Rugby World Cup 2015

Scrum-halves to dictate fortunes

Opposing try kings Bryan Habana of South Africa (left) and Julian Savea of New Zealand can rewrite World Cup records, adding further value to the semi-final.
Opposing try kings Bryan Habana of South Africa (above) and Julian Savea of New Zealand can rewrite World Cup records, adding further value to the semi-final.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Opposing try kings Bryan Habana of South Africa (left) and Julian Savea of New Zealand can rewrite World Cup records, adding further value to the semi-final.
Opposing try kings Bryan Habana of South Africa and Julian Savea (above) of New Zealand can rewrite World Cup records, adding further value to the semi-final.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Pivotal roles for Smith, du Preez in NZ-Boks semi-final, the 91st clash between bitter rivals

TWICKENHAM (England) • The All Blacks and Springboks clash again in rugby union's biggest rivalry today when New Zealand speed takes on South African muscle in a World Cup semi-final at Twickenham.

Their coaches, Steve Hansen and Heyneke Meyer, have been playing mind games all week but now it gets serious - a battle of wits between All Black skipper Richie McCaw and his Springbok counterpart Fourie du Preez.

Something has to give between the two sides, who have dominated rugby over the past century.

While there will be plenty of forward strength on show, the 91st meeting between the union superpowers could be decided by rival scrum-halves Aaron Smith and du Preez.

Smith will hope his bullet pass can keep play moving at a frenetic pace to suit the All Blacks' lethal back three trio of Julian Savea, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Ben Smith, with speed off the bench allowing the All Blacks to maintain a high tempo for the full 80 minutes.

Du Preez, the Springboks' master tactician, will work off the opposite plan, keeping the ball close for Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger and the rest of a heavy pack to relentlessly ram their way forward.

"It's not about smash and bash like other positions can be," said Smith of being a scrum-half. "It's more about how you get your team around the park and we've identified (du Preez) as a key figure in their team."

Despite the forecast for rain, the All Blacks are unlikely to deviate from their running game in a match to decide who faces the winners of tomorrow's match between Australia and Argentina in the final.

Had it not been for their shock 34-32 defeat by Japan in their tournament opener, South Africa - who like defending champions New Zealand and Australia are bidding to become the first side to win a third World Cup - might also have opted for a free-flowing style.

Instead, they reverted to the forward-orientated rugby that has been bred into them for generations.

They picked off Samoa, Scotland, the United States and Wales on their road to the final four as their big ball-carriers hammered away close to the ruck.

Meanwhile a talented back-line featuring Handre Pollard, like New Zealand's Dan Carter an attacking fly-half, powerful midfielders Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel and two fine finishers in Bryan Habana and J.P. Pietersen has been under-utilised.

"The last two or three games they've played a game that suits them historically and they've done it very well," said New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster of the Springboks' back-to-basics tactics.

New Zealand cruised through the pool stage but clicked ominously into gear with their quarter-final rout of France.

Meyer hailed this All Blacks team as the best ever after the 62-13 drubbing of France but Hansen was happy to take his friend's comments with a pinch of salt.

"H (Heyneke) has been very complimentary, just about killed us with kindness," he said.

"He's a cunning wee devil... praising us all week. While I know he means some of it, at the same time they are getting ready to rip our heads off."

The two sides have met three times in World Cups, including the epic 1995 final won by the Springboks. But the last occasion - the 2003 quarter-finals - saw the All Blacks secure a comfortable 29-9 victory - South Africa's heaviest loss in a World Cup match.

New Zealand have held the upper hand by winning 10 of their 12 games since 2010, the most recent a 27-20 Rugby Championship win in Johannesburg in July.

Nine All Blacks and 11 Springboks who ran out for that match at Ellis Park in July will start at Twickenham, with France's Jerome Garces again the referee.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2015, with the headline 'Scrum-halves to dictate fortunes'. Print Edition | Subscribe