By Sunday afternoon, only four countries will remain in Japan for next week’s semi-finals.
The pool stage of the World Cup have concluded and 12 teams have gone home. By Sunday afternoon, only four countries will remain in Japan for next week’s semi-finals.
Mike Greenaway previews the quarter-finals and predicts his winners.
England vs Australia
Tomorrow, 9.15am SA time
England are the richest rugby nation on the planet and it is no secret that the RFU have thrown a fortune at winning this World Cup.
Every request by coach Eddie Jones has been granted and his team is superbly prepared.
The management team even includes South African vision coach Sherylle Calder, a lucky talisman who has won World Cup gold with the England team of 2003 and the Springboks in 2007.
England meet the Wallabies for a record seventh time at a World Cup and while the Aussies have won most of those, the English are heavily favoured tomorrow. The Wallabies have been largely under the radar in this World Cup, with little fuss being made of their chances. This will play into the hands of coach Michael Cheika, who is a master motivator.
Still, Australia have lost their last six matches to England and I can’t see them turning it around tomorrow.
Prediction: England by 7
New Zealand vs Ireland
Ireland have been one of the great disappointments of this World Cup, while New Zealand go into the play-offs undefeated in 18 World Cup games going back to 2011.
The Irish look a troubled side that is a galaxy away from the side that in recent times beat the All Blacks twice.
As good as Japan were in beating Ireland, the men in green barely fired a shot and were largely unimpressive in their other Pool games.
The thing is, surely a side of Ireland’s pedigree have a big game in them, and will it be tomorrow that they finally turn it on?
The All Blacks, by contrast have typically steamrolled their opposition, apart from the round one match against South Africa, where they were pushed hard for the spoils.
That game won’t scare the Irish; it will encourage them that the Kiwis can be beaten.
Prediction: New Zealand by 10
Wales vs France
The Welsh have one of the best and most experienced coaches in the world in Warren Gatland. The New Zealander has coached the last two British and Irish Lions teams and has headed up Wales since 2007 and this World Cup is to be his curtain call with the Principality.
And it could be a rousing farewell for a coach who has meticulously fashioned Wales into serious title contenders.
The 2019 Six Nations Grand Slam winners are a rock solid outfit, with strong structures combining with a positive willingness to use the ball.
The French typically are all over the show, with rumours of a fall-out between the players and coach Fabien Gaultie.
It has been suggested that this might pull the players together and we might be in for one of those magical French World Cup displays. Maybe, but I can’t see it.
Wales are simply too well prepared for this French side.
Prediction: Wales by 10
Japan vs South Africa
The Springboks will be up against not only the whole of Japan but also virtually every non-South African rugby fan on the planet.
The hosts are in the World Cup play-offs for the first time ever and are full value for their World Rugby No 7 ranking, and the rugby world wants the fairytale to continue. It won’t happen because the Japanese are going to be outgunned by the Boks, who almost certainly have the most powerful pack in Japan.
So far, Japan have been able to win their fair share of possession and produce quick ball at the breakdowns to fuel their high-paced game.
I see the big men of the Bok pack pushing the Japanese back in the set scrums and in the collisions.
The referee is Wayne Barnes of England, arguably the form ref of the tournament. Barnes has a huge role to play because we have seen how the other referees of the Japan games have been swept up by the emotion in the stadium.
Prediction: South Africa by 9