Day 38 at the Rugby World Cup: England prepare for biggest game since 2007

A mouth-watering weekend of rugby lies ahead with the World Cup semi-finals taking place in Yokohama.

England face defending champions New Zealand on Saturday, before Wales take on South Africa 24 hours later.

Here, the PA news agency looks ahead to the last-four showdowns.

England “ready to go”

Saturday’s clash against the only side higher than them in the world rankings is England’s biggest match since the 2007 final, and while it is some task they have in front of them, there is experience of beating the All Blacks within the team Eddie Jones has selected.

It applies to 10 of the starting XV, either as part of the famous 38-21 victory of 2012, or with the British and Irish Lions in 2017 when they won the second Test in Wellington 24-21.

RUGBYU England
Rugby World Cup George Ford v Richie Mo’unga

Jones has stressed his players will not be fazed by a contest he has described as “the opportunity to change rugby history.”

And he said: “We’ve had two-and-a-half years to prepare for this game (the World Cup draw was in May 2017) so we are ready to go. It’s going to be a great contest. Two heavyweights, one dressed in black, one dressed in white. You couldn’t think of a better scenario.”

New Zealand hunting the hat-trick

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen was in charge for their triumphant 2015 World Cup campaign (David Davies/PA).
New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen was in charge for their triumphant 2015 World Cup campaign (David Davies/PA).

The All Blacks, who defeated England 16-15 at Twickenham in their most recent meeting last November, last lost a World Cup match in the 2007 quarter-finals when they were eliminated by France.

As they look to claim the trophy for a third successive time and fourth time overall, boss Steve Hansen has emphasised that pressure is something New Zealand are accustomed to.

RUGBYU Wales
Rugby World Cup Dan Biggar v Handre Pollard

“I’ve talked about pressure ever since I have been an All Blacks coach. We are under pressure all the time,” he said.

“I think early in our history, we ran away from it, so it (pressure) was chasing us down the street. These days, we’ve had to acknowledge it is there. We are expected to win every game.”

Wales look to break new ground

Wales, ranked third in the world, are aiming for a first World Cup final and their recent record against South Africa certainly looks encouraging – five wins from the last six encounters, including four in a row.

They will be without full-back Liam Williams due to an ankle injury that has ended his tournament, but centre Jonathan Davies is fit after missing the quarter-final against France with a knee problem.

Head coach Warren Gatland, who also led Wales to the semi-finals in 2011 and is stepping down after this tournament, said: “If we can make the World Cup final with the playing numbers we have got, it would be one hell of an achievement.

“You have got a chance to do something special in your life, and these chances come along very rarely and you have got to grab them with both hands. When you want something bad enough and you really, really want it, then it can happen.”

Kolbe missing for Springboks

South Africa's Cheslin Kolbe (left) will miss the clash with Wales because of an ankle injury (Adam Davy/PA).
South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe (left) will miss the clash with Wales because of an ankle injury (Adam Davy/PA).

South Africa will be without a star player themselves as they attempt to secure a return to the World Cup final, 12 years on from winning the Webb Ellis trophy for a second time.

Wing Cheslin Kolbe, who has scored seven tries across 13 Tests, has has been ruled out by an ankle issue of his own.

The Springboks are currently fourth in the world, and boss Rassie Erasmus said: “I think we have been under pressure for the past couple of years to redeem ourselves. We’ve been number five, six, seven in the world over the last three years since 2015, and we’ve got some proper hidings against almost all the teams. Some people lost a lot of faith in us at some stages.

“We were just trying to get some respect back at the beginning, so that people could start believing in us as a team. Now, we are at that stage where we want to become number one in the world again.”

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The 2007 edition was the only World Cup in the nine there have been that did not have New Zealand appearing in the semi-finals.

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