AND THEN THERE WERE 8! After a dramatic Pool Stage, we have now reached the moment where one mistake may well mean your team will be heading home and the chance of becoming World Champions will have evaporated. As 3 southern hemisphere and 5 northern hemisphere sides, including the hosts, trade blows for the trophy, here is my preview and predictions for the upcoming quarter final stage.

12/10/19 – ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA – Oita Stadium, Oita

So here we go again in an Ashes year England and Australia will face off once more in a different sport in the 1st Rugby World Cup 2019 quarter final. Eddie Jones v Michael Cheika is always a fun show and I’m sure they will not let us down in the build up, but it is what happens on the pitch that really matters. England have won all the matches they have actually played convincingly, with their final group match against the French cancelled. Australia have looked average to be honest, apart from when they were 15 points behind at half-time against the Welsh, they put in an outstanding 2nd half performance which showed exactly what they are capable of when on song, unfortunately for them the deficit was just too much and they find themselves on this side of the draw. England have won the last 6 matches in a row against the Australians only losing 2 in the last 12, though one of those was the crucial World Cup match in 2015, which basically meant the Red Rose were dumped out of their ‘own’ tournament. Historically it is tight, Australia 25 wins, England 24, in World Cups it is 3 victories a piece. England are quire rightly favourites, but the question against them is the fact that they really haven’t been tested and would not have played for a couple of weeks, they could be undercooked. In World Cups England have won both their previous quarter finals against Australia and the Eddie Jones factor of him never having lost to his homeland side as the Red Rose coach could be key. This will go to the wire as Australia no doubt will turn up, but England will just and a mean, JUST shade it – a 3-5 point victory for the English.

12/10/19 – NEW ZEALAND v IRELAND – Tokyo Stadium, Chofu

Another absolute humdinger of a match for the 1st day of the quarter finals. The All Blacks have looked, well just like they always tend to, pretty pretty pretty good. Whilst it is acceptable to say that they have not really been tested in their last 2 matches against Canada and Namibia, their opening win over South Africa showed that they mean business, as in a match where they were struggling they played fantasy rugby for 10-15 minutes to open up a lead they would never relinquish. It is amazing to think that less than a year ago after defeating these opponents last November, Ireland were seen as real and credible contenders for the tournament, however since then they have regressed somewhat. A poor Six Nations followed and even though they looked back to something like their best (helped by a shocking Scotland performance) in their first match, when they were put under pressure by the hosts in the second outing they crumbled in alarming fashion. Routine and expected victories followed against Russia and Samoa, but as we know the New Zealanders are a class and more above those opponents. The Irish do have some positives going into this game, without doubt coach, Joe Schmidt, will have a game plan suited to defeat his homeland side, especially as his sides have won 2 of the last 3 meetings (after never ever beating them in their history), and maybe with the New Zealanders latest match against Italy being cancelled, there is a chance they could catch them cold by actually giving the defending champions their first real match for over 4 weeks. However I cannot see this myself, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton have always been the architects when they have defeated Steve Hansen’s men and both those players have struggled to stamp their authority on games throughout all of 2019. New Zealand will be pushed but will pull away near the end to win by 10-15 points

13/10/19 – WALES v FRANCE – Oita Stadium, Oita

Wales have been, well clinical is what I would call it. 4 wins out of 4, all squad members with game time and when it has really mattered, firstly against Australia and then Fiji they have turned up and done what was required. There were questions after an underwhelming build up in which the Welsh lost 3 of their 4 warm up games but they are 100% here in Japan and the minimum requirement of a last 4 place is well within their grasp. France have been, well France. Their only convincing half of rugby came against Argentina on the first weekend where they were irresistible in gaining a 20-3 half time lead. They then proceeded to lose the 2nd half 18-3 but that was enough for a win and to be fair when they were 20-21 behind they showed surprising nous to drop goal the winning points. Routine, but not convincing victories followed against USA and Tonga before the cancellation of their match against England something I think the French were quite happy about. In February France opened up a 16-0 half-time lead over the Welsh in the 1st half as the Six Nations started, however they could not see the game out as Wales won 24-19 in Paris. I cannot see such a fast French start again with Warren Gatland the master of plotting his way through matches like this. France will no doubt be dangerous, they have a young side with outstanding starlets such as Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Damian Penaud but maybe their home tournament in 4 years time will be when we see them be decisive on the world stage. Wales will have too much nous for them, even with injury doubts over key men such as Dan Biggar and Jonathan Davies. I predict a Wales win by between 5-10 points, and only a late French surge, once the match is well out of their reach, will make the scoreline look respectable.

13/10/19 – JAPAN v SOUTH AFRICA – Tokyo Stadium, Chofu

WOW WOW WOW, what a match up to finish the quarter final weekend. Japan have been outstanding this tournament. After a nervy start in their opening match against Russia, where they conceded a try early on, they pushed on seeing off the dogged Russians before defeating Ireland, Samoa and crucially Scotland to reach the last 8 for the first time in their history and without a doubt it is fully deserved, there is no fluke about their place at this stage. The rugby they have played has been outstanding, it has been a real team effort, the 200+ days that Head Coach Jamie Joseph has had them together has clearly been put to good use. South Africa have made great strides in the last 18 months under Rassie Erasmus and gave as good as they got versus New Zealand in their opening encounter, especially early on, where they were the better team, but fell foul to some rugby from the gods produced by their opponents on the day, that can and will continue to happen against the All Blacks. Since then they have demolished Namibia, Italy and Canada without too much fuss and look devastating up front, smashing those sides all over the place creating and taking the numerous try scoring opportunities. For me these 2 sides have been the best ones I have seen at the tournament and with the home crowd behind them the hosts will be a tough nut to crack. However the Springboks have looked strong across their whole squad and I feel their forward power and nous will be the difference in this game and whilst Japan will put a spirited performance and never give up they will find the South Africans too good, with a 10-15 point victory margin for the 2 time winners and revenge for their famous defeat to these opponents at the 2015 World Cup.

So there it is, my thoughts on what I will think will happen this coming weekend as the Rugby World Cup 2019 knockout begins – do you agree? Maybe, maybe not – let me know.

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