Australia and New Zealand are preparing for the delicious World Cup semi-final match
Arguably the most mouth-watering semi-final in Rugby World Cup history, the Australia and New Zealand coaches believe they have the quality to secure their place in next weekend’s final with a win at Island Road on Friday night.
The two teams that have won their last nine World Cups do battle in Leeds, with a place in the final against England or Samoa, who meet on Saturday, on display for the winner. It’s rare for the sport’s two heaviest sides to meet in a semi-final, but because Australia has fallen to fourth in the official world rankings – largely due to its unwillingness to play international rugby league since the 2017 World Cup – only one of the kangaroos or kiwis will make it to Final.
Only three of Australia’s new-look side have played in a World Cup semi-final before. This, along with a muddled second-half performance against Lebanon last Friday, made some wonder if there was a rare gap of weakness for the kiwi-winning world champions to exploit. But Australia coach Mal Minenga insists his side are ready for what is arguably their first real test, having reached the semi-finals so far.
“It’s a big game for Australia because it’s the World Cup,” Mininga said. “We haven’t been in this situation for a long time. It’s a special game, so there’s a natural development in intensity and you want to prepare for that. Everyone is very aware of the enormity of the challenge ahead. It’s a big match for this team.”
Australia has missed only one final in the history of the World Cup. In the inaugural edition of the tournament in 1954. Meanwhile, New Zealand survived a massive scare against Fiji in the quarter-finals last weekend to reach the quarter-finals, but Mininga believes this makes the Kiwi a tougher threat than some might expect.
“That probably put their motivation back in place throughout the championship,” he said. “Without disrespect, it’s been a fairly easy journey for most of the top teams. It made them realize they need to step back and prepare for that. They won’t need any motivation to go well. It’s going to be a great game. But that’s the first step. We want to play well. Good tomorrow night and win. Then we want to go on and win the World Cup.”
New Zealand coach Michael Maguire has echoed Mininga’s confidence in his group of players, as the New Zealanders look to shock and end Australia’s World Cup dominance. “We have a really strong squad and a lot of players have played in real big matches,” he said. “We knew at some point that this match had to happen to get to the final. We are looking forward to that.”
Friday’s half winners will face England or Samoa in the final at Old Trafford next Saturday. The hosts made just one change to the team that crushed Papua New Guinea with Canterbury’s Luke Thompson replacing Matte Lee on the England bench for Saturday’s semi-final match at the Emirates Stadium.
Samoa successfully overturned the one-game ban for captain Junior Paulo, at a hearing earlier this week to free him to play in the match. Minor changes are expected for their squad as they look to avenge a 60-6 defeat in their opening game at St James’ Park a month ago, denying the hosts a place in the final for the first time at home since 1995.
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