Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the Rugby World Cup
semi-final meeting between South Africa
and New Zealand
Five weeks after the competition first got underway at this very venue, we are now down to the final four teams. All four sides have already proved their worth throughout the pool stage and also in last week's intriguing set of quarter-final ties, but we are now finally down to the real business.
This is a repeat of the 1995 final, of course, a game remembered fondly for the tension created through the tight affair. South Africa came out on top on that occasion, and they do in fact hold a decent record against New Zealand on the world stage (more on that a little later).
Before getting the lowdown on both of these sides, as well as taking a brief look ahead to tomorrow's second semi-final - what a thriller that should be! - let's check out some confirmed team news from Twickenham.
SOUTH AFRICA XV: Willie le Roux; JP Pietersen, Jesse Kriel, Damian De Allende, Bryan Habana; Handre Pollard, Fourie du Preez; Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, Francois Louw; Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira
NEW ZEALAND XV: Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read; Aaron Smith, Dan Carter, Julian Savea, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ben Smith
New Zealand forced into making one change, then, as Joe Moody comes in for the injured Wyatt Crockett in the front row. Ritchie McCaw returned for the quarter-final thrashing of France seven days ago, and he will today make his 21st appearance in this showpiece competition - just one behind record holder Jason Leonard.
Julian Savea has also proved to be key for the Kiwis throughout this year's tournament, crossing over for eight scores so far. That's enough to equal the past records set by Bryan Habana and Jonah Lomu, so he will be looking to add one more to his collection this afternoon to become the outright leading try-scorer at a single World Cup.
South Africa head coach Heyneke Meyer
has opted to stick with a winning formula, meanwhile, by naming an unchanged side for this mammoth final-four affair. Lood de Jager and hooker Bismarck du Plessis wer both doubtful, but they are now fit enough to make the cut. It is the first time since the 2007 World Cup that the Springboks have not made an alteration to their side.
Bryan Habana, who is the only player to have featured in all 400 minutes of the competition to date, needs just one more try to become the outright-second leading scorer at the World Cup. David Campese's tally is now firmly in sight, and it may very well be overtaken in these next couple of hours.
SOUTH AFRICA REPLACEMENTS: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Jannie du Plessis, Victor Matfield, Willem Alberts, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein
NEW ZEALAND REPLACEMENTS: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams
Will this be a game decided by the selection of the two managers? Probably. Plenty of options for Heyneke and Hansen to choose from as this one progresses, with memories of that tight penalty-dominated final 20 years ago still firmly in the memories of both sets of supporters.
Julian Savea currently leads the way for tries scored in this year's competition, with eight in all so far - level with the previous highest tally at a World Cup
© Getty Images
DID YOU KNOW? From their 18 Rugby World Cup opponents, New Zealand have a losing record against just two nations - Australia and South Africa. They will have to set that right if they are to retain the trophy they lifted four years ago on home soil, with the Springboks first up this afternoon.
New Zealand's near-perfect record over these past four years has been well documented. Defeats to England (2010), South Africa (2014) and Australia (August of this year) are all that stand between themselves and a status as true Invincibles. It is little wonder, then, that opposition coach Meyer described this current group as the finest side ever.
Worryingly, no side has ever retained the Webb Ellis Cup, while the Kiwis will also have to do something they have not done before in lifting the famous trophy away from home soil. All that counts for very little when you consider their recent record in this competition, though, which now reads played 12, won 12.
That run equals the record set by Australia in 1999, meaning a win today will take them into uncharted territory. Winning their next two games, thus retaining the cup, and we can really begin discussions over the greatest ever sides to grace the world stage.
There is still so much for the Kiwis to do before they can get their hands on the cup, though, not least overcoming a tough nut in South Africa. If you have been following Sports Mole's coverage of this year's competition, you will know that we have had every game covered in full. Callum Mulvihill pulled the proverbial ball out of the hat for this one, so he is situated inside Twickenham for us this afternoon.
Let's check in with Callum now for his thoughts prior to kickoff:
"The atmosphere has been building at Twickenham for the last couple of hours. Could we be in for another World Cup classic? It is difficult to describe just how good New Zealand are, but 47 wins in their last 52 games tells a simple story. South Africa are underdogs, but we've seen them step up their game before. It's a day for the likes of Bryan Habana and Julian Savea to take centre stage."
This is also a record seventh semi-final for New Zealand, but their success is pretty mixed to say the least. Three of those have ended in victory, while three have ended in defeat. In terms of this year's showing to date, their tally of 34 tries simply blows all opposing teams out of the water - a truly incredible figure, albeit against far weaker sides in the pool phase.
