South Africa ($3.78) appeared destined for an early World Cup exit after it lost its pool game against Japan 32-34. But the Springboks went through their remaining pool games undefeated, with Scotland providing the only real resistance on the way to the quarter-finals, where they trailed for almost the entire second half before Fourie du Preez picked an opportune time to score his first try for the tournament, crossing in the 75th minute to put his team into the final four.
New Zealand ($1.26) did what it needed to do – but didn’t exactly set the tournament alight – in securing all four wins at the pool stage. The All Blacks trailed fellow semi-finalist Argentina 12-16 more than 10 minutes into the second half, before tries to Aaron Smith and Sam Cane saw them pull away. It took until the quarter-finals for them to finally turn it on, erasing the memories of their 2007 demise at the hands of the French with a crushing 62-13 defeat of Le Bleu.
HEAD TO HEAD
Unsurprisingly, New Zealand has held sway in 33 of the 45 Tests the two nations have played in the professional era, though rarely have they been blowouts. The All Blacks triumphed 27-20 in Johannesburg in July this year, while South Africa got the chocolates 27-25 this time last year.
The prospect of two almost full strength sides going at it for a berth in the final is a rare treat at this stage of a bruising World Cup campaign. The only likely change for either side is All Blacks loosehead prop Joe Moody coming in to replace Wyatt Crockett, who injured his groin in first half against France last week. The Springboks have named an unchanged starting XI, though Lood de Jager is expected to undergo a fitness test on Friday.
The tournament’s two most damaging tryscorers will face off on the wings for their respective teams, with the result potentially hinging on which team is more successful in putting their man into space. All Blacks winger Julian Savea has been unstoppable over the past month, scoring eight tries and now requiring just one more to claim the all-time record for a single World Cup. That record is currently held by the almighty Jonah Lomu and also by South Africa’s answer to Savea’s heroics, Bryan Habana. Habana has crossed for five tries in this World Cup, taking his career tally to 15 and leaving him level with Lomu as the greatest tryscorers in World Cup history.
THE CRYSTAL BALL
Though they’ve take a while to click like everyone thought they would, the All Blacks’ destruction of France in the quarter-finals restored their status as the clear tournament favourites. They should be far too good for South Africa.