I wrote last week that this Rugby World Cup has really lived up to expectations. From the capacity crowds to the upsets, it has just about enough of everything to keep every one interested. And now after 40 pool stage matches we are down to the knockout stages. The men have been separated from the boys and the better men are about to set themselves even further apart. There is a true element of fun in poking fun at the English and so I need to point out that had it not been for the England, I would have had a clean sweep of eight out of eight for my quarter-final predictions. Thanks for nothing, lads.
SOUTH AFRICA VS WALES
The Springboks had a disastrous start to the competition when they went down to Japan. It meant five losses in six Tests for Heyneke Meyer and many, including this writer, were calling for his head. Since that downcast day in Brighton the South Africans have bounced back with three wins in a row albeit against second tier Samoa and second string Scotland and USA sides. The whole nation is excited by the Bok displays but the citizens need to reign themselves in. The Samoans had a particularly bad tournament by their standards and the Scots and States are never going to be able to field competitive second string sides against the green and gold. Wales have some serious injury problems and it seems the sick room contingent increases by the day. The Welsh have already eliminated the host nation. Can they knock Meyer’s men out? While I think they have a fighting chance, I am tipping the two-time world champions here based on the fact that they would have had 10 days of rest before this clash while the Dragons will be battered and bruised from back-to-back clashes against the Roses and Aussies.
NEW ZEALAND VS FRANCE
Can it happen again? Surely not. Or can it? I do not think either side has been particularly impressive to date. France laboured to wins against Romania and Canada and only looked good against a poor Italy before being outplayed by Ireland. The defending champions were mediocre in all their pool matches but it could also have something to do with the fact that they know they only have to pitch up and victory is certain against Georgia, Namibia and Tonga. Some say they are looking tired and old and while history suggests an upset in favour of the French is most certainly on the cards I just cannot see it happening this time. Even an off-colour All Blacks side should prove too much for this Les Bleus bunch so I am tipping Steven Hansen’s men.
IRELAND VS ARGENTINA
How do you pick a winner here? On the surface it has the makings of a classic because both sides are emerging on the world stage. You might ask how I can say that about a side that has dominated the Six Nations in recent years, but the reality is that the Irish have never been to the semi-finals of the World Cup so that makes them underachievers if nothing else. The Argentines are improving all the time. In 2007 they were the tournament surprise package reaching the final four but this time around no one would be shocked. They have made strides in the Rugby Championship with wins over Australia and South Africa in the last two years but I fancy the Shamrocks to take this one. They have been successful against the South Americans for a decade now, unbeaten since losing in 2005 in Buenos Aires, and I expect that trend to continue. However it depends on the fitness of one Jonathan Sexton. If he is out, Los Pumas could very well be in.
AUSTRALIA VS SCOTLAND
With all due respect to the Scots, this is the easiest of the quarter-finals to pick. Scotland was excellent against Japan and the United States, with two very good second half showings. In their other matches they looked average and had to pull a rabbit out of the hat against a weak Samoa to ensure a quarter-final berth. The Australians are looking strong. The Wallabies did what they needed to against Wales and set it all up the previous week when Bernard Foley put on a masterclass showing to help the two-time world champions hand out a beating against England. Australia wins this one.
And on that note it is time to sign off for this week. We shall meet again one week from now and see how accurate (or inaccurate) I am. Despite calling seven out of eight, I am still on course to call all four semi-finalists correctly. Time will tell.