Not phased: How Rugby World Cup teams switched play ahead of the semi-finals

Note: Yes, we know it’s fazed. It’s a play on words. don’t write in.

The effects of Typhoon Hagibis did not only impact the people of Japan but it also had an impact on a couple of results within the Rugby World Cup. New Zealand came into this World up having lost a game on the biggest stage in 2007.

Both England and New Zealand were affected as they drew their final games. That leaves Wales as the only team to have won all their matches. A controversial 73rd minute try by Ross Moriarty kept the hopes of a first World Cup for Wales alive.?

We’ve already touched on how teams opt for kicking in knock-outs far more frequently as sides opt for a more conservative approach.

But here’s a look at the change in playing styles from the teams that will face each other in the semi-final this weekend, starting with the big match between England and New Zealand.


When looking at the statistics it was interesting to see that all four sides were willing to let go of possession as all sides had 50% or less possession South Africa being the only side with 50%. Defence was also a priority for the quarterfinals as all four sides had less than average metres carried.?



England will go into this game looking to replicate their defensive performance this weekend. Of the four sides left in the tournament, the Red Roses made 193 tackles, 41 more than South Africa (the second-highest tackling team left). This was at a tackle success rate of more than 90%.

For a side that beat the Wallabies 40 – 16 it comes as a surprise that they only had 38% territory and 36% possession. It has taken England opposition one or 4 – 6 phases to score against Eddie Jones? side.?


With Maro Itoje topping the breakdown statistics with the highest turnovers (seven) in the tournament this far, they will look to use the towering lock and the kamikaze kids well to attack the All Black ruck. This will come in handy in slowing down some of Aaron Smith’s quick ball.

New Zealand

The world’s number one side put on a display of a world-class performance last weekend and proved that they can pull the victory anyway.

Between the four sides left, the All Blacks carried the most (488 metres), had the most territory (56%) and also won the most rucks (100). This shows their change in focus going into the playoffs as this is contrary to their performance against South Africa in the opening game, where they only had 41% of the territory. While they won that game quite comfortably in the end, they would have realised the importance of playing their rugby on the right side of the field.

As a result, this was the only game that they had territory less than 50%.

The All Blacks head into this weekend’s semi-final having only conceded one try from first phase ball and a further two in seven or more phases. They also are also the most patient side when it comes to putting together phases, as they have scored 8 tries from seven or more phases.

What we can expect from the All Blacks is continuity from last week’s performances. They made 837 metres from their 29 kicks from hand and we expect to see more of this as they look to control the game. They will, however, look to improve on their discipline as they conceded 13 penalties last week and will look to avoid conceding any unnecessary points.


Most, if not all statistics are against Wales for the weekend. They come into this weekend’s game having conceded a try in every phase category and having conceded 14 tries in total.

This is way more than the other three sides who have each concede only three tries in the tournament. Probably the most undeserving side left in the quarterfinal, however, they are also the only side to have won all their games this far (as New Zealand and England drew their final pool matches because of Typhoon Hagibis).

For the greater part of last week’s performance, they looked very much out their depth and kicked aimlessly. Of the 32 kicks made they were only able to regather 16.

They also kicked a total of 1 182 metres the most by any team in the semi-finals. Coming into this weekend’s game as the side with the least favourable attacking statistics, they will be looking at improving and rely on their defence to at least 90% (they were previously at 85% in the quarter-finals). They will also hope that they regain the form that saw them crown the 6 Nations Champions earlier this year.

They are fortunate in the sense that they go up against South Africa, a side who do not have the most exciting attacking numbers as well. If named in the squad, they will hope that Josh Adams rises to the occasion as he heads into these semi-finals with 13 clean breaks and five tries (both the highest by an individual).

South Africa

The Springboks are the side who probably altered their game the most going into last week’s quarterfinal. Before the game against the host nation Japan, the men from South Africa were averaging 63% territory and 58% possession. In the game against the Brave Blossoms they only had 50% territory and 46% possession (the only time in the tournament that they had less than 50% possession).

It is also a concern that they were only able to get over the gain line 25 times out of their 85 carries. When looking at the try phases, the Boks have surprisingly been patient as they have managed to score six tries off seven or more phases. They are the second-highest team in this category behind New Zealand. They have also scored most of their tres (16) from first phase ball.

While many Springboks were vocal in their dissatisfaction of the way the men in green approached the game this past weekend, they should not expect a drastic change. Especially with their kicking game.

The 625 metres kicked against Japan are in fact lower than the average of 657 in the pool matches and also lower than the games against Italy and Canada, both these games you would expect the Springboks to carry a lot more. However, together with their lineout set-piece, the kicking game seems to be one that is integral to Erasmus’ plan to make the final and is one that has worked this far, to be fair.

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