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Rugby World Cup quarter-finals expert tips: End the desperation

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Expert
16th October, 2019
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So then, here we are… the Rugby World Cup knockout stage is upon us.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve found this week really difficult with no games until Saturday! In times of desperation, I’ve even considered spending time with the family. Endless replays and highlights shows have done their best to fill the void this week, but it’s not the same.

I kid, of course. Not about the endless replays and highlights shows, to be clear.

Fortunately, we have four intriguing, tantalising contests to make up for that this weekend.

LAST WEEK: Digger, Nobes and The Crowd 5; Harry, Geoff and Brett 4.

OVERALL: The Crowd 35; Geoff and Digger 33; Harry, Brett and Nobes 31.

Digger
Tips: England, New Zealand, Wales, South Africa

So, the business end is upon us and a cracking set of quarter-finals to boot.

First up, as much as I want the Wallabies to dish them, I simply think England look the more settled – if perhaps underdone – side. Australia are a red-hot chance, but England to take it.

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Irish and Kiwis next, and my obvious bias at play, but All Blacks for me. Ireland rightly will not lack confidence and neither should they with a good recent record against NZ, but it is pretty rare the ABs get beaten twice in a row by the same side. I suspect the New Zealanders pace will be too much for the Irish over the 80 minutes, but it is a concern that the All Blacks lack the game time leading into this red-hot fixture.

Have to back Wales over France. They seem to play with more composure and understanding than their opponents. But the French do have some attacking weapons. If they can push ahead early it will be intriguing to see how Wales respond. Getting them into playing ad lib footy may be their downfall.

The last quarter-final is also mouth-watering: the loveable host side playing a wonderful style of rugby riding a wave of success and nationalistic pride up against the Springboks with memories of Brighton fresh and themselves a good prospect of adding to their title collection. Stranger things have happened, but I have to pick the Bokke to take this. Their forward strength will be their overall edge in this fixture.

The moment Japan defeated the Springboks

Japan know a thing or two about beating South Africa at the World Cup. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP, File)

Nobes
Tips: England, New Zealand, Wales, South Africa

Now that the dust has settled and we have the eight qualifiers, the reality of the World Cup begins, where the only surprise is the performance of the Japanese team not only for having qualified but for the two shaky games with which they managed to get into the quarter-finals.

The four games ahead of us are formidable and whatever results will not be a surprise. There is no more room for mistakes and a false step means a ticket back home.

England is the team that I considered from the beginning to be a finalist, therefore I have them above the Wallabies. New Zealand faces an Ireland team that has not yet convinced me.

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France always has something special in the World Cup but the games they won did not show an overwhelming superiority, while Wales played one of the best matches of the tournament against Australia.

For the end, we have the duel that was the surprise of 2015, but the Sprinkboks should be too strong this time.

Harry
Tips: Australia, New Zealand, Wales, South Africa

And then there were the fateful eight.

Fractured, fitful France. Jumping jack, jock-jagging Japan. Wistful, weary-eyed Wales. Eddie’s edgy, easy-pooled England. Nonchalant New Zealand. Agitated, aggravated, annoyed Australia. The silky-smooth, smash mouth Springboks. And the irritable Irish.

Coaches range from the serenity of Jamie Joseph to the prickliness of Michael Cheika, the cheekiness of Rassie Erasmus to the pomposity of Warren Gatland. And Steve Hansen always looks like he just woke up from a couch nap with a beer spilled on his lap.

I don’t see the Brave Blossoms being able to form their pretty patterns against the brutal Boks, who won’t suffer a speed deficit. Nobody side steps Cheslin Kolbe, except to run into touch. Also, the lack of a top-tier goal kicker will be more apparent, because it’s knockout time, and Handré Pollard won’t miss often. Once scoreboard pressure is applied, I think the Boks will run riot, and play the villains. SA by 25.

The All Blacks will give Ireland a good hiding. The Irish halves will be cut in half. NZ by 20.

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Wales will stumble through, in what will be the worst quarter-final. Wales 13, France 11.

And in the big one, Australia will tune out Cheika’s cretinous sermons, and return to the grand tradition of burning England’s hopes to ashes. Cleaner rucks on attack, a scrum weapon, and big king hits on the Pom playmakers – whistles will be swallowed in the KOs – and a few moments of magic from Aussie backs, and glory glory hallelujah, the chariot careens into the bloody ditch.

Rory Arnold celebrates a try

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Geoff
Tips: England, New Zealand, Wales, South Africa

The 2015 World Cup produced four semi-finalists from the southern hemisphere. Quirks of the draw and Argentina’s disappointment mean that, this time around, the northern hemisphere is guaranteed to provide at least one, and potentially three, of this year’s final four. I think it will end 2-2.

England’s recent record against Australia is convincing, including a 3-0 whitewash in Australia in 2016. There is a sense that ex-Randwick man Eddie Jones remains a step ahead of ex-Randwick man Michael Cheika, particularly with regard to tactical understanding and selection readiness for this tournament. Cheika deserves credit for having developed a much-improved set piece, but the Wallabies will need improvement at the breakdown, kicking and discipline if they are to win.

This time last year, the case for Ireland to beat the All Blacks at a World Cup would have been very strong. But if timing really is everything, it feels like New Zealand are the fresher, with plenty yet to give, by comparison to Ireland, who feel more like just an older version of their best under Joe Schmidt.

Whatever the mood in the French camp, Wales appeal as more championship ready, complete with a defensive line organised well enough to counter whatever is thrown at them. And to finish off what should be a great weekend, while I count myself in the vast majority who would like to see Japan’s dream run extended, it won’t be.

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Brett
Tips: Australia, New Zealand, Wales, Japan

And then there were eight. Probably not the eight the vast majority of rugby fans the world over might have guessed, but the either best from the tournament nonetheless.

England haven’t really been tested and now haven’t played for a fortnight, and Australia have very been very typically scratchy. It’s not exactly the ideal form line going into a RWC quarter-final, yet it only seems to have added to the narrative and the rivalry this week. The Wallabies need to play their game of 2019, and only need to win by one. So just go out there and do it, please.

New Zealand look a bit comfortable for Ireland, and ditto Wales over France. The bookies will have juicy odds on the Irish and the French, I have no doubt, but it’ll be juicy for a reason. The Irish just aren’t the same team they were a year ago, even having risen to No.1 in the world since then. And when a French fullback is ruled out of the cup with injury only to miraculously appear in his club’s No.15 jersey a week later, that says everything about Les Bleus.

And to finish, why can’t Japan continue the magnificent fairy tale for another week? They’re playing great rugby, with plenty of heart and emotion, as well as now playing for the honour of the parts of the country severely impacted by last weekend’s typhoon. And now have an incredible momentum behind them as well.

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And then there’s the undisputable science: South Africa have never, ever beaten Japan in a Rugby World Cup clash.

So there.

Quarter-finals Digger Harry Geoff Brett Nobes Crowd
ENG vs AUS ENG AUS ENG AUS ENG ENG
NZL vs IRE NZL NZL NZL NZL NZL NZL
WAL vs FRA WAL WAL WAL WAL WAL WAL
JPN vs RSA RSA RSA RSA JPN RSA RSA
Last week 5 4 4 4 5 5
Total score 33 31 33 31 31 35
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