France are certainly no pushovers, though - at least they should not have been - with New Zealand producing one of this competition's finest ever displays. I was lucky enough to witness that performance up close in Cardiff seven days ago, but surely it will be a tighter run contest today?
A World Cup semi-final at Rugby HQ - an occasion that tournament hosts England would have been dreaming about, but it just was not to be
PREVIOUS MEETINGS! I have already touched on South Africa's promising record against New Zealand at the World Cup, but what about overall meetings? Well, the Springboks have claimed 34 wins to their southern hemisphere opponents' 52. Three of those games have ended in stalemate, meanwhile, so it is the Kiwis who edge things.
Their last meeting at this tournament came in in 2003 quarter-finals, when New Zealand came out on top 29-9. That remains South Africa's heaviest ever defeat at a World Cup - something they will no doubt be looking to rectify when this one gets underway in 15 minutes' time.
For South Africa, this is their fourth appearance at a semi-final. They are bidding to make history, having been constantly reminded of the fact that no team has ever lost their opening fixture and gone all the way. In case you have been living on Mars for the past month, the Springboks lost to Japan - yes, Japan - in their opening game.
Time to check in on Callum Mulvihill once more ahead of kickoff:
"The argument by some is that New Zealand have not been tested enough, but the way they destroyed France last weekend shows just how devastating the All Blacks can be. Arguably, they should be the fresher of the two teams. When the first whistle is blown, their respective paths to this stage will not matter. South Africa started their campaign with a loss to Japan - a result which will never be forgotten - but they have grown in confidence once again."
South Africa have won 28 of their 33 Rugby World Cup games at a rate of 84.8& - a record only bettered by New Zealand. It goes to show just why this first semi-final should - should! - be a tightly-contested match which hopefully provides plenty of excitement for the neutral.
Okay, that's enough of my pre-match rambling for the time being. Let's now check out the thoughts from both camps as we count down to kickoff.
Heyneke Meyer: "Just look at [New Zealand's] record in the last four years. Usually after the World Cup there's a decline in performance but they just got better, which just doesn't happen in world rugby."
Steve Hansen: "He's just about killed us with compliments. He's a cunning wee devil is Heyneke. He has been praising us all week and, whilst I know he means some of it, I know they are getting ready to rip our heads off."
It is anthems time at Twickenham, before New Zealand provide us with another rendition of the famous Haka. A truly special sight, which always seems to contain even more passion in these latter stages of the World Cup.
Will Julian Savea prove to be the key for New Zealand once again this afternoon?
The Haka is well observed, meaning that we are now just moments away from kickoff. What a brilliant match this should be, between two of this famous competition's most successful sides.
KICKOFF! We are officially underway at a somewhat damp Twickenham in the first of this weekend's semi-final matches.
Mistakes have been hard to find in this New Zealand side, but Carter's clearance goes into touch inside the opening couple of minutes. An offside from the maul has now gifted South Africa an early penalty, too.
PENALTY! SOUTH AFRICA 3-0 NEW ZEALAND (POLLARD)
From the resulting penalty, 25 metres out, Pollard successfully finds the target to open the semi-final points scoring.
A good promising start for the Springboks, with Carter struggling to find his game early on. A case of making the most of this positive early start, because the All Blacks will only improve.
CONVERTED TRY! SOUTH AFRICA 3-7 NEW ZEALAND (KAINO)
New Zealand recycle the ball well, with McCaw able to pop the ball out to the right where Jerome Kaino was making good ground. The flanker was able to comfortably push aside the South Africa challenge to touch down for the first score. Carter, at the second time of asking, adds the extras.
I said New Zealand would grow following a shaky opening couple of minutes, and they sure done just that by scoring seven minutes in. A decent start to this semi-final in terms of points scoring, with South Africa now in a position to add three more of their own.
PENALTY! SOUTH AFRICA 6-7 NEW ZEALAND (POLLARD)
Another offside gifts Pollard the chance to pull South Africa within a point of their opponents, which he duly takes from 30 metres out.
That kick takes Pollard up to the 70-point mark, incidentally, and if these early stages are anything to go by then he could bag himself a few more. New Zealand cannot afford to give away penalties at this rate, or else they will need to match the nine-try haul from last week!
Callum Mulvihill is at Twickenham for us this afternoon, so let's get his thoughts on these opening 15 minutes:
"It's been a pretty good start from South Africa, who have moved the ball well at times but there was a sense of inevitability before New Zealand scored the try. The All Blacks are clinical and they capitalised on every inch of space during that move."
New Zealand dominating the ball over these past couple of minutes, looking to make ground but inevitably coming up against a resilient Springboks defence. The Kiwis look to go right after seeing Carter's grubber fail, yet there is no way through at the moment.
