Saturday morning hosts the first of the semi-finals and the meeting of England and New Zealand. A game ‘fit for the final’ if you are to believe everything you read.
England coach Eddie Jones has made one change to the XV that started the quarter-final against Australia. Henry Slade drops to the bench with George Ford starting at 10. Manu Tuilagi moves to 13 and Owen Farrell starts at 12. The only other change is on the bench, with Mark Wilson replacing Lewis Ludlam.
The reintroduction of Ford is going to be key to England’s chances. Ireland showed that if you can take New Zealand through multiple phases, gaps will appear outside their third and fourth defender in general play.
England’s decision to go with two 10s, means they are looking to keep the ball up-front for as long as they can, hoping to work the space for Farrell or Ford to pull the strings and get the ‘Red Roses’ over the gain line and more importantly, over the try line.
New Zealand have also made just one change to the starting XV that beat Ireland 46-14 in last Saturday’s quarter-final. Scott Barrett replaces Sam Cane in the back-row with Ardie Savea moving to openside flanker to accommodate Barrett at six. Again this one change could prove crucial as New Zealand bring in a second row to play back row, in the hope they can slow down or negate the influence of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry.
You would need to be brave – or stupid – to back against New Zealand this Saturday. Having beaten Ireland like they stole something, the All-Blacks are going to have their mental and physical limits really tested in this one. The handicap is England +7 and it is one that should not be ignored for this game. The English just have too much power, pace and finishers to be ignored completely in this one. England +7 is evens and worth a punt at the very least.
This market is always one to get the blood flowing. Both these teams have try-scoring threats from 1-15 and it really is anyone’s guess who will cross that try line for an all-important five-pointer.
However, I have an inkling that New Zealand are going to keep this one tighter than normal. Their set-piece is very sturdy and it will be a platform for them to work off with Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett kicking them into the right areas.
Taking a look at last weekend against Ireland, Aaron Smith was their main threat following some dynamic carries from his forward pack. Smith is 10/3 to score a try in 80minutes, but if you are looking for something a little longer, take a look at Kieran Read at 5/1.
The Crusader number eight is coming back into form in a big way. Coach Hansen singled his captain out for praise following that Ireland win and he will once more be the front option on a lot of those All-Black carries in the opposition 22. There isn’t a smarter rugby player on the planet. Read knows where the line is more than most.
Pick: Kieran Read to score a try in 80 mins 5/1
Both these sides are locked and loaded to do the basics right. You don’t get to a semi-final of the World Cup without having all your ducks in a row when it comes to the simple stuff.
However, both are arguably the best in the world at playing ‘heads up rugby’ too. Eddie Jones has made England more than just power, while the All-Blacks are the standard-bearers for playing what is in front of them.
With players such as Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett and TJ Perenara to come off the bench in All-Black, alongside England’s ‘finishers’ like Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph, this game is going to start at one million miles per hour and will not stop until the clock is red.
It may not be a ‘shoot-out’ for the ages, but at a price of 5/4 for 4.5 tries or more, I am taking that all day long. It’s going to be an epic battle, but these two 15s can make you pay when you slip up too. There should be drama and plenty of tries. Well, we hope anyway.
*All odds correct at time of posting