3 Oct

And then there were Four
by Tracey Nelson
3 Oct 2007

Finally we are back in France, in the City of Love – where no love
will be lost this weekend as the hosts France take on reigning World
Cup Champions England, and the South Africa go into battle against
Argentina.

Semi Final 1, Saturday October 13: France v England

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan, South Africa

So it has to be asked – can France string together two big games in
consecutive weeks? Going on past history, most people will say NO.
France have a track record of playing one huge game and then rolling
over in the next one. Will this weekend be any different?

Possibly. They are playing the reigning World Champs who have been
anything but in the four years between tournaments, but last weekend
England turned on a display of immense forward power, combined with
the boot of the mercurial Johnny Wilkinson, to put Australia to the
sword. Although it must be said that the Australian pack is dreadful,
and it was only a matter of time before they got a referee who could
call it as it was happening. So other than snuffing Australia out by
having a better pack, can England match France?

If France can get their heads together and get out on the field with
the same mental determination they had to beat New Zealand last week,
and IF they can get their backline running, then they can win this
game. England have struggled to score tries, and while potting three
points at regular points during the game was enough to deny Australia
the win, you’d have to question whether it will be enough against a
team that is more than capable of matching them up front.

In France’s favour is the fact they are playing on home turf. This is
their tournament, and it’s do or die for them. With the hearts of a
nation behind them, those trumpets playing (Ole!!), and the lights of
Paris twinkling in the background you would have to think that perhaps
the scales are balanced somewhat in their favour. In England’s
favour, they have new belief after dispatching Australia and there are
some experienced players in that team. Though have they passed from
being experienced to just plain past it? All will be revealed this
Saturday.

Semi Final 2, Sunday October 14: South Africa v Argentina

Referee: Steve Walsh, New Zealand

Almost like two Sherman Tanks going for each other. Two magnificently
powerful yet mobile packs, vs two great running backlines. The match
ups in this game are mouthwatering to say the least. The pre-match
slanging has begun, and despite Argentina never having beaten the Boks
in their previous 11 meetings, it wouldn’t be a silly move to put a
sly dollar on the Pumas this weekend.

Argentina, the team that plays in neither the Six Nations nor the
Tri-Nations, has burst from black hole of rugby obscurity and by
winning the Pool of Death have marched on to make their first ever
appearance at the World Cup semi finals. Their forwards have carved
up the opposition like a hippopotamus blocked trying to get to the
river, and their backs play with all the Latin flair of their French
counterparts – no surprise that most of them play club rugby in France
then.

South Africa have continued their heritage of massive forwards,
twinkle-toed backs and of course that kicking game – because what is a
Springbok team without a kicking 1st 5? But they are street savvy,
and they are brutal. There are no prisoners taken when the Springboks
play.

This game could go one of two ways – it will either be an immense
struggle up front with neither backline getting to see much ball, or
it will be a display of running rugby like no other. Personally I’m
hoping for the latter, as I think the talent in both backlines would
be worth the admission price alone if they are allowed to cut loose.
Who will win? The Springboks are probably favourites at the bookies,
but Argentina are fast becoming the tournament darlings and have
almost slipped undetected and unfancied to the business end of the
matches. The first 20 minutes will determine the outcome of this
game, if South Africa can get a lead then I expect them to run away
with the game. But if Argentina can get a look in, then watch out.

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