The dust has now settled on the Rugby World Cup semi-finals, with all eyes now turning to this Saturday’s Rugby World Cup Final. New Zealand and South Africa will meet in the biggest fixture of the rugby calendar, to battle it out to become record four-time winners of the Web Ellis trophy.
The semi-finals brought about two polarising matches, starting with the All Blacks handing Argentina an unceremonious 44-6 defeat. New Zealand ran roughshod on the Pumas, with little saving graces as Michael Cheika’s side dropped into the Bronze Medal match. The All Blacks have hit their relentless best when it mattered the most, and Ian Fosters men look like serious contenders to bring the trophy back home to Eden Park.
This was followed by the nail-biting encounter between England and South Africa, which saw Steve Borthwick’s side fall at the final hurdle. England were leading until the final few minutes of the match, before Ellis Genge gave away a scrum penalty, and Springboks fly-half Handre Pollard fired the following penalty through the posts, for a last-ditch 16-15 victory.
As the momentum builds into the Rugby World Cup Final and Bronze Medal match, we took a look back on the players that starred best in the semi-finals. Here is RUCK’s Team of the Week, for the Rugby World Cup Semi-Finals.
15. Freddie Steward (England)
14. Will Jordan (New Zealand)
11. Mark Tele’a (New Zealand)
Starting off with the back three, England fullback Freddie Steward had an excellent outing in the semi-final defeat to the Springboks. Brought back into the side by Steve Borthwick, after Marcus Smith was left battered and bruised by Fiji, Steward bossed the arial battle with the sky bombarded by high Springbok kicks.
Joining Steward in the back-three is the All Blacks duo of Will Jordan and Mark Tele’a. Jordan ran out a phenomenal hat-trick against Los Pumas, with the winger one try away from equalising Jonah Lomu’s try-scoring record in the final four. The Crusaders flyer’s third try was the pick of the bunch, as he made a rapid line-break, before re-gathering his own kick chase to score a stunning solo try. Jordan heads into the World Cup Final as the tournament’s leading scorer, with eight tries.
Mark Tele’a slots in on the left wing, as the Auckland Blues man made good on his long awaited return to the squad. Tele’a was left out of Foster’s fray due to staying out past the All Blacks’ curfew, and had a stand-out performance in his return match against Argentina. Tele’a hit like a back-row and distributed like a halfback, as New Zealand built a heavy score-line of victory to reach the final.
13. Jesse Kriel (South Africa)
12. Jordie Barrett (New Zealand)
Powerhouse outside centre Jesse Kriel is our pick for the midifeld, who lines-up alongside All Blacks playmaker Jordie Barrett. Kriel hammered into the England defence with bruising carries that tested the physicality of Steve Borthwick’s men. Kriel also imposed his presence in defence, with consistent tackling to nullify the England carriers. The centre also tried his luck from the boot, with a couple of grubber kicks popping up for Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arundse.
Jordie Barrett had another starring role for the All Blacks, after he saved his side’s skin by holding up a try, in the quarter-final win over Ireland. Barrett presented a masterful clinic in ball distribution, taking the attack high to the line before sending his outside backs through for repeated line-breaks. Barrett provided a powerful finish for the All Blacks second try of the match, as New Zealand grabbed an early foothold against Argentina.
10. Handre Pollard (South Africa)
9. Aaron Smith (New Zealand)
The fly-half spot was a tough call between Handre Pollard and Owen Farrell, yet we have awarded the spot to Pollard given his match-saving heroics from the tee. Pollard had an earlier involvement than many expected, as Rassie Erasmus withdrew Manie Libbok after just half an hours game-time in a brutal statement of intent. Pollard bossed the second half, and sent the ball sailing through the posts for a dramatic Springboks triumph, just as he did in the quarter-final against France.
It is rare to see a player that took a trip to the sin-bin make the Team of the Week, but Aaron Smith was just that good against Argentina. The scrum-half distributed quick-ball at a rapid rate of knots, and linked up expertly well with Richie Mo’unga to send the All Blacks cruising up the pitch. Smith scored a stunning solo try to wrap up his match, as he skipped past two tackle attempts and sold the dummy on the third covering defender. Simply inspiring from the iconic number nine.
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