RWC 2023 Semi-Final 1, Argentina & New Zealand teams during the anthems; Credit:

On Friday 20 October 2023, the first of the two semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2023 took place at the Stade de France in St Denis on the outskirts of Paris.

Argentina were up against New Zealand in an all-southern hemisphere contest.

Argentina had got there courtesy of coming second in Group 4 to England, and then defeating Wales in the quarter-final last Saturday in Marseille, while New Zealand's journey had seen then come second in Group A having lost the opening game of the tournament to France, and then overcoming Ireland last Saturday at the Stade de France in what was a titanic tussle.

Such had been the difference in class in the run-up to the tournament, as well as in the matches during the tournament itself, the bookies' firm favourite in the run-up to the game were the All Blacks; the crowd of almost 80,000 present, and the millions watching on television all around the world, were about to find out.

After the anthems - which were rather subdued since neither side had a significant percentage of support inside the stadium - and the All Blacks' haka - which garnered much louder applause than the anthems - the referee, Angus Gardner, blew his whistle when the countdown reached the end, and the game kicked off with Argentina's out-half Santiago Carreras getting the game underway.

The first couple of minutes saw the ball mainly in New Zealand's half, with French supporters giving a loud rendition of La Marseillaise. New Zealand turned over the ball but full-back Beauden Barrett's clearance only gave Argentina a line-out inside the 22. Awarded a penalty, Argentina kicked for goal, Emiliano Boffelli getting the South Americans the first points of the game. Argentina had a break from their own half back into New Zealand's 22 but lost possession. From a line-out, New Zealand used a forward maul but Argentina held firm. Another New Zealand line-out, this time in Argentina's 22 and they used their maul again; another line-out and New Zealand went through a number of phases close in, but then spread it out wide for wing Will Jordan to touch down comfortably. Richie Mo'Unga converted for New Zealand to go into a 3-7 lead on twelve minutes. Argentina were running the ball around New Zealand's 22, only to lose possession and New Zealand then brought play up the other end, with Argentina defending. Again, the All Blacks passed the ball out wide where Argentina had left defensive holes, this time Jordie Barrett getting the try in the corner, from which Richie Mo'Unga missed the touchline conversion. With a quarter of the game gone, New Zealand's runners were sidestepping tackles, whereas Argentina were trying to force their way through tackles using the battering ram approach. Both sides were tackling hard and New Zealand were stealing Argentinian line-outs. But it was not all one-way traffic: Argentina won a turnover but gave away possession when kicking; on the other hand, New Zealand's handling started to let them down, coughing up possession in the process. Argentina then tried the maul and drove into New Zealand's 22, winning a penalty on the 5m line. Emiliano Boffelli converted to narrow the gap to six points. Soon after the restart, New Zealand won a penalty on Argentina's 22 which Richie Mo'unga slotted over with ease to restore New Zealand's nine-point lead with two minutes of the first half remaining. New Zealand had time for one more attack; with the clock in the red, the ball went out to the left, with back-row Shannon Frizell seemingly having all the time on the world to touch down. With the conversion hitting the post, the HT score was 6-20, with the All Blacks having scored three tries to none in the first half. Could there be any way back for Argentina?

In the second half, Matias Alemanno replaced Argentina's second-row Tomas Lavanini; it was not two minutes old when New Zealand got their fourth try of the game when scrum-half Aaron Smith darted through the Argentinian defence; Richie Mo'unga converted. Argentina continued with their passing game but could not progress up the field. Facundo Isa almost broke up the right touchline only for the referee to signal he had put his foot into touch. Richie Mo'unga slied through the rush defence and a few phases later Shannon Frizell managed to get over the line for his second try to stretch New Zealand's lead to 28 points. Argentina threatened once more, again running with the ball, but a fumble gave New Zealand a scrum. The first Mexican wave then rolled around the stadium, the crowd now resigned to the inevitable. The All Blacks wanted more, probing the Argentina defence while playing the ball close to hand, waiting for the opportune moment to pick out one of their wings with a cross-field kick. With just under 30 minutes to play, both sides started to empty their replacements benches. Argentina were awarded a penalty in from of the posts but chose to kick for touch; from the ensuing line-out, they went through a number of phases before they coughed up possession by knocking the ball on. Will Jordan got his second try of the game on 62 minutes. A few minutes later, New Zealand were down to fourteen men, Scott Barrett yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle. Ten minutes left to play and the atmosphere had fizzled out. By this stage, Argentina were trying to save face and stop New Zealand scoring more than the six tries on the score-sheet. But New Zealand did manage to get their seventh try when Will Jordan raced on to his own kick over the Argentinian defence. The South Americans did manage a couple of breaks but could not penetrate the All Blacks' defence. New Zealand threatened again but knocked-on themselves on the 5m line. FT 6-44, New Zealand winning comfortably.

The difference in class between the two teams was significant, unlike the two classic quarter-finals that were served up the previous weekend at the Stade de France in which France and Ireland lost by single scores in what were intense and titanic tussles, fit for semi-finals. The issue of the draw for the group phases being held three years before the tournament started reared its ugly head again with this one-sided semi-final.

So New Zealand are the first team to qualify for the RWC 2023 Final to be held next Sunday back at the Stade de France, with Argentina contesting the match nobody aspires to play in, the 3rd-place play-off, on Saturday evening, also at the Stade de France.