The business end of the competition begins on Saturday morning, when the remaining eight teams do battle in their quest for the Webb Ellis Cup. Most of the big sides are still present, with the only tier one nations not represented being Scotland, Argentina and Italy. Perhaps the only surprise of the Pool stages was Japan winning Pool A, pushing Ireland into second and sending Scotland home. Everything else has gone according to form, which sets up four intriguing matches to enjoy over the weekend.
The price of the defeat to Japan in the Pool is a meeting with reigning World champions New Zealand in the Quarter Finals, a stage that Ireland have never advanced from before. If they are to make history, they will have to do it the hard way as New Zealand looked in excellent shape when defeating South Africa in the Pool. The also come into this with an extra week’s rest after their match with Italy was abandoned.
Ireland are at almost full strength, and there was plenty to like about their most recent display against Samoa. They are taken to give New Zealand a real match here, with victory not beyond the realms of possibility.
IRELAND +12 – 19/20
Eddie Jones’ four year plan appears to be perfectly on track, as they cruised to victory in Pool C. The suspicion is that they have yet to play all their cards, and they look live contenders to win in all for the second time.
Australia put on a brave showing against Wales, but they struggled against some of the lesser sides in Pool D. They are a team that seems to relay on talent alone, and that will not be enough against a well oiled English machine.
ENGLAND -8 – 19/20
Injuries and an off field distraction doesn’t seem to have derailed 6 Nations champions Wales, in their bid to win a first World Cup. Gatland has a way of getting his sides playing as more than the sum of their parts and it will take a huge performance from whichever team knocks them out.
France, known for their unpredictability, have been as French as ever this campaign. At times exceptional against Argentina, and awful against USA, its difficult to gauge exactly how good they really are. They are a nation that have overachieved at World Cups before, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see them make the semi finals.
FRANCE – 13/5
South Africa looked impressive in defeat in their opener against New Zealand. They followed that up with an excellent display against Italy, and look primed to make a run in the knockout rounds.
Japan have been excellent so far in this competition, showing that their victory against Ireland was no fluke by convincingly beating Scotland last time out. It’s uncertain how their style of play will hold up against South Africa, and this may well be the end of the line for the hosts.
SOUTH AFRICA -14 – 10/11