Despite a couple of close run affairs, the four favourites emerged relatively unscathed from the Quarter Final clashes, and we are down to four nations in their chase for the Webb Ellis trophy and being proclaimed the 2019 Rugby World Cup champions.
The first two Quarter Finals were pretty one sided, as England thrashed Australia 40-16, and then watched New Zealand ruthlessly dismantle Ireland 46-14, to set up a mouth watering semi final clash between, arguably, the two most impressive teams of the World Cup so far.
England were first to cement their place in the last four, seeing off old enemy Australia in a high quality affair – Australia starting hot but being unable to keep the English putting points on the board with regularity. England held a 17-9 lead at half time before the Wallabies pulled it back to 17-16 after the restart. But that was as close as it got, with England pulling quickly away to 27-16 – and then extending the lead with some fantastic tactical rugby to 40-16 as the final whistle approached. Although Australia had a try disallowed for a forward pass late on, it would have been nothing more than a consolation. The scoreline maybe flattering the Red Roses a little, but they fully deserved the win overall and progressed through with some comfort.
It was a similar story for the Kiwis against Ireland – although on this occasion the scoreline did not flatter the winners – it totally represented the gulf in class between the two nations. Ireland simply had little answer to their fluid and powerful opponents – and when they did have possession, showed little composure and gave the ball away far too often. New Zealand ran in seven tries across the 80 minutes, with Ireland not troubling the scorers until the last ten minutes. It was a disjointed and disappointing performance from the Northern Hemisphere team, who looked a shadow of the team who had beaten the Kiwis twice a few years ago, and risen to number one in the world rankings. But nothing should detract from the quality of New Zealand, who remain unbeaten and look the team to beat – again.
The third Quarter Final game was the closest and most exciting. Wales were expected to dispatch France with some ease – but with just 6 minutes left, found themselves 19-13 down and staring what would be a surprise – if not embarrassing – exit at the hands of their Six Nations rivals, who were also playing with 14 men for almost all of the second half, following the dismissal of try scorer Sebastien Vahaamahina for a brutal elbow on Welshman Aaron Wainwright. But Ross Moriarty spared Welsh blushes as he collected a loose ball and barrelled over the line for a try, which was subsequently converted by Dan Biggar, to give Wales a 20-19 lead, which they managed to hold on to for the final few minutes. Les Bleus were devastated at the final hooter – scoring three tries to two, but, crucially, missing conversions and penalties – any one of which would have given them the win – which, in truth, they deserved. But it is Wales who march on….just.
Last up was the host nation, and tournament storymakers Japan taking on the powerful South Africans. Japan’s intensity and flair had been exciting to watch as they progressed from Pool A – but it was felt that South Africa were a step up from anyone they had faced so far. Which proved a truism. The Springboks held a narrow 5-3 lead at half time, but in the second half their presence, power and tactical astuteness proved the difference, as they wore the talented Japanese team down and then started to pull away on the scoreboard also – scoring 21 unanswered points as they sent the brave hosts out 26-3. Japan losing little in defeat, and will be proud of their achievement – but South Africa simply had too much overall to be beaten on the day, and progressed through to the Semi Finals.
So, to confirm the Semi Final line ups :
Saturday October 26 – ENGLAND v NEW ZEALAND (09:00 BST kick off)
Sunday October 27 – WALES v SOUTH AFRICA (09:00 BST kick off)
It is fair to say that the two Southern Hemisphere nations will start as favourites in both games. As impressive as England have been, and look to be peaking at just the right time, New Zealand are a class again to what they have faced so far – and it is hard to see, on current form, the Kiwis being beaten. England will have nothing to lose and know if they can beat New Zealand, then they can win this thing. But saying it is one thing – doing it another. Though we think England will put up a brave performance and have their moments, heads have to rule hearts here and we see them falling short.
Prediction : England 20 – 34 New Zealand
It feels a similar situation in the second semi final. Wales, defending Six Nations champions, have flattered to deceive so far in this tournament. Their win over France – the weakest team in the last eight – was fortunate overall – and they didn’t deserve the win. They remain a talented outfit, but vulnerable – and we see the power of the South Africans – our pre tournament tip – being too much for them to overcome. The Springboks may not have the scoring power of the Kiwis, but are capable of nullifying teams from the first to last minute – and we think this will happen here.
Prediction : Wales 7 – South Africa 24
So there you have it – we predicted a New Zealand v South Africa final pre tournament – and though we would love to see a Northern Hemisphere nation get to the final, we simply cant see past our prediction coming home as these two powerhouses look to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup.