Irish great Brian O’Driscoll is lamenting the embarrassing demise of the home nations after the southern hemisphere super powers filled all four Rugby World Cup semi-final spots for the first time.
The top-ranked All Blacks will clash with the Springboks on Saturday before the Wallabies tackle Argentina’s fast-emerging Pumas on Sunday after the four Rugby Championship nations completed an historic quarter-final sweep at the global showpiece.
Unconvincing in the pool stages, New Zealand stepped up their title defence with a record 63-12 rout of France, South Africa edged Wales 23-19, Argentina swamped Ireland 43-20 and Australia scored a last-gasp 35-34 win over Scotland.
The Webb Ellis Cup is now guaranteed to remain in the southern hemisphere, the seventh win in eight World Cups.
While the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks have all triumphed twice, O’Driscoll says the Pumas’ 23-point drubbing of Six Nation champions Ireland should have the Australian camp on red alert.
“Argentina have shown the gulf in class now between the southern hemisphere and the northern hemisphere and how much the Rugby Championship has worked in their favour, being included in that,” said the 141-Test legend.
“Obviously they’ve piggy-backed on their first (RC away) victory against the Springboks in Johannesburg earlier this year.
“Now they’re putting together a very nice World Cup. They’ll give Australia a pretty good run for their money in the semi-final.
“They’ll find it tough against an Australia team that played as well as they did against England.
“But if they catch them on an off day, they can be finalists of course. And when you’re in a final, as France showed four years ago, you could sneak it irrespective of how much the opposition might be the favourites.
“I still think it might be an Australia – New Zealand final. It just has all the hallmarks of them being the two best teams in the world this year.”
The trans-Tasman rivals have never clashed in a World Cup final and Argentine playmaker Nicolas Sanchez is quietly confident about the Pumas’ prospects of crashing the party.
A 23-point hero in Argentina’s big win over Ireland, Sanchez says the Pumas have grown immensely as a team since joining the Rugby Championship in 2012.
The Pumas claimed their first scalp in the tournament last year when they toppled the Wallabies in Mendoza before downing the Boks this year.
“Without doubt, playing against the very best teams in the world six times a year helps you go up a level and the team is starting to show that this tournament is helping us,” said Sanchez.
Both semi-finals will be played at Twickenham and the sixth-ranked Pumas will have to snap Australia’s 18-match undefeated run in World Cup matches in Britain to reach the final for the first time.