The New Zealand pressure ends, with South Africa all of a sudden on the charge. A real scare for the reigning champs, as another penalty is conceded within kicking distance. That is five now inside the opening 19 minutes, which is likely to put the Springboks ahead.
PENALTY! SOUTH AFRICA 9-7 NEW ZEALAND (POLLARD)
Pollard makes no mistake from the kick and puts South Africa back in front by punishing New Zealand's growing penalty count.
Six penalties now conceded by the Kiwis with just 22 minutes played. South Africa's tactics are clear to see already - go aerial in order to build attacks, which is just about working at the moment. New Zealand will just remain calm and aim to get themselves a second score.
The Haka has failed to spur on New Zealand so far, as they trail heading into the final 15 minutes of the first half
Yet again New Zealand concede a penalty at the breakdown just when gaining some yards. Pollard's clearance was poor which allowed the Kiwis to build, but they are not hitting top gear right now to punish any errors.
We go through the phases but unfortunately for New Zealand the tempo and efficiency we saw last week is not quite there. Still short of the half-hour mark, yet there is plenty of reason for South Africa to be happy at the moment.
A grubber kick bounces into touch, summing up the lack of ideas from New Zealand - not something I thought I would be saying today! Louw is off the pitch for the time being due to blood streaming down his face, with Willem Alberts on in his place.
For a moment the Kiwis looked to be in after Nonu found a gap and ran straight for it. Burger was across superbly, though, to see play pulled back for an earlier offside infringement. Carter steps up for the penalty, but he could only strike the post from the right touchline.
Big call from the referee. Just when the pressure was really started to build on them, Pietersen intercepted a pass and burst through for glory. The whistle was blown, though, due to an offside at the maul.
The penalty is reversed due to a neck roll by Moody - something World Rugby are particularly looking to cut down on. A fourth turnover of the half relieves some more pressure building on South Africa, who are looking good value to keep their advantage intact over these next four minutes.
New Zealand really knocking on the door at the moment, with mistakes creeping into their opponents' game. Massive couple of minutes ahead - remain in front and the Springboks will have a huge psychological advantage at the break.
Big moment in this game, as Kaino cynically gives away a penalty to see a yellow card. It was really sloppy from the try scorer, who flopped into the ruck from the wrong side. So many mistakes from the holders.
PENALTY! SOUTH AFRICA 12-7 NEW ZEALAND (POLLARD)
From the penalty, Pollard boots over from what is essentially the last action of the half.
HALF TIME: SOUTH AFRICA 12-7 NEW ZEALAND
So New Zealand trail South Africa at the break, in a very sloppy half of rugby from the world champions. We witnessed far too many errors from them, which simply gifted the Springboks this five-point advantage at half time.
The only score of the opening 40 minutes came fairly early on, with Jerome Kaino crossing over to set off what appeared to be the inevitable Kiwis onslaught. Nine times they crossed over against France last week, remember, but they have showed very little attacking threat today.
You can check out Callum Mulvihill's half-time report from Twickenham right here, but before doing so let's get some more of his own thoughts:
"New Zealand gave away nine penalties in the opening 40 minutes. Even the best side in the world will be punished for making that many mistakes. South Africa deserve credit for the way their defensive line has battled throughout the first half. Steve Hansen needs a reaction from the All Blacks, and you certainly wouldn't bet against him getting one."
Besides that Kaino try, New Zealand failed to register any points due to their slack play. In truth, when building pressure they did look dangerous at times, particularly when Nonu found gaps. Carter could have made it a different story had he found the target, too, but his penalty crashed back off the post.
South Africa have steadily built up their tally thanks to the kicking of Pollard, who has yet to miss the target this afternoon. The defensive efforts also deserve mention, but there is still such a long way to go.
New Zealand have only been behind twice at half time in six previous semi-finals, where they went on to lose both. South Africa, on the other hand, have won to of their last three semis after going ahead.
© Getty Images
RESTART! Steve Hansen
no doubt had a few stern words for his players at the break, so let's see if it can inspire a response.
South Africa still have a man advantage, making these next seven minutes or so particularly interesting. New Zealand come out second best at the scrum which is a rarity in itself.
DROP GOAL! SOUTH AFRICA 12-10 NEW ZEALAND (CARTER)
Very wet in this famous venue now, with much of the half so far being played in South Africa's 22. I was about to say it is looking very sloppy, then Carter pulls a 35-metre drop goal out of the top drawer to make that deficit just two points now.
New Zealand still a man down, but South Africa have barely been out of their own half this half. The Kiwis are not going to give up their title without a real fight, and they are now just a penalty away from taking the lead.
Following a period of some average kicking between the sides, New Zealand opt to make some changes. Milner-Skudder is replaced by Barrett, while Kaino is also back onto the field.
