There will be four captivating clashes of contrasting styles at play over the four Rugby World Cup 2019 quarter-finals.

That makes ranking each team, and predicting how the matches play out, a fairly tough task. But here is a run-down of their strengths, weakness and star performers so far.

8. France

Reasons to be cheerful

A free-flowing first half against Argentina, plus the Camille Lopez drop-goal that salvaged their second-half implosion, ultimately secured France's passage to the last eight.

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When they blow hot, which is mainly in fractured situations as their offloading and support play create space for intrepid attackers such as Maxime Médard, Damian Penaud and Alivereti Raka, Les Bleus are capable of carving apart most opponents. Young back-rower Grégory Alddritt, a skilful link man, continues to shine. Charles Ollivon is tough and resourceful.

France's Damian Penaud is tackled in his side's win over Argentina at the Rugby World Cup. Photo / AP
France's Damian Penaud is tackled in his side's win over Argentina at the Rugby World Cup. Photo / AP

France's disruptive defence also deserves praise. From Jefferson Poirot in the front row to tireless Wenceslas Lauret via lock Sébastien Vahaamahina, many of their forwards pose a jackalling threat.

Reasons to be fearful
Given their 2011 campaign defied a full-scale mutiny for France to reach the final, it is hard to know how to react to rumours of a division between captain Guilhem Guirado and the coaches. And why was full-back Thomas Ramos sent home if he was fit enough to play for Toulouse this weekend?

Will any friction make France even less cohesive or bind them tighter together? Either way, their game management has to be better to avoid bitty displays and concentration lapses. Tonga and, to a lesser extent, USA troubled them. Understandably, because of his tender age and the time he has spent at centre on club duty, Romain Ntamack is not yet able to control matches as well as other elite fly-halves.

Star man
Antoine Dupont, France's explosive scrum-half, is a menace that fringe defenders have to respect.

7. Australia

Reasons to be cheerful

Australia pieced together a Jekyll-and-Hyde quartet of pool games that contained two excellent halves. The second 40 minutes of their matches against Fiji and Wales were full of incisive carrying, crisp ball movement and muscular set-piece work – precisely the sort of assured rugby that characterised their 47-26 thrashing of New Zealand in August.

They have a legitimate claim to being the tournament's in-form scrummagers, too. Brumbies props Allan Alaalatoa and Scott Sio have continued their progress and enhanced reputations.

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As for the backline, tackle-buster Samu Kerevi began brilliantly and Dane Haylett-Petty has caused problems constantly. In 19 year-old Jordan Petaia, they possess an interesting wildcard.

Australia's Samu Kerevi is tackled during the Rugby World Cup Pool D game at Tokyo Stadium between Australia and Wales in Tokyo. Photo / AP
Australia's Samu Kerevi is tackled during the Rugby World Cup Pool D game at Tokyo Stadium between Australia and Wales in Tokyo. Photo / AP

Reasons to be fearful

Reece Hodge's ban foreshadowed three more yellow cards for reckless collisions – two for high-tackles against Uruguay and another following Isi Naisarani's clear-out against Georgia. Michael Cheika might not agree with the new refereeing guidelines, but his players must obey them.

A spinning selection merry-go-round at half-back does not seem to be helping Australia's fluency. Unless it was a deliberate ploy to keep their cards close to their chest, the route-one policy against Georgia – the Wallabies kicked just 10 times despite the sodden conditions – illustrated a worrying lack of variety.

Star man
David Pocock relishes World Cups, as the 2011 and 2015 versions underlined. Ominously for the Wallabies' rivals, he is nearing those levels.

6. Ireland

Reasons to be cheerful

Joe Schmidt's side book-ended their pool stage with a pair of authoritative victories over Scotland and Samoa. Such performances showcased the precise, ultra-disciplined approach that underpinned a glorious 2018 – and made the loss to Japan look like an aberration.

Conor Murray fed his forwards and punchy, patient phase-play won out. Robbie Henshaw, who scored the match-winning try in Chicago, is back fit and Johnny Sexton has come through the group matches. Tadhg Furlong's charging carries against Samoa reprised fond memories, as well.

