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Like a Snappy Underdog? Then, back the Roses and the Pumas

We are down to the final four.

The Rugby World Cup has chewed up and spat out 16 teams from the original 20 in France and now we are left with this weekend’s semi-finals.

On Friday night, it’s Argentina v New Zealand.

Saturday will see England against South Africa.

If you’re guided by form as well as pedigree – which most sound bookmakers are – then it’s hard to look beyond a New Zealand-South Africa final.

DragonBet make the All Blacks 1/12 to beat the Pumas – who you can back at an attractive 8/1 – and although the odds are not quite as stark in the other semi-final, the Springboks are clear favourites.

You can back the Boks at 2/11 and get a tasty-looking 4/1 on Steve Borthwick’s rose-wearers.

Rose-tinted spectacles if you back England? Maybe.

After all, the big, beasty Bokke are the current world champions and they beat England in the final four years ago.

That day it was a case of duffing up England through the mighty South African forwards and letting the likes of Cheslin Kolbe race away with the ball to the try line.

That was pretty much what happened in South Africa’s epic victory over France in the quarter-final and if anything the Springbok forwards look better than four years ago, while the backline threat now goes much wider than just Kolbe.

If England can keep Kolbe out – when he’s not busy charging down kicks as he did against the French – they still have to deal with the threat of Damian Willemse, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Damian de Allende.

True enough, they only managed to beat France by a single point, 29-28, but the fact they withstood everything the French could throw at them, plus a fervent home crowd, suggests they should have enough to overcome England.

The chariot-swingers just about squeezed past Fiji in their quarter-final, 30-24, a victory that looks more convincing on the scoreline than it did out on the pitch where the South Sea Islanders got back on level terms at 24-24.

Owen Farrell then took matters into his own hands – and feet – but it’s hard to see England putting the squeeze on the Springboks up front in the last 10 minutes as they did against the Fijians.

Ben Earl has emerged as a real find for England in their back row at this tournament, but he’s unlikely to find the same space on Saturday in Paris as he found in Marseille last Sunday.

Joel Stransky knows what it takes to win a World Cup. The former Springboks fly-half kicked his country to glory back in 1995 and in true, blunt-speaking South African style, he doesn’t give England an earthly.

“England have made themselves quite a good competition side, they do the basics well but I don’t see any area of the game in which they are really strong,” Stransky said.

“I don’t see one element where they can dominate, they are a decent team but no more than that. They looked after the ball better against Fiji, but no part of their game sets them aside from other teams.

“They don’t excel in any areas. They could easily have lost against Fiji again, but just about did enough. They can do the basics, but lack the excellence required to beat a stronger side, such as South Africa.”

Before that game, Friday night’s semi-final looks an even harder task in making a case for the underdogs.

And yet, there’s something about Argentina’s recovery from losing their opening pool match to England that demands attention.

Maybe it’s the fact that their footballing countrymen did the same thing in their World Cup journey a year ago – going down even more shockingly to Saudi Arabia in their opener before marching on to lift the trophy.

Okay, so the Pumas don’t have a Lionel Messi and their record against New Zealand is pretty awful. In 36 Tests between the countries, Argentina have won just twice.

The crumb of comfort will be that the second of those victories happened just over a year ago in Christchurch, when the All Blacks were rocked, 25-18.

And the first time was only two years before that – a 25-15 win in Sydney.

The Pumas also have an Aussie in charge, in Miichael Cheika, who is convinced a victory over Wales should most certainly not be the limit of their ambition.

Since losing that opening match to England, Argentina have got better and better, says Cheika.

“There were a lot of first-time World Cuppers in there and they learned a lot from that game in terms of handling knockout footy – because every game since has been knockout footy,” Cheika said.

“One thing the team has always got is lots of fight. Even in that game against England we showed a lot of fight. Now we are in the top four, and anything can happen.”

True enough.

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