Ahead of this weekend’s matches, Jacob Whitehead has picked out a handful of super semi-finals

Five of the Best Rugby World Cup Semi-finals

The World Cup semi-finals are looming and they look as if they could be classics. New Zealand will face an England side they’ve hardly been exposed to over the past four years, while Wales will attempt to overcome South African power to reach their first World Cup final.

But what have been the great semi-finals of yesteryear? This stage of the competition is often known for tight and tense affairs – but there have been plenty of thrills too. Here’s a look at five of the best World Cup semi-finals…

Australia 24-30 France, 1987 Sydney

The last hurrah of the great French sides of the 1980s, it could be argued that the World Cup’s greatest semi-final was the first one ever played.

France met Australia in Sydney, the latter with the core of the side that would win the tournament in 1991, and sporting a half-back combination of Nick Farr-Jones and Michael Lynagh as well as David Campese at full-back.

Australia flew into an early 9-0 lead, before French lock Alain Lorieux, a former firefighter, ripped the ball away from a lineout to crash over in the corner, with Didier Camberabero adding the conversion. Early in the second half legendary centre Philippe Sella sliced though the Australian defence against the grain to put les Bleus into the lead 12-9.

The game quickly became a see-saw battle, as brilliant sidestepping from Lynagh set up Campese to put Australia back in the lead.

Serge Blanco then released Patrice Lagisquet for a try down the left wing, before David Codey scored for Australia, despite suspicions of a knock-on.

Penalties for each team and the score was 24-24 as the game approached its denouement. Then came the decisive moment.

Starting from deep, Lagisquet kicked ahead, his Garryowen gathered by the onrushing French forward pack. The ball passed rapidly through the hands of 11 players before Blanco finished in the corner to score one of the great counter-attacking tries and send France into the World Cup final.

South Africa 19-15 France, 1995 Durban

Eight years later and France would lose a semi-final to hosts South Africa in controversial circumstances. The game was delayed by an hour after apocalyptic rainfall. In any ordinary situation it would have been called off, with referee Derek Bevan concerned about a scrum collapsing in deep standing water.

As per the rules of the tournament, if the game was unable to start France would have gone through based on their superior disciplinary record.

Instead, local women were sent onto the field with brooms and neighbouring Durban Country Club provided pumps, so eventually the game was played.

Remembering the wettest game in Rugby World Cup history

Clearing the water: Local women help out before the game (Getty Images)

A pushover try from Ruben Kruger seemed to have sealed the match for the Springboks, as they led 19-15 with moments left after Joel Stransky and French counterpart Thierry Lacroix had swapped penalties all evening.

Related: Remembering the wettest game in Rugby World Cup history

However, controversy was to rear its head again, as Abdel Benazzi had a late try disallowed. Despite protestations it was not given and South Africa would go on to stun the All Blacks in the final.

England 29-45 New Zealand, 1995 Cape Town

The second semi-final in 1995, played a day later in bright Newlands sunshine, was also an iconic affair. England had defeated Australia in the quarters thanks to a late Rob Andrew drop-goal, and were bidding to reach their second consecutive World Cup final.

New Zealand meanwhile had looked in terrifying form thanks to the emergence of a certain Jonah Lomu, and had swept aside Ireland, Wales and Scotland already. Then they demolished England – although the scoreline makes it look closer than it truly was.

The madness began early. Lomu picked up a bouncing ball, avoided a flailing Will Carling, before half-stumbling, half-flattening Mike Catt to score one of the great World Cup tries.

Josh Kronfeld would finish a brilliant move moments later to make it 12-0, and the game was already almost over as a contest.

No 8 Zinzan Brooke scoring a 45m drop-goal rubbed salt into the wound. Lomu would score again, giving the All Blacks 25 points in as many minutes, before adding to his tally soon after half-time to bring up a hat-trick.

England, to their credit, managed to score four tries in the last half-hour of the game courtesy of Carling and Rory Underwood, but the overwhelming feeling was that New Zealand had their eyes on the final. Tries from Graeme Bachop and a fourth for Lomu meant the result was never in doubt.

Not a classic for its tense nature or a close finish, but for the birth of Lomu as a global superstar.

France 43-31 New Zealand, 1999 Twickenham

One of the most famous World Cup matches of all time. Having lost the final in 1995, New Zealand once again possessed a star-studded back-line boasting Lomu, Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga and Jeff Wilson.

Yet France defeated them with a performance of dazzling brilliance, overcoming a 14-point deficit to reach their second final. Fly-half Christophe Lamaison was responsible for kick-starting his side’s comeback, knocking over two drop-goals before his speculative chip found Christophe Dominici, the diminutive winger flying in under the posts.

New Zealand were shell-shocked, unable to believe that a World Cup final they’d been strolling towards seemed to be accelerating off into the distance. Lamaison took full advantage of a rapidly freezing opposition, chipping once more into the All Blacks backfield, and Richard Dourthe gathered to score a try that put France 12 points up.

Philippe Bernat-Salles traded tries with Wilson, but the All Blacks never threatened a comeback. France had improbably, brilliantly, sumptuously triumphed.

South Africa 18-20 New Zealand, 2015 Twickenham

South Africa v New Zealand is potentially the biggest rivalry in world rugby, and the two sides played out another classic here. South African physicality was matched by an intensity that the All Blacks rarely need to reach, as New Zealand pulled themselves from the quagmire to triumph in an attritional epic.

The All Blacks went 7-3 ahead early as sumptuous offloading from Richie McCaw gave Jerome Kaino some space on the right wing. The blindside made no mistake, flicking away would be tacklers like a giant with a fly swat to give his side the lead.

But South Africa came roaring back into the game, as four first-half Handré Pollard penalties gave them a deserved 12-7 half-time lead.

A Dan Carter drop-goal brought New Zealand to within a penalty, before Ma’a Nonu created space for Beauden Barrett to slide over in the corner. With the conversion added and the two sides swapping penalties the All Blacks suddenly led 20-15.

With ten minutes left Pat Lambie brought the gap back to two, but South Africa wasted an attacking lineout and New Zealand’s discipline reappeared as they held on to win by the barest of margins.

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