After a pulsating round of quarter finals in which three of the four Pool winners were sent packing, the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-finals are this weekend. New Zealand remains the only undefeated team in the tournament now that South Africa, England and Ireland have crashed out. Meanwhile, France are still alive despite having lost two Pool stage games. This article previews the semi-finals between Wales and France on Saturday, and the All Blacks and Wallabies on Sunday. Below are the fixture times.
Wales vs France
World Cup Form
Wales qualified as the runner up in Pool D. They then defeated Ireland in their quarter final game.
Wales 16-17 South Africa
Wales 17-10 Samoa
Wales 81-7 Namibia
Wales 66-0 Fiji
Wales 22-10 Ireland
France qualified as the runner up in Pool A. They then defeated England in their quarter final game.
France 47-21 Japan
France 46-19 Canada
France 17-37 New Zealand
France 14-19 Tonga
France 19-12 England
Wales were highly impressive against Ireland. They appear to be playing with more attacking flair under New Zealand born head coach Warren Gatland. Gatland opted for a youthful side last weekend while Ireland opted for experience, and like in the game between the Wallabies and Springboks, youth prevailed.
France did well to beat England, although I feel England were partially victims their own demise, opting away from a dreary kicking-based game towards making heavier use of the backs and playing more flowing rugby. This backfired for England, and they will probably feel they’d still be in the tournament if they had stuck to playing ugly. With two defeats so far in this tournament, France enter the fixture against Wales as the marginal underdog, although they’re a notoriously difficult team to predict.
Recent Head to Head History
|Mar 2011||6 Nations||France 28 – 9 Wales|
|Feb 2010||6 Nations||Wales 20 – 26 France|
|Mar 2009||6 Nations||France 21 – 16 Wales|
|Feb 2008||6 Nations||Wales 29 – 12 France|
France have had the better of Wales in recent games. Interestingly, the 28-9 win over Wales in 2011 was on the back of a French defeat to Italy, which shows that history does repeat itself. As England found out last week, you never want to play a French side that has just suffered an upset loss.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; George North, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams; James Hook, Mike Phillips; Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton (captain), Dan Lydiate; Alun-Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris; Adam Jones, Huw Bennett, Gethin Jenkins.
Bench: Lloyd Burns, Paul James, Bradley Davies, Ryan Jones, Lloyd Williams, Stephen Jones, Scott Williams.
France: Maxime Medard; Vincent Clerc, Aurelien Rougerie, Maxime Mermoz, Alexis Palisson; Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvili; Imanol Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire, Thierry Dusautoir (capt); Lionel Nallet, Pascal Pape; Nicolas Mas, William Servat, Jean-Baptiste Poux
Bench (seven of the following): Dimitri Szarzewski, Fabien Barcella, Julien Pierre, Louis Picamoles, Francois Trinh-Duc, David Marty, Cedric Heymans, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Jean Marc Doussain
Both sides will fancy their chances here. Wales enter the fixture in excellent form. Their only defeat of the tournament was a one point loss to South Africa where many feel they were unlucky not to win. France, meanwhile, will feel they have the measure of Wales based on recent head to head results. I was surprised by the level of open attacking rugby used by the northern hemisphere sides in the quarters, and I’m inclined to expect that to continue in the semis. This Welsh squad is much more suited to that than England, so France will find them to be tougher opponents than the English. Only New Zealand has scored more points in the tournament than Wales thus far. Picking a winner is awfully tough, but like the bookmakers, I would install Wales as the marginal favourites.
|Head to head||1.83||2.10|
|Line||(-1.5) 2.00||(+1.5) 1.80|
Because France are involved this is a risky fixture to bet on. I feel I have the measure of what to expect from Wales, but France are always an unknown. Depending on which French side shows up either team could take this one, but with everything at stake I don’t expect either side to be blown away. Below are some betting suggestions, depending on how aggressive you wish to be:
- Conservative: back both Wales 1-12 (2.62) and France 1-12 (2.62)
- Moderate: back Wales to win (1.83)
- Aggressive: back Wales to win by 1-12 (2.62)
New Zealand vs Australia
World Cup Form
New Zealand qualified as the winner of Pool A. They then defeated Argentina in the quarter finals.
New Zealand 41-10 Tonga
New Zealand 83-7 Japan
New Zealand 37-17 France
New Zealand 79-15 Canada
New Zealand 33-10 Argentina
Australia qualified as the runner up in Pool C. They then defeated South Africa in the quarter finals.
Australia 32-6 Italy
Australia 6-15 Ireland
Australia 67-5 USA
Australia 68-22 Russia
Australia 11-9 South Africa
New Zealand’s World Cup has gone according to script, while Australia made things difficult for themselves by succumbing to Ireland in the Pool stage. Some say that South Africa won everything but the game against Australia, but the Wallabies’ desperate defence made the difference between the two sides. It will be interesting to see whether that bruising fixture takes its toll on the Wallabies pack when they face the All Blacks. New Zealand will be pleased by their form, but heavily concerned by the injury toll. To lose Dan Carter to a groin injury, and then to lose his replacement Colin Slade to the same injury will make those across the Tasman wonder if their fly-half position is cursed. Fortunately for them, their third choice fly-half Aaron Cruden, who was brought into the team late in the tournament when Dan Carter was ruled out, slotted into the side fairly well against Argentina. With that being said, Cruden is a far different prospect for the Wallabies than Carter, so New Zealand has every reason to be concerned.
Recent Head to Head History
|Aug 2011||Bledisloe Cup||Australia 25 – 20 New Zealand|
|Aug 2011||Bledisloe Cup||New Zealand 30 – 14 Australia|
|Oct 2010||Bledisloe Cup||Australia 26 – 24 New Zealand (played in Hong Kong)|
|Sep 2010||Bledisloe Cup||Australia 22 – 23 New Zealand|
|Aug 2010||Bledisloe Cup||New Zealand 20 – 10 Australia|
|Aug 2010||Bledisloe Cup||Australia 28 – 49 New Zealand|
While Australia won the most recent game between the two sides, it was certainly a game of two halves. New Zealand tried to put the ball through the backs constantly in the first half and Australia’s strong defence combined with some clumsy All Blacks play saw Australia take a 20-3 lead at half time. The All Blacks returned in the second half with a forwards dominated display, making heavy use of the pick and drive. Australia were starved of posession and a Kurtley Beale try against the run of play were the only points Australia added in a second half that they lost 5-17.
Both sides have been impacted by injury, although New Zealand have arguably been the hardest hit, and will start with their third choice fly-half.
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Richard Kahui, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.
Bench: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Ali Williams, Victor Vito, Andy Ellis, Stephen Donald, Sonny Bill Williams.
Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor, Anthony Faingaa, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Radike Samo, David Pocock, Rocky Elsom, James Horwill (captain), Dan Vickerman, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu.
Bench: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Ben McCalman, Luke Burgess, Berrick Barnes, Rob Horne.
Australia arguably have the stronger back line while New Zealand arguably have the strongest forwards, so both teams will want to play this game in conflicting styles. Given the lessons learned in their 25-20 loss to Australia in Brisbane this year, I expect New Zealand to play with a forwards dominated display. Australia, in contrast, will be keen to spread the ball among the backs and avoid a dog fight up the middle of the park. In their quarter final, the Springboks managed to play the game in a rhythm that suited them, but the damage was done with eight first half points for Australia against the run of play. Australia can ill-afford to get into a similar tussle against New Zealand so it will be fascinating to see how the match dynamics play out. The team that wins this fixture will likely be the one that gets its way in the style and pace that the game is played.
I don’t expect this to be as low a scoring game as the South Africa vs Australia match. New Zealand’s defence has not been the best in the tournament, while their ability to accumulate points has been impressive. 25 to 35 total points scored wouldn’t surprise me.
Some have made noise about Australia’s 25-year losing streak at Eden Park, but I think the dynamics of it being a World Cup semi-final changes things. Kiwis don’t have to be reminded of the numerous World Cup disappointments over the years since 1987, so they’ll be fully aware of the threat that the Wallabies pose.
|bet365 odds||New Zealand||Australia|
|Head to head||1.36||3.40|
|Line||(-8.5) 1.90||(+8.5) 1.90|
From a tipping perspective, I expect New Zealand to be too good at home, especially if they can take advantage of their perceived superiority in the forwards. With that being said, the 1.36 odds aren’t good value in my opinion. If I were forced to make a head to head bet I’d back Australia because I think 3.40 represents better value. If Australia do win I don’t expect it to be by much. Below are some betting suggestions, depending on how aggressive you wish to be.
- Very conservative: back both New Zealand to win (1.36) and Australia to win by 1-12 (4.33) (i.e. $7.61 on New Zealand and $2.39 on Australia 1-12 for a $0.35 profit if either gets up)
- Conservative: back both New Zealand 1-12 (2.75) and Australia 1-12 (4.33)
- Moderate: back Australia (+8.5) (1.90)
- Aggressive: back Australia to win by 1-12 (4.33)
- Very aggressive: back the half time/full time double result: Australia-New Zealand (7.50)