The RugbyPass FIFA Southern Series semi-finalists have been decided after some high-scoring matches between the cream of the Southern Hemisphere’s crop.
On the back of the success of the Northern Hemisphere tournament, which saw England prop Manu Vunipola emerge victorious and donate the $2,000 charity prize to Captain Tom Moore’s fundraising campaign for the NHS, the top players in Australia and New Zealand have been showing going head-to-head to determine the best players south of the equator.
In the first of the quarter-finals, Kurtley Beale of the Waratahs squared off with the Chiefs’ Alex Nankivell.
Nankivell’s Juventus took an early lead through the prodigious boot of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (who must surely be the competition’s top goal-scorer) despite calls from Beale that the Portuguese forward had struck the ball from an off-side position. The goal stood, but it took just seconds for Beale’s PSG to level the game off a deft strike by loan-striker Mauro Icardi.
Icardi turned creator late in the first half, setting up an easy finish for Frenchman Kyle Mbappé and Ronaldo nailed a second goal to tie the scores up 2-all before Sami Khedira nailed a rebound to give Nankivell’s Juventus a 3-2 lead heading into the break.
The CR7 show continued after half-time with the striker launching a rocket into the net from well outside the goal box to complete the scoring and earn the Chiefs midfielder a spot in the semis.
Next up was the clash between Highlanders halves Aaron Smith and Josh Ioane. Ioane was concerned that there may have been some foul-play before the match started, with Smith’s Barcelona boasting a 90-point rating in the attack stat, perhaps from some cheeky editing from his teammate-turned-opposition. Post-game checks have confirmed that there had been no cheating from the All Blacks halfback, however.
Ioane’s Juentus struck first and took a 1-goal advantage into halftime but Smith responded well in the second stanza through an absolute scorcher of a goal from Sergio Busquets – thoroughly justifying Barcelona’s significant attack rating.
Unfortunately, the best attack can’t make up for poor defence, with Ronaldo stepping through the Barcelona line and nailing a close-range shot to hand the advantage back to the Highlanders first-five-cum-fullback-cum-midfielder.
Ioane, who had been preparing for the match “all day” according to his opponent, increased the lead in the final quarter to book himself a place in the top four.
In the final two matches of the quarters, Shaun Stevenson and Pete Samu both nailed five goals to knock out Wes Goosen and Will Jordan respectively. Jordan’s zero goals scored against his former Crusaders teammate means we should see an apology of sorts from the young outside back on social media in the near future – although a head shave is also a less-traditional option.
The semi-finalists, Alex Nankivell and Shaun Stevenson from the Chiefs, Josh Ioane from the Highlanders and Pete Samu from the Brumbies, will do battle in the coming days. Samu has the odds stacked against him as the sole representative remaining from Australia but will hoping to claim some glory for that side of the Tasman Sea that they’ve been sorely missing in the last 20 years of Bledisloe dominance.
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