The World Cup quarterfinals promised plenty and delivered even more with four matches of incredible tension leaving four teams continuing on for the final two weeks of the tournament.
Here is everything you need to know about the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
Semi-final 1: Argentina vs New Zealand, Stade De France, Paris, Saturday 6am AEDT
The late hero of the All Blacks’ quarter-final win, Sam Whitelock, has been called into the starting team while Mark Telea is back off the naughty chair.
Whitelock will start over Brodie Retallick, while Telea – who missed the win over Ireland on disciplinary grounds – replaces Leicester Fainga’anuku. On the bench, Samisoni Taukei’aho is in for Dane Coles.
“Rugby World Cup playoffs are a series of finals,” said head coach Ian Foster. “We know that the intensity only increases as you progress through the knockout stages and we are preparing accordingly.
“We have received amazing support from our country and fans. The atmosphere at our games has been tremendous and we want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been a part of that.
“The team is determined to give it everything in this special occasion against Argentina who are a quality team with a proven record in Rugby World Cup playoff games. We are very respectful of that.”
Argentina coach Michael Cheika has made one change from the team that beat Wales – with scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou in for Tomás Cubelli.
How they got there: Argentina finished second in their pool behind England, beating Japan is a virtual sudden death game after also accounting for Samoa and Chile. They went behind early against Wales but were brilliant in the second half of a 29-17 win over Wales. New Zealand lost their tournament opener to France then won the rest of their pool games. They overcame Ireland 28-24 ina stunning quarter-final in Paris.
Pumas coach Michael Cheika is already claiming big underdog status and it’s hard to see how his team can upset Ian Foster’s brilliant outfit who were tactically excellent and physically resilient against Ireland.
Cheika has blown up at an issue with travel to Paris with their hotel not being ready for them on Sunday, giving the Kiwis an extra day to prepare in the city where they played the quarters.
“We asked them, we begged them, but they were too stubborn,” Cheika said in Marseille. His team will only have three full days to prepare for the game.
What they’re saying
“Impressive, spectacular. From the first minute I came to France I didn’t want to go home, I wanted to stay for seven or eight weeks. I am very happy and we are going to Paris.” – Argentina winger Mateo Carreras.
“We know it is not going to be perfect; life is not perfect. It’s how you embrace the moment. That’s what rugby is about. I don’t want this to end ever.” – Argentina captain Julian Montoya.
“The way [Argentina] finished the game yesterday, they got off to a rough start, but the way they finished would have given them a huge amount of confidence to overcome Wales. I guess a bit of a mantra that we’ve been talking about is who is the best team on the day.” – All Blacks assistant Scott McLeod on the Pumas.
“We had to play a final last week – every game was like that. It was a fantastic weekend. Every team, every game was pushed to the edge. That’s a reflection of where world rugby is at – you have to go bone deep to get to where we’ve got. It’s a matter of treasuring each week – you’ve got to give it everything. There’s no tomorrow – it’s a very simple formula.” – All Blacks coach Ian Foster.
Argentina (1-15): Thomas Gallo, Julián Montoya (c), Francisco Gómez Kodela, Guido Petti, Tomas Lavanini, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Marcos Kremer, Facundo Isa, Gonzalo Bertranou, Santiago Carreras, Mateo Carreras, Santiago Chocobares, Lucio Cinti, Emiliano Boffelli, Juan Cruz Mallia.
Replacements: Agustín Creevy, Joel Sclavi, Eduardo Bello, Matias Alemanno, Rodrigo Bruni, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Nicolas Sanchez, Matías Moroni.
New Zealand (1-15): . Ethan de Groot, Codie Taylor, Tyrel Lomax, Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane (c), Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, Mark Tele’a, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Will Jordan, Beauden Barrett.
Replacements: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Brodie Retallick, Dalton Papali’i, Finlay Christie, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown.
Prediction: New Zealand by 10
Semi-final 2: England vs South Africa, Stade De France Paris, Sunday 6am AEST
South Africa named an unchanged team from the 23 that edged France by a point in the quarter-final. It is the most experienced lineup in Boks history with 895 combined caps and 15 of the 23 featured against England in the final victory four years ago.