CONVERTED TRY! SOUTH AFRICA 12-17 NEW ZEALAND (BARRETT)
It has been all New Zealand since the restart, with South Africa struggling to deal with the onslaught. Carter initially took the ball from Burger, before some good work from Nonu drew in a couple of men for Barrett to cross over on the left. There is worse to come for the Springboks, as Habana is sin-binned for a cynical tackle in the build-up and Carter adds the extras.
So from five points down to five points up in the space of about 10 second-half minutes. That really is the sign of true champions. Add into the mix that they are now a man to the good, and we may just see a bit more flair from the Kiwis.
More from Callum Mulvihill now following the seismic shift in this match:
"It's hard not to feel that it was a decisive moment in the game. New Zealand showed patience with the ball to go through the phases, before setting up the try superbly well on the left wing. Habana has been fairly quiet, but his visit to the sin-bin has certainly silenced the majority of the South Africans in the stands."
PENALTY! SOUTH AFRICA 15-17 NEW ZEALAND (POLLARD)
A second scrum penalty against New Zealand sees Pollard slot over another penalty. They may not look like they have a score in them as such, but the Springboks are doing enough to keep up with their opponents.
PENALTY! SOUTH AFRICA 15-20 NEW ZEALAND (CARTER)
Incredibly frustrating from South Africa, as they concede a penalty two minutes after making it a two-point game. Etzebeth was at fault, with his ill-discipline under little pressure allowing Carter to this time find the target.
A good drive from South Africa has New Zealand perhaps a little wary of conceding yet another penalty. They have to shore up in that department because the Springboks are not showing any signs that they will break through to the try line.
Incidentally, Dan Carter
now has 172 career points at the World Cup, which takes him beyond the previous Kiwis record held by Grant Fox.
South Africa thought they had a penalty - and essentially three more points - through Conrad Smith's error. The initial decision was overturned due to another neck role - this time by Matfield.
Beauden Barrett celebrates putting New Zealand into the lead, having seen his side trail at half time
© Getty Images
, the man who kicked the winning penalty the last time South Africa beat the All Blacks, replaces injured fly-half Pollard. Twelve minutes left to go and the Springboks have themselves another penalty within kicking distance.
PENALTY! SOUTH AFRICA 18-20 NEW ZEALAND (LAMBIE)
The replacement slots over the pen just moments after coming on, showing true nerves of steel to make this a two-point game once more. Read at fault for coming into the maul from the wrong side.
An excellent kick by Lambie provides an almighty chase down the right flank. Pietersen cannot get to it before Carter, though, who simply kicks into touch. Big lineout to come, which may have a huge say in who wins this one.
South Africa claim the ball from the lineout, but the ball comes loose and New Zealand are able to clear without their opponents asking any questions of the defence. Seven minutes to go and this one is far too tight to call.
Lambie comes in for a double hit, with the ball running loose. South Africa enjoying pretty much their best spell of the game, but there is not quite enough pressure on New Zealand at the moment.
New Zealand have lost just one match since 2003 when their opponent has not scored a try. That came against, of all sides, South Africa. Possession in the Springboks' half at the moment, which will suit the All Blacks just fine.
Some impressive game management from the Kiwis, who are simply keeping hold of the ball. One mistake, one penalty conceded - tournament over. Just need to keep the ball in their opponents' half for the next three minutes.
New Zealand break away from the scrum, with Carter eyeing up what would surely be a match-winning drop goal. He decides against it, and instead the ball remains on the 22 metre line.
Only one side look likely to add further points to the board at the moment - New Zealand. Sonny Bill Williams had the whitewash in sight, but he could not quite keep hold of the wet ball when through.
South Africa win the ball back at long last, but they are 100 metres from their opponents' try line and need a miracle now. We are into the red at Twickenham.
FULL TIME: SOUTH AFRICA 18-20 NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand have done it! They will be returning to Twickenham in seven days' time to face either Argentina or Australia in the showpiece final. That was a display of true champions - not in terms of a world-class showing as witnessed last week, but more because of the incredible character on display.
Five points down at the break; five points to the good 12 minutes into the second half. Even when the pressure was on them at the end, when far from their best, the All Blacks did what they do best and simply managed the game to perfection to book a spot in next week's final.
It is the greatest rivalry in rugby, and it has provided us with another real nail-biting contest this afternoon. South Africa deserve praise for their showing at this year's competition, but New Zealand are within 80 minutes of becoming the first side ever to retain the Webb Ellis Cup.
That concludes Sports Mole's live text coverage from the weekend's first semi-final, but be sure to join us again tomorrow for what should be another thriller between Australia and Argentina.