The business end of the Rugby World Cup is upon us, only eight teams left, four quarterfinals to fight out, time to crystal ball gaze upon the RWC, starting with
the two matches played first on both nights.
England vs Australia, 8.15pm Saturday:
Can't go past the Poms on this one, people. Of all the teams left in the
tournament I rate this lot right behind the All Blacks. They are big,
boisterous and play a real physical game based on breaking the advantage
line using their twin robust ball carriers Vunipola and Tuilagi to great effect.
Eddie Jones is also a very clever coach capable of designing the perfect game
plan for the one-off occasion, including both this and a potential semifinal
vs (hopefully) the All Blacks. On the other side of the halfway line stands the Wallabies. The one question about this side is, are they the team that trounced us in Perth, or the one that's struggled to find that same form since?
Michael Cheika has confused all with his selections in Japan, especially
around the positions 9/10 with a lack of consistency there still causing concern.
The Ozzies are definitely in this, only they'll need to play twice as well as they
did against Wales in group play - and that's where I have my doubts.
We've seen nothing from them in the last two months that comes close to that Perth performance, and unless they can rediscover some similarly scripted magic potion then it's an early and ignominious exit for the Wallabies, followed by an immediate inquisition into the future of Cheika as coach.
I'd love Australia to go through here but can't go past their forward pack failing to win enough quality ball to feed a backline with all the potential to enable an upset.
England to win 12 and under.
Wales vs France, 8.15pm Sunday:
If there's going to be a boilover then Oita is where it'll be. The perennial unanswered question at all World Cups always involves les Bleus. How good are they, are they any good at all, even if they aren't are they capable of being good for just one game and how will anyone know until kick-off comes anyway?
Attempting to read anything into their pool match form is like trying to predict the result based on watching their final team training run. Yes it's a cliche and yes it's also true, France remain the tournament's biggest enigma. Always capable of the enormous upset and always favoured because of the unpredictable nature of everything about their play.
At times (like the first half against Argentina) they've looked quite impressive, at other times (like against the USA) they've looked as disjointed and unco-ordinated as only they can.
Wales outplayed Ozzie in pool play, admittedly letting them back into the match late on, but showing enough to suggest they certainly have what it takes to go one better than last time when they lost to South Africa.
If anything will handicap Gatland's mob it might be the coach himself and his inherent conservatism. He tends to design his game plans around strangling the opposition into submission relying on their mistakes rather than his own players magic to make the difference. Nine times out of 10 these tactics are enough to subdue a side like France, it's that one anomaly that creates the uncertainty and given that cancellation saved the French from what would've been an intensely physical encounter vs England, I'm picking they've got enough left both up top and in the tank to cause the one big upset of these quarterfinals and beat them boyos.
France in a boilover. Also close, though, 12 and under.