New Zealand smashed France to reach their seventh RWC semi-final in eight tournaments, while South Africa edged past Wales in a bruising encounter.
New Zealand produced an awesome display as the demolished France 62-13 in Cardiff to book their place in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals, while a late try from Fourie du Preez ensured South Africa will meet the All Blacks next week after a bruising 23-19 win over a battling Welsh side at Twickenham.
New Zealand had won all four games in their pool without really hitting top gear, but they showed why they are the number one side in the world on Saturday as they crushed France, playing some brilliant attacking rugby along the way.
The All Blacks showed their intent from the opening minute as they looked to score tries, and after an early exchange of penalties they scored the first try after ten minutes when second-row Brodie Retallick charged down a clearing kick to run home.
France got a penalty back to make the score 10-6, but two more tries from Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea opened the score out to 24-6 as the All Blacks showed their class.
France threatened to get back into the game when Louis Picamoles burrowed over to score what would prove to be Les Blues’ only try, but Savea scored his second try shortly afterwards, knocking several defenders out of the way in the process, and making the score 29-13 in New Zealand’s favour at half-time.
The French had memorably knocked out New Zealand in the 1999 and 2007 World Cup’s, but their hopes of completing a comeback this time were dashed when Picamoles was sin-binned for what appeared to be a punch on Kiwi Captain Richie McCaw early in the second-half, and Jerome Kaino’s try shortly afterwards effectively ended the game as a contest.
Savea completed his hat-trick before Kieran Read crossed for his try, taking the score to 48-13. Two more tries from substitute Tawera Kerr-Barlow further added to France’s humiliation. The final 62-13 score-line made it the biggest ever winning margin in a RWC knockout match.
New Zealand showed why they are favourites for the World Cup again, but as brilliant as they were, France completely folded in the second half, and they can expect to get a savaging in the French media in the coming days. Coach Phillipe Saint-Andre was already set to leave after the tournament, and he could hardly have gone out on a lower note. If ever there was ever a sign that there are serious issues with French rugby, it was made very clear on Saturday night.
If that match was a walkover, South Africa’s 23-19 over Wales was a far greater contest, and it marks a significant turnaround in fortunes for the Springboks, who were dramatically beaten by Japan on the opening weekend of the tournament in one of the greatest shock results in rugby and indeed sporting history.
Coach Heyneke Meyer felt obliged to apologise to the South African nation after that defeat, but battle-hardening wins over Samoa and Scotland ensured his side made the quarter-finals, and Saturday’s win over Wales means the Boks can look forward to a fourth World Cup semi-final in six tournaments.
It was to some extent cruel on Wales, who led for long spells of the second half and had put in a superb defensive effort throughout the match until du Preez finally found the gap five minutes from the end. They can leave the tournament with their heads held high, especially as their squad has been so depleted by injuries, but this was South Africa’s day in the end.
It was Wales who initially came tearing out the blocks, as a great run from winger George North brought his side from the half-way line right up to within a few metres of South Africa’s try-line, before a loose pass broke down the move.
Three penalties from Handre Pollard compared to one for Dan Biggar then helped South Africa to a 9-3 lead, but it was Biggar who provided the moment of inspiration shortly afterwards, brilliantly catching his own up-and-under kick before feeding scrumhalf Gareth Davies to score his fifth try of the tournament. Biggar’s conversion put Wales 10-9 ahead on 20 minutes.
Pollard quickly put South Africa back in front with another penalty before a fine drop-goal from Biggar with the last kick of the first half put Wales into a 13-12 lead at half-time.
There was no let-up in intensity in the second half as South Africa continued to attack against a Welsh defence that refused to give anything away. Two penalties from Biggar along with a penalty and drop-goal from Pollard took the score to 19-18 in favour of Wales.
Despite South Africa having the overwhelming majority of possession, they rarely came close to scoring a try throughout the match, such was the ferocity of Wales’ defence, but with their opponents beginning to tire after such a physical effort, the Boks eventually struck gold.
A scrum in the Welsh 22 was picked up from the back by Duane Vermeulen, and his run and offload allowed Du Preez to exploit a rare gap on the blindside to score in the corner in the 75th minute, from which there was no way back for the exhausted Welsh.
On New Zealand’s form, they will be big favourites to beat South Africa in next week’s semi, but the Boks appear to be gathering some momentum for themselves after the initial trauma against Japan. Whatever happens, it should hopefully be a far better contest than France were able to give the All Blacks this time around.