Rugby World Cup
Greg Growden ranks Rugby World Cup semifinalists, All Blacks looking good
Greg Growden
October 19, 2015
Can Argentina pull off the unthinkable?

The north is in a state of shock that they have no one left in the Rugby World Cup, but we at ESPN warned you that a Rugby Championship finale would happen, including that Argentina were a genuine tournament threat. So stick with us. Onto the semifinals, and the pecking order has again changed.

Julian Savea is a try-scoring behemoth at the end of a slick All Blacks backline © Getty Images
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McCaw: We were rewarded for our fast start
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1. New Zealand

Steve Hansen is again looking relaxed in the All Blacks coach's box, and so he should be because, as expected, New Zealand are getting it together at exactly the right time of the tournament. You don't have to play like superstars during the pool stage, just ensure that you don't lose too many of your key performers - which the All Blacks achieved. Quarterfinal time is the moment to pick up the pace, and the All Blacks certainly did that against France, decimating Les Bleus with easily the best performance of this World Cup. This was New Zealand at their most unforgiving, basically taking France out of the game by being so effective in every area of the field. They have an extraordinary finisher in Julian Savea; the most composed of midfielders in Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith; the game's best full-back and scrum-half in Ben and Aaron Smith; and their pack, overflowing with World XV candidates, revolves around those long accustomed to domination. Brodie Retallick, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw and Keiran Read are in a special class. As French No 10 Frederic Michalak explained: "There's a world between our two teams, it's really striking." Still the key is that their playmaker Daniel Carter is again on top of his game. He is the main reason why New Zealand remain the firmest of World Cup favourites.

Argentina have developing an attacking game plan © AFP/Getty Images
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Superb Argentina stun Ireland
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2. Argentina

Gone are the days when Argentina were basically an awesome scrum and a No.10 who kicked everything into the terraces. They are getting close to the complete team, showing against Ireland that their attack can be as dangerous and as creative as any other in world rugby. Argentina were forced to change their approach with their introduction to the Rugby Championship in 2012, and they are now enjoying the benefits. Consistently hard matches against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa have transformed them into a far more resourceful outfit, while clearly they have plenty of eager advisers as their coach's box is as crowded as a London Underground train carriage. Scrummaging has for so long been the core of their game, but now as crucial is their pursuit of the speed and accuracy with which they took Ireland out of the equation through four well-executed tries finished off by their backs during Sunday's quarterfinal in Cardiff. No one can dispute the power of their forward base, but it is now their backline which is providing the threat. Also their No.10, Nicolas Sanchez, has the required poise and kicking accuracy to cause problems in the final weeks of this tournament.

Australia were very good in parts against Scotland © Getty Images
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Australia did everything they could to lose
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3. Australia

The Wallabies played the beautiful game to defeat England, showed off their brutal side against Wales, and then were so brittle against Scotland in a quarterfinal they would have lost but for dubious refereeing decisions by Craig Joubert that went in their favour. Australia were the flavour of the month, the World Cup favourites of some, until their performance against Scotland, where their old habits of losing their way and making big errors under pressure reappeared. After two excellent performances, Bernard Foley suddenly looked uncertain while their set-piece play again appeared a bit wonky. The Australian pack have been the big improvers of this World Cup, but question marks were again raised after loose-head prop Scott Sio was repeatedly penalised by Joubert for scrum collapses. Still the most obvious lesson from the Scotland match was that David Pocock must be in the starting line-up if Australia are to go any further in this tournament. Pocock was the standout back-rower in the World Cup until being hampered by a calf muscle strain, being so effective in winning possession for the Wallabies at the tackle area. His poise has also been crucial in ensuring that Australia remained relaxed and focused whenever matches became excruciatingly tight. Without him against Scotland, the effectiveness of Australia's breakdown work dropped considerably. Momentum was lost. Australia are definitely not a lost cause, as there were again numerous excellent periods of play against Scotland, but so much revolves around Pocock being available to play against the Pumas; Australia look so much better when he is there.

South Africa must involve Bryan Habana more often, Greg Growden believes © Getty Images
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Can Habana upstage unstoppable Savea?
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4. South Africa

The Springboks are the Inspector Plods of the tournament, relying on outright tenacity and old-fashioned bash-and-barge football to keep them alive. They have yet to fully utilise some of their best resources, in particular the finishing qualities of their two excellent wingers Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen. After losing to Japan in the opening pool match, it's no surprise that South Africans have been so desperate, relying on what they know best - their traditional forward-based game to overhaul opponents, in particular Wales. It can be pretty uninspiring to watch at times, but there is the threat of so much better if they remember to properly use their attack as their backline is far from hopeless. South Africa's most important asset is their captain and No.9 Fourie Du Preez, who showed against Wales that there are few better in seizing the rare opportunity. Wales had stoically held South Africa out until the 76th minute. Then came the fateful scrum when Du Preez succeeded in bluffing Wales into believing he would go one way, only to double back, go the blind and score in the corner after receiving a great flick pass from his No.8, Duane Vermeulen. That was enough for South Africa to continue for another week, but much more will be required if they want just to get close to the All Blacks. That includes actually giving Habana and Pietersen the ball.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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