Ireland's Tadhg Furlong reacts after scoring a try during the Rugby World Cup Pool A game at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium between Ireland and Samoa. Photo / AP
Ireland's Tadhg Furlong reacts after scoring a try during the Rugby World Cup Pool A game at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium between Ireland and Samoa. Photo / AP

Meanwhile, when Rory Best's throwing comes good, Ireland's mauling has been potent. After beating them twice in the past three years, they will not fear New Zealand.

Reasons to be fearful
Bundee Aki is likely to be suspended following his red card in Fukuoka, depriving Ireland of midfield dynamism. Even though all other 31 players are available, including Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell, it is a blow.

Japan out-manoeuvred Ireland, scrambling their senses with rapid ruck-speed and standing up to some rather predictable attack. Then the hangover continued into a pretty underwhelming game against Russia that was littered with handling errors.

In those two matches, they resembled a team past their prime and struggling for a spark – not ideal for a team that has never won a World Cup knockout tie.

Star man
The pivotal importance of Sexton is nothing new. With him on the field, Ireland are far slicker and more confident.

5. Japan

Reasons to be cheerful

The quick, disciplined phase-play that charmed so many neutrals four years ago has become even faster and more assured. Zig-zagging from ruck to ruck, superb scrum-half Yakuta Nagare has directed proceedings and the Brave Blossoms boast playmakers everywhere.

From hooker Shota Horie to centre Timothy Lafaele, they boast a host of individuals capable of throwing game-breaking passes. The series of offloads that led to Kieta Inagaki's try against Scotland was phenomenal. In Kotaro Matsushima and Kenki Fukuoka, Japan also possess two lightning, predatory wings who hunt touches all around the field.

The squad's obvious togetherness is manifested in determined defence. Back-rowers Michael Leitch and Kazuki Himeno – two exceptional, all-round players – lead the way in that regard. Finally, their set-piece efficiency and technical prowess makes up for a lack of heft.

Japan's Kenki Fukuoka celebrates with Shota Horie after scoring a try against Scotland. Photo / AP
Japan's Kenki Fukuoka celebrates with Shota Horie after scoring a try against Scotland. Photo / AP

Reasons to be fearful

A quarter-final against South Africa represents a re-run of the 2015 Brighton Miracle, but it is also worth bearing in mind that the Springboks registered a 41-7 win over Japan just last month. They pressurised the Brave Blossoms with towering kicks and feasted on turnovers to score six tries.

Star man
It is so difficult to pick out a single player from team that is worth more than the sum of its parts, although Fukuoka is a fantastic, unconventional talent and Nagare knits everything together.

4. England

Reasons to be cheerful

You can only beat what is put in front of you, and England have not afforded anyone a sniff. Clearly, they have faced limited opposition. Still, in conceding merely 20 points and only two tries over three matches, they have stuck to a gameplan designed for the humidity.

Their varied kicking, with the left boot of full-back Elliot Daly prominent, has controlled territory. Joe Marler, Maro Itoje, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry have harried and harassed, forcing errors and earning turnovers with beefy tackling. Lewis Ludlam is proving to be a canny pick.

Solid scrummaging and a polished lineout operation, with well-coordinated mauling, have given them a robust platform and George Ford is pulling strings nicely.

Reasons to be fearful
Ball retention has not been perfect and, to borrow a label from England attack coach Scott Wisemantel, skipper Owen Farrell has been "clunky" – not disastrous by any stretch, but certainly below his best. Billy Vunipola also looks slightly subdued and Ben Youngs' box-kicking cannot be as erratic against better sides.

England are yet to be tested. They will need to move the ball more accurately and cut out frustrating knock-ons to continue to score tries. Does Eddie Jones bank on a midfield of Ford, Farrell and Manu Tuilagi? We are about to find out.

England's Maro Itoje wins a lineout during the Rugby World Cup Pool C game between England and Tonga. photo / AP
England's Maro Itoje wins a lineout during the Rugby World Cup Pool C game between England and Tonga. photo / AP

Star man

Itoje has been extremely good, with Underhill not far behind.

3. Wales

Reasons to be cheerful

Ignoring the warm-up internationals, Wales are now on a run of 18 successive victories. That winning habit came in handy against Australia and Fiji during the pool stages, because Warren Gatland's side were severely tested.