It’s only the second time that coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus have named an unchanged starting line up in the 64 Tests since they began in 2018, and the first since the 2019 tournament opener.
“This may not have much significance, but the fact remains that these players have been here before, and they know what it will take to defeat a top-quality team such as England,” said Nienaber.
“Competition for places in the team is very tight and the coaches had a few in depth discussions before finalising the team.
“We have players like Lukhanyo Am, Canan Moodie, Andre Esterhuizen, Jasper Wiese, Jean Kleyn, and the list goes on, who are all good enough to be in this team and would have fitted in and done the job just well as the other players.
“But we can only select 23 and everyone in this group is aligned and understands that the country comes first,” said Nienaber.
Meanwhile, England coach Steve Borthwick has made three changes to the starting XV that beat Fiji in the quarter-finals.
Joe Marler and George Martin come in at loosehead prop and second-row respectively, replacing Ellis Genge and Ollie Chessum, who drop to the bench.
Freddie Steward is recalled at full-back in place of Marcus Smith, who is out of the 23 altogether because of concussion.
How they got there: England have been perfect in the competition so far, winning all their pool games and then surviving a tight match in the quarter-final against Fiji. South Africa suffered one defeat – to Ireland but beat the hosts France by a point in an thrilling quarterfinal.
England coach Steve Borthwick has fired back at the team’s critics who expected a tough time for them to clear the group. Owen Farrell, who scored 20 points after replacing George Ford in the starting line up against Fiji, will be in the spotlight as he tries to lead his team to unlikely win.
South Africa’s superb win over France leaves them on course to defend their 2019 crown in what is a repeat of that final.
What they’re saying
“We don’t mind [being underdogs] that at all. Regardless of who we play, we are going to prepare very diligently this week and we are going to give it absolutely everything as we have been through this entire tournament.
“I think it’s a matter of building as a team and I think we did that really well this week. We knew we had to be in the right place physically coming into this game and it won’t be any different next week. We have got a lot of experience in the team, we have got a lot of players who have been there and done it. We will do everything we can to get the right tempo into the week so we can really hit the ground running at the weekend.” – England’s Courtney Lawes.
“I think many people wrote we wouldn’t get out of the group, maybe some of them are here tonight. The team performed very, very well to top the group and then played well to find a way to win tonight. What we will do is recover from today’s game and then we will build towards our game next Saturday.
“I said the team would be ready for 9 September and they were ready for 9 September. The team has built through the tournament. This team there is a squad full of talented players who perform on the big occasion. What they did was perform on the big occasion.” – England coach Steve Borthwick.
“Massive. I think it’s going to be a nice challenge. In knockouts anything can happen, like tonight I followed the England game when we were on the bus here. Also they (England) had a healthy lead and then Fiji came back and then they also pushed it right to the end. I think knockouts are going to be small margins right to the end.” – Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber on facing England.
“If we think England is bad because people from outside say that they are not doing well… our reality is the truth, not the reality that people create outside our camp.
“We know from the [English] Premiership, a lot of our players play against them and we know [Steve] Borthwick is an excellent coach which he showed at Leicester and as a captain and a player for England.
“It will be a very tough test against a team that hasn’t lost a game and more or less conceded the same amount of tries and racked up the same amount of points.”- SA coaching director Rassie Erasmus
South Africa (1-15): Steven Kitshoff, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (c), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Cobus Reinach, Manie Libbok, Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Damian Willemse.
Replacements: Deon Fourie, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Willie Le Roux
England (1-15): Joe Marler, Jamie George, Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, George Martin, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Alex Mitchell, Owen Farrell (c), Elliot Daly, Manu Tuilagi, Joe Marchant, Jonny May, Freddie Steward
Replacements: Theo Dan, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler, Ollie Chessum, Billy Vunipola, Danny Care, George Ford, Ollie Lawrence
Prediction: South Africa by 15