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All Blacks look to turn on basic magic again but Boks will be ferocious

Today’s World Cup semi-final at Twickenham is the latest instalment of a great rivalry.

Murray Kinsella reports from Twickenham

EVEN IF IT doesn’t transpire to be one of the truly great World Cup games, the latest instalment the enthralling rivalry between New Zealand and South Africa is bound to leave some sort of mark.

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2015 - New Zealand Captains Run - Twickenham Stadium Dan Carter and Richie McCaw remain vital to the Kiwis. Source: Mike Egerton

The Springboks have won just two of the last 12 clashes between the sides, but their 2014 victory in Ellis Park remains fresh in the memory. Earlier this year, the Kiwis won another exciting encounter at the same venue.

Today’s World Cup semi-final (KO 4pm) promises more of the same, and all on a heightened scale. Hell, even the press conferences this week have been entertaining. There remains disappointment that Ireland are not involved this weekend, but we now have the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the show.

Heyneke Meyer was playing mind games when he suggested that this New Zealand team is the greatest of all time, but there’s a kernel of truth in there. Some of the veterans are past their peak, but the additional experience lends them a different sort of strength to the physical one that has perhaps faded.

Steve Hansen is a fascinating figure who manages to remain somewhat underrated in this part of the world. ‘Shag’ has been central to the journey from World Cup ‘chokers’ in 2007 right through the glory of 2011 and on to this version of the Kiwis.

Hansen’s vision, with Wayne Smith always in the background providing his rugby intellect, has been of a side that focuses on the component skills of rugby to a greater degree than anyone else in the world.

There are creative tactical ideas behind everything New Zealand do on the pitch of course, but sometimes the game plan is not even required.

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2015 - South Africa Captains Run - Twickenham Stadium Bryan Habana may set a new record for World Cup tries today. Source: Mike Egerton

When you’ve got a second row who can catch and pass at pace like Brodie Retallick (the rest of the tight five aren’t far behind), your team is bound to create and take more opportunities than others.

What often looks like spectacular and unique brilliance in attack from the Kiwis is so often down to simple things done better than anyone else.

Hansen’s men use their footwork intelligently, shape their bodies before contact, release the ball at the perfect moment, scan the field for space, get low and violent at ruck time, time their jump and stretch their hands out to the ball to field, fight through the contact to free their hand for an offload; all the little details.

The clever Ben Smith, barnstorming Julian Savea, dogged Sam Whitelock, incisive Ma’a Nonu; everywhere you look there are world-leading players.

Not that the Boks don’t have anything about them. The likes of Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez, young Handré Pollard, the sensational Duane Vermeulen and the mercurial Willie le Roux have rounded skills sets too, balancing the physical force of other players around them.

They won’t be afraid to mix it with the Kiwis if and when play breaks up, though one senses that they will invest much effort into the set-piece. Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and the Beast give them prowess in that department.

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A view of the New Zealand All Blacks haka The New Zealanders were lethal last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s a genuine cast of stars on both team sheets, but what has made these sides so effective is the quality of their collective output. The Boks recovered from one of the darkest days in their rugby history against Japan in the early days of the tournament, regaining composure and displaying resilience to get to this point.

They will need more of that mental attribute if the Kiwis can deliver on their attacking potential in Twickenham today. Therein lies the key to the fixture; if Hansen’s men play as well as they are capable of playing, the Boks will be banished.

It’s not quite as simple of that amidst the high pressure of a World Cup semi-final, but that’s where the experience of the Kiwis comes in useful. The leaders have tasted failure and frustration, as well as joy, and have proven an ability to make good decisions under stress.

The hope for the neutral is that the Boks are at their most ferocious and skillful today, but there would also be intrigue in seeing New Zealand turn on the most basic of magic once again.

Verdict: New Zealand.

South Africa:

15. Willie le Roux
14. JP Pietersen
13. Jesse Kriel
12. Damian De Allende
11. Bryan Habana
10. Handré Pollard
9. Fourie du Preez (captain)

1. Tendai Mtawarira
2. Bismarck du Plessis
3. Frans Malherbe
4. Eben Etzebeth
5. Lood de Jager
6. Francois Louw
7. Schalk Burger
8. Duane Vermeulen

Replacements:

16. Adriaan Strauss
17. Trevor Nyakane
18. Jannie du Plessis
19. Victor Matfield
20. Willem Alberts
21. Ruan Pienaar
22. Pat Lambie
23. Jan Serfontein

New Zealand:

15. Ben Smith
14. Nehe Milner-Skudder
13. Conrad Smith
12. Ma’a Nonu
11. Julian Savea
10. Daniel Carter
9. Aaron Smith

1. Joe Moody
2. Dane Coles
3. Owen Franks
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Sam Whitelock
6. Jerome Kaino
7. Richie McCaw (captain)
8. Kieran Read

Replacements:

16. Keven Mealamu
17. Ben Franks
18. Charlie Faumuina
19. Victor Vito
20. Sam Cane
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow
22. Beauden Barrett
23. Sonny Bill Williams

Referee: Jérôme Garcès.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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