New Zealand vs. South Africa:
Saturday, Twickenham Stadium @2:30pm ET on NBCSports
Speculation that France would use their historic Je ne sais quoi to threaten New Zealand All Black supremacy in the World Cup Quarterfinals was put to rest early on in the match. The befuddled French were in disarray on and off the field, as a mutiny against Head Coach Phillipe St.-Andre days before the match manifested in a forgettable night in Cardiff. The black clad warriors absolutely dismantled Les Bleus, atoning for the disaster of ’07 when they were vanquished by France on the exact same stage. It was a scary display of skill and aggression that put their South African opponents on notice.
Speaking of South Africa, they were taken to the brink by Wales last week, and needed to manufacture a miracle in the closing minutes to keep their Championship hopes alive. That moment came from a deft, no-look, behind the back pass by #8 Duane Vermuelen to halfback Fourie DuPreez, when the world, and most importantly the Welsh defense, thought that the behemoth would opt to go bulldozer instead of playmaker.
The match-up this weekend features a Springbok team whose earlier wounds from the World Cup have become hardened callouses. While plaudits continue to be bestowed upon other team’s openside flankers, ‘Bok #7 Schalk Burger is quietly putting up the event’s best numbers. This is the last time that he will ever go head-to-head against the iron man All Black flanker, Richie McCaw, which alone is worth the price of admission.
The most compelling battle will be between the elder statesman Kiwi flyhalf Dan Carter, and the South African upstart Handre Pollard. Carter, 33, broke out the Wizard’s stick on Saturday night against the French proving that age is only a number. Pollard should hope so. At 21, he is only recently old enough to buy the legend a beer. Yet, despite his proximity to puberty, the South African wunderkind has the hopes of a proud rugby nation resting on his shoulders, and the skills to fulfill them.
After the forwards from each team attempt to grind each other to a pulp, they’ll have to figure out a way to get the ball to the corners. The All Blacks are more likely to use their handling skills to go wide, while the Springboks have a knack for finding their wings with well-placed chip kicks.
A fast, open game favors the skills of New Zealand. If it’s a tight, plodding affair, South Africa has the edge. This could be a battle for the ages.