2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-finalists

2019-10-18 at 06:01

England and Australia kick off the last eight with a mouthwatering showdown in Oita on Saturday, as the old rivals bid to move into the semi-finals.

Coaches Eddie Jones and Michael Cheika will resume their own personal rivalry, with the former currently 6-0 from their six meetings.

The action then switches to Tokyo, where Ireland attempt to dethrone two-time reigning champions New Zealand.

Ireland have already lost to hosts Japan and, despite their recent history against the All Blacks, will start the game as underdogs.

New Zealand have moved serenely through the tournament so far and are yet to taste defeat, having beaten South Africa back on the opening weekend.

Next it’s a meeting of the Six Nations, as Wales take on France in Oita.

The Welsh topped their group, having overcome the Wallabies, while France came in second behind England, bonus points being the difference and their match cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis.

And the quarter-finals wrap up with Japan v South Africa, a tantalising repeat of 2015, when the Springboks slipped to a massive upset in Brighton.

Japan overcame both Ireland and Scotland in their group stage, when they won all four games and the crowd at the 49,970-seater Tokyo Stadium will be dreaming of another famous day.

England v Australia (Saturday 12.45pm, Oita)

Form: England are looking untroubled. They didn’t even have to play at the weekend.

They have not been above criticism in their three bonus-point wins out of three, but the calibre of opposition has improved with each match and would have done so again, but for Typhoon Hagibis. England have got better, too. But none of it feels quite real. Neither can the weirdness of a cancelled World Cup fixture and evacuation back to sunny Kyushu to try to simulate the match they never got to play. Mature heads will be needed to negotiate the leap thence to a quarter-final against Australia.

The Wallabies haven’t exactly impressed, but England know only too well they can play a bit when the situation demands. Michael Cheika has been firing shots on their behalf at all targets throughout the tournament. He’ll create a siege mentality, even if there isn’t one to be had.

Key players … England: Owen Farrell. At the heart of England’s weird wobbles of late and of Saracens’ complete lack of them. He sets the tone.

Australia: David Pocock. Player of the last World Cup, even if they didn’t win it. Signs are he could be peaking for his last tilt at glory.

Prediction: Australia. Match-hardened and underrated. It would be classic.

New Zealand v Ireland (Saturday 15.45pm, Tokyo)

Form: The All Blacks looked pretty good in their last meaningful Test … more than three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the Irish have plodded through their assignments, looking one-paced but building momentum, working those phases as only they can. After flirting with the spotlight of No 1 in the world, they are back under the radar. New Zealand wear that mantle again – and it looks a better fit on them – but this is not the vintage that won the past two World Cups. They are as brilliant, certainly, but if the brilliance isn’t happening they look vulnerable.

Big question is whether they can switch the brilliance on at will. For all their travails, Ireland are not unacquainted with the taste of victory against the All Blacks. We know what they will bring. We know that New Zealand do not particularly like it.

Key players, New Zealand: Beauden Barrett. Often feted as the best player in the world, because when on form he is untouchable. It’s when he’s not that the problems start.

Ireland: Conor Murray. The difference between Ireland with Murray and Sexton and Ireland without is huge. Murray’s authority is central to that.

Prediction: New Zealand, they are the World Champions.

Wales v France (Sunday 12.45pm, Oita)

Form: Wales keep on winning, which is all anyone should care about.

They were flattered against Fiji and battered against Australia, but they have come through with the gravitas of pool winners (for the first time since they were hosts in 1999).

The early scandal surrounding Rob Howley seems a long time ago. And who should be up next? France. Wales know they can beat them, all right. Almost the exact opposite of the earthy Welsh, France are either the same rabble as ever or a melting pot from which will emerge a new team fit to host the next World Cup. Anyone’s guess.

They can be unplayable (as Wales know only too well from the first half of this year’s Six Nations opener) and they can hand you the game on a plate (as Wales know from the second).

Key players, Wales: Alun Wyn Jones. He tackles and he tackles and he tackles. He is Wales, in a nutshell.

France: Antoine Dupont. If the brilliant France do make a showing, this guy will be at the heart of it. Or Machenaud will. Or Serin. They have options.

Prediction: Wales. France will play all the rugby, but that doesn’t seem to matter to Wales.

Japan v South Africa (Sunday 15.45pm, Tokyo)

Form: The best is saved till last. Japan, undisputed stars of this World Cup already, on and off the field, face the foes against whom they have defined themselves.

This is a rematch of the most famous upset in history. Japan will not be 42-point underdogs this time. But they will be underdogs. Something about the sheer heft of South Africa makes any thoughts of further Japanese glory feel unlikely.

The template for Japanese victory is the same as ever and will incline every neutral on earth to back them, favouring as it does the fast and the skilful. The Springboks can play a bit too, but their trump card is power and strength of mind. For them, the World Cup will feel as if it starts here; for Japan, the drama has already been transformational.

Key players, Japan: Kazuki Himeno. If South Africa deal in power, this is Japan’s answer. The No 8 has been destructive with ball in hand.

South Africa: Cheslin Kolbe. If Japan deal in pace, this is South Africa’s answer. Scarcely believable speed.

Prediction: South Africa. The rugby world will hope this is wrong but there are no killjoys like the Springboks.