The pools are done and dusted, Scotland are going home, but what can we expect from those that remain?
England vs Australia, Saturday 19th October, 8:15 AM
Eddie Jones has beaten his home nation all six times he has played them as England coach. His rivalry with ex-teammate Michael Cheika is one to savour: both are bullish, confrontational, controversial figures. Both, however, know how to win. Indeed, the last time Australia beat England was in the 2015 World Cup, a Cheika inspired rout at Twickenham. Have England exorcised those demons?
Australia have been unconvincing all year, but it would be typical for them to show up on the day. In Pocock and Hooper they have the world’s two best open-side flankers. How Eddie Jones’ ‘Kamikaze kids’ Sam Underhill and Tom Curry perform in the face of Australia’s two elite sevens will go a long way towards determining this fixture.
As will the performance of Owen Farrell. If the England captain can grab the game by the collar as he does so often for Saracens, suffocate Australia territorially, be dominate defensively and bring England’s ball carriers into play, then the game should be there for the taking.
And yet, and yet, lingering doubts remain about England. They have shown a mental fragility over the last year that was absent in the first two under Jones, throwing away half time leads like home world cups. If England show up and deliver a performance akin to that in Dublin earlier this year, they will win. Anything less and the Australians, never to be underestimated, could cause an upset.
Prediction: England to win, but not by a lot.
New Zealand vs Ireland, Saturday 19th October, 11:15 AM
This one is equally hard to call. New Zealand will rightly fear Ireland, their experience in the last few years will have taught them as much. For Ireland, their World Cup has been less than enjoyable so far. However, they know how to beat the All Blacks and will take great confidence from the fact their record against New Zealand in the last three is won two, lost one.
Nevertheless, the All Blacks proved against South Africa in the opening group match that they can rise to any occasion, can see off even the most fancied challenger. The flashes of brilliance exhibited in that match were ruthlessly efficient, and in one five minute spell they are capable of finishing games off. Since then they have been building steadily, racking up a series of huge victories.
However, this side is not as solid as those of the McCaw/Carter era. They can be magnificent, but they are unpredictable. If Beauden Barrett is their star, he is also a handy comparison to the team more generally: sometimes unplayable, prone to be occasionally subpar.
Whilst it seems illogical, and the form book and narratives surrounding both teams suggest otherwise, I have a suspicion Ireland could do this (although that is a prediction that could easily seem ridiculous come Saturday afternoon).
Prediction: Ireland, surely (surely!) New Zealand have to lose a World Cup match soon…
Wales vs France, Sunday 20th October, 8:15 AM
A lot easier to call: Wales know how to win games; France know how to throw them away. Whilst it is never a good idea to write off the French, given their ability across the board, it would take a sustained, coherent performance from them, of the like we have not seen for years, to beat this Wales team.
That said, Wales have looked far from indomitable since the Six Nations. If France are able to open this match up, raise the tempo and unsettle Wales early, then they could yet spring an upset. Antoine Dupont will have to have the game of his life for that to happen, but should he, the scrumhalf possesses such delightful, impish, irresistible ability that he could drag his mutinous team with him.
The key men for Wales remain Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams. If those three, who most consider truly world class, are on song, then Wales, given their structure, organisation and winning mentality (all of which France lack), will win.
Prediction: Wales, although don’t be shocked if France, always so dangerous at World Cups, pull out a miracle performance and steal it.
Japan vs South Africa, Sunday 19th October, 11:15 AM
As much as I would love to see a Japanese win, one suspects the Brave Blossoms may have come as far as they can in this tournament. Against anyone but South Africa or the All Blacks I would give them a chance, but, such is the physical dominance of the Springboks, it seems unlikely. Nobody in world rugby chokes sides, suffocates them, imposes themselves physically and mentality like a good South African team.
They are the ultimate underdog killers, