With the semifinals ahead, just two wins separate the four remaining teams from hoisting the Rugby World Cup. But who is best positioned to do so? Christopher Reive shares his view.
It wasn't long ago that Wales was the No 1 team in the world, but they sure haven't looked like it during the World Cup. Lucky to get past a 14-man French outfit in the quarter-final, and with unconvincing wins over Australia and Fiji during pool play, it's hard to see them tipping up the Springboks based on their tournament so far. On top of their World Cup performance, they've lost starting No 8 Josh Navidi to injury, who has been a tireless worker throughout the competition. They do have a very capable backline, including leading try-scorer (5) Josh Adams, who also leads the competition in clean breaks (13). If they can find room to move at the back, they can test South Africa, but that might be easier said than done against a Springboks line that prides itself on its rush defence.
There's a reason a lot of Kiwis were cheering on the Wallabies in their semifinal against England last weekend - England are a massive threat to the All Blacks' title hopes. A strong, well-rounded unit, they've got everything they need to test the All Blacks. With a strong forward pack led by the hulking presence of lock Maro Itoje, England has been effective in smothering opposition attacks, while halfback Ben Youngs and No 10 Owen Farrell have done a superb job of orchestrating their own attack. However, in an open play game England might struggle against the potent All Blacks attack. If they can control the tempo and play setpiece to setpiece, they're every chance to upset the defending champions.
2. New Zealand
To be fair, very little separates the All Blacks and the Springboks aside from strength of semifinal opposition. The All Blacks have scored the second-most points in the tournament (203) and the second most tries (29), trailing only the Springboks in both categories – but, of course, having played one less match due to Typhoon Hagibis. With strong ball runners throughout the squad, the All Blacks have caused havoc for opposition defensive lines, with an impressive 89 clean breaks through just four games. After dispatching a physical Ireland team last weekend, they meet a more formidable English side. While England hasn't beaten the All Blacks since 2012, they've only lost by an average of seven points in their six encounters since.
1. South Africa
The Springboks have the benefit of cruising through every one of their matches since their loss against the All Blacks in the first round of pool play. The Springboks have been able to rest and rotate their squad, while still outscoring their opponents 211-39 to this point of the tournament. Their 211 points is the most scored by a team at the World Cup so far. In a tournament where fast, aggressive attacks seem to be the focal point, the Springboks' depth in the outside backs has been a massive asset – with Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi particularly impressive on their respective wings. They come into the semifinal with no injury concerns, against a Welsh team who have struggled against at times against lesser opponents.