As we reach the business end of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the giants of the game go head-to-head in Yokohama in what promises to be a scintillating semi-final weekend.

We sat down with UCFB Regional Recruitment Manager and former Southend Rugby Club General Manager, Andy Speed, to get his insight on the two games...

England vs New Zealand

When: Saturday 26th October at 9am BST


Genuinely a 50/50. New Zealand are in good form and England have not hit the highs we know they are capable of. The winner of this match will be the winner of the competition on 2nd November. The fact that New Zealand have never lost against England in a World Cup, for me means that it’s probably time that changes. England for the victory, no more than an 8-point swing either way on Saturday.

Players to watch

For England there are a few choices, Billy Vunipola has been quiet so far, this could be the game we see him up his game, Maro Itoje will be there or thereabouts with his lineout work, carries & breakdown contribution, or it could be one of the gas men in the backline, the game is primed for any one of the team to be the hero. Based on the breakdown being key however, for me, I can't look beyond the Kamikaze Twins 'Cunderhill' (Tom Curry or Sam Underhill).

For the All Blacks - for me you can't look beyond superstar Skipper Kieran Read (looking to win an unprecedented World Cup Hatrick) or the abrasive Ardie Savea, although someone like Beauden Barret or Aaron Smith (who was outstanding against the Irish) could easily be the ABs hero in what is likely to be a very tight game.

Key battle

The breakdown is key in this one. Whichever team gets and keeps quick ball and cycle through phases will win this one. For either side to win this they will need to dominate the collisions, provide quick ball at the breakdown for their own team and slow the ball as much as possible for the other, and finally the need to dominate the tactical kicking phases as the breakdown slows down, the aerial battle will intensify.  

Wales vs South Africa

When: Sunday 27th October at 9am GMT


Wales have significantly struggled this World Cup, discipline, injuries, the Rob Howley saga, limping through against France in the last round, whereas South Africa have got stronger as the competition has gone on. I think it’s hard to look past South Africa for this one - however if Wales can bury some of their demons they might sneak it. My prediction, however, is for a South Africa win and by a healthy margin.

Players to watch

We have the joint top try scorers in the competition facing off in this one, with Wales' Josh Adams and South Africa's Makazole Mapimpi - if either get a sniff of the white line they will surely add to their tallies and stake a claim to be overall top try scorer when the competition culminates.

Key battle

This is going to be a brutal encounter. The abrasive midfield battle and the breakdown are where this will be won and lost. the Welsh centre combination when they're firing are two the best in the business, but both coming into this with injury doubts could make or break the Welsh hearts. If the Springboks target that area early and hard we will see what sort of day they are going to have. The breakdown is going to be a bloodbath, some of the biggest men in rugby for the Springboks and some very good Ruck and counter-ruck operatives for the welsh.

And who’s your pick to win the trophy on 2nd November?

I predict a repeat of the 2007 World Cup final with a twist in fortunes - England vs South Africa with the Red Roses bringing the trophy home, 16 years after the last time they won it on that famous night in Sydney.