Fortunately for them, their fitness reserves run deep and their collective resolve is seriously strong. As with South Africa and England, Wales tend to kick long and trust their disciplined yet aggressive defence to suffocate opponents. They out-work teams and break their will, leaning on an experienced group of leaders.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones keeps fighting. Justin Tipuric has been freed up by grafting back-rowers around him. Dan Biggar's game management from fly-half is canny and centre Jonathan Davies, a gnarled defensive general in midfield, is still capable of barnstorming breaks. Liam Williams' counter-attacking stirs teammates.

Reasons to be fearful
Despite flashes of quality in the early stages against Australia, Wales' ball movement has been awkward. Numerous passes have sailed behind runners, stalling momentum. The scrum has creaked, too. Jonathan Davies' knee injury and a pair of concussions for Biggar must be concerning.

Wales Josh Navidi runs at the Georgia defence during their Rugby World Cup Pool D game. Photo / AP
Wales Josh Navidi runs at the Georgia defence during their Rugby World Cup Pool D game. Photo / AP

Star man

Josh Navidi was conspicuous by his absence in the disjointed triumph over Uruguay. The dread-locked back-rower is so consistent and dogged.

2. South Africa

Reasons to be cheerful

A pragmatic template based on clever tactical kicking, hard chasing, Jacques Nienaber's rush defence and swarming breakdown play seems in good order. South Africa's imposing forwards, led by Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen, are not easy to nullify. RG Snyman, just one of their towering locks, was simply formidable against Canada. Lood de Jager toyed with Namibia as well.

Behind the pack, there is even more power and plenty of pace. Fast-twitch scrum-half Cobus Reinach must be putting pressure on the first-choice duo of Faf de Klerk and Hershel Jantjies, while wing Cheslin Kolbe should recover from an ankle complaint to appear in the knockout stages. The Toulouse wing, a hot-stepper capable of igniting an opening out of very little, has been wonderful to watch.

South Africa's Pieter-Steph du Toit is tackled by a Italian defender during their Rugby World Cup game. Photo / AP
South Africa's Pieter-Steph du Toit is tackled by a Italian defender during their Rugby World Cup game. Photo / AP

Reasons to be fearful

It took Andrea Lovotti's brainless red card for South Africa to pull away from Italy and they ended up with just a single try to show for a great deal of territorial pressure against New Zealand. Their scrum crumbled late in that opening game after the All Blacks had exploited the positional uncertainty of Makazole Mapimpi. Rassie Erasmus was left to rue indiscipline as his team conceded nine penalties.

Star man
Marauding back-rower Du Toit justifies a mention but electric wing Kolbe is embarrassing defenders with every touch.

1. New Zealand

Reasons to be cheerful

A 23-13 victory over South Africa, and more pertinently a four-minute blitz yielding 17 points, effectively wrapped up Pool B. That short but sweet spell, comprising superb tries for George Bridge and Scott Barrett, represented the best passage of play from any side at the tournament to date…until Japan's first half against Scotland on Sunday.

New Zealand absorbed an aggressive opening from the Springboks before sensing blood and picking them apart. Their own defence, featuring Ardie Savea's breakdown scavenging and some fine cover-tackles, then held firm. It was a problem-solving, streetwise display in Yokohama.

Beauden Barrett makes a break with Richie Mo'unga in support. Photosport
Beauden Barrett makes a break with Richie Mo'unga in support. Photosport

Since then, during comfortable wins against Canada and Namibia, the All Blacks have challenged themselves to play expansively. Their aggregate tally of offloads in those two matches was 45. Chasing a third consecutive crown, head coach Steve Hansen is aiming to stay ahead of the curve.

Reasons to be fearful
Yellow cards for props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu'ungafasi following high tackles against Namibia caused one to wonder whether New Zealand could be susceptible to a costlier discipline lapse down the line. South Africa troubled their lineout, too. The return of Brodie Retalick will bolster them there.

The only other concern is a straw-clutching one. Given the abandonment of their final pool match against Italy, might Hansen's squad be under-cooked?

Star man
The playmaking double-act of Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga has begun to tick and centre Anton Lienert-Brown is impressing. However, Ardie Savea's all-round effort against the Springboks was special.