play the game of the lives….and didn’t they already do that in 2019? Most cannot see them having the same mindset as they held in Yokohama. Even with Northern Hemisphere stakeholders scratching for answers [and remedies as to how they stop a possible fifth-consecutive RSA or NZL title reign]. It seems revenge is a bitter pill for the hosts and other highly fancied teams to swallow.
England might not get there, as might not Argentina, even though they pumped the All Blacks on Kiwi soil in 2022. That was a lifetime ago, and not even the encouragement of Michael Cheika’s coaching group could possibly make even more history. It appears likely to be a Rugby Championship final, but probably not including Los Pumas on this occasion. It is more likely that Rassie Erasmus and Ian Foster will end their terms in charge by running their sides out onto Stade de France’s magnificent surface come next weekend.
Still, it won’t stop a number of million rugby fans from watching both 2023 RWC semi-finals over Friday and Saturday. They will both be magnificent, and Last Word on Sport will be applauding all four teams in their attempts to make the October 28 Cup final.
Semi-final #1 – Argentina v New Zealand – Friday
Semi-final #2 – England v South Africa – Saturday
“Main photo credit courtesy of Brayden Challis, France”