As if the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup had not delivered sufficient amounts of drama, the quarter-finals successfully lit up the tournament even more. The final four certainly promises to be exciting based on what was seen this last weekend. Interestingly for the first time in the tournament’s history all four semi-finalists hail from the same hemisphere. It also guarantees the second time in the competition’s existence that the final will be contested between two teams from the southern hemisphere.
Starting with South Africa’s get-out-of-jail win against Wales, it must be said the match was never likely to be anything but closely contested. The Welsh were on top for large periods but the South Africans persisted and eventually a dogged Dragons defence cracked courtesy of that beautiful Duane Vermeulen backflip pass to Fourie Du Preez that resulted in the winning try. The Springboks may very well have gone down against a full-strength Wales but in the absence of so many first-team regulars, the Boks were perhaps handed an easier task. Make no bones about it, a performance of similar ilk next week will be a sure-fire exit strategy.
New Zealand lies in wait for the green and gold and the reality is that the All Blacks blew Les Bleus away so badly, the French may well have hoped they had rather stayed at the hotel. It was a sensational display that one website called the most perfect performance ever. I am not sure if I would go that far but a 62-13 annihilation of one of the sport’s higher-ranked sides is pretty impressive regardless of how you look at it. It is unlikely the New Zealanders can be as good next weekend, or that their opponents will be as mediocre, so assuming a notch or two up for Heyneke Meyer’s men and a similar scale of regression on the part of the Kiwis and I still see no other outcome than a victory for Steve Hansen’s side. Meyer’s men will have to pull out more than all the stops I reckon in order to put one over the reigning world champions. That said World Cup knockout matches do strange things to the best of sides, Hansen’s troops included.
Argentina’s 43-20 win over Ireland was aided by the Irish being torn to shreds by injuries, albeit not as badly as Wales but a factor nonetheless. Even so, Los Pumas were excellent and along with New Zealand, must be rated as the two teams of this round. Nicolas Sanchez was particularly impressive, forcing his way into the tournament XV for me. The South Americans are growing in stature all the time and what price on a win over Australia at Twickenham? Do not bet against it.
The Aussies edged Scotland 35-34 in dramatic fashion and while many were crying foul at the nature of the loss the fact is that the Scots violated the law with one minute left and the Australians landed the win courtesy of a Bernard Foley penalty. Something most who were crying foul on Twitter missed was the plethora of kicks Foley missed. Had just two of those sailed over, the Wallabies would have been leading anyway going into the final few minutes. What will happen when Michael Cheika’s charges face Daniel Hourcade’s lot? If they both replicate this last weekend’s performances then there will be a surprise triumph for the boys from Buenos Aires.
However no two weeks are ever the same in rugby and I suspect the Rugby Championship winners will edge it and set up an all-Antipodean final.