40 games down and eight cracking games to come in the race to take ‘Bill’ home. This is how the Rugby World Cup is set up for the next three weeks and this weekend sees four massive quarter-finals. While the pool stage was very close, it’s now down to real business in the tournament and the quarter-finals this weekend have the potential to be classics.
Each match does not have a clear-cut favourite to make it through to the semi-finals.
Let’s have a look at each game individually.
Ireland versus Wales
Probably the most even quarter-final of them all.
Wales last beat Ireland 19-13 in the 2011 Six Nations and have won 63 of the 115 matches played between them.
Both Ireland and Wales have been very good in the tournament, with Ireland shocking Australia and demolishing Italy when they were under extreme pressure. Wales should have won against South Africa and have been impressive in their other contests.
Ireland’s superstars Ronan O’Gara and Brian O’Driscoll hold the keys to this match. If Wales can shut them down Ireland will struggle to be creative, but if the two backs get going, Ireland will find points easy to come by.
England versus France
Both campaigns have been marred by controversy and intrigue off the field.
England won their last contest in the Six Nations in February and has been solid, yet unspectacular in their pool matches.
France scraped through, by the smallest margin possible and rumours of infighting in the camp have been destabilising.
All is not lost for France though, as they were in a similar position in 1999 and still made the final. England haven’t shown their best, but I suspect like the 2007 Rugby World Cup, they are saving it for this knockout stage.
This match comes down to the packs, with both reasonably strong. Whoever can get on top in the forwards will win the match and advance.
New Zealand versus Argentina
This match is closer than you think. So much intrigue is focused on New Zealand with Daniel Carter now out and questions being asked on whether they can win without him.
Despite this setback, you expect the All Blacks to march on, however, Argentina have the ability to produce an upset.
New Zealand have the running game but Argentina have the patience to just sit off New Zealand and put pressure on them.
New Zealand are great runners and if they put it on, Argentina won’t be able to keep up. However, if Argentina can keep the scoring low, Los Pumas may sneak an upset in.
Australia v South Africa
No-one expected this to be a quarter-final. Australia beat South Africa twice this year, although the victory was tempered by the fact South Africa sent a ‘B’ squad into the matches.
Both South Africa and Australia have underwhelmed but unlike Australia, this works for the Springboks (think 2007) and the Springboks will also have a full strength squad while Australia battles injury.
This quarter-final will come down to the game styles of both sides. The Wallabies like to run with the ball while South Africa like to slow the ball down in the ruck.
South Africa’s defence is superior and Australia struggle to counter good defences with their panicky style of play.
If the defence is up, the Boks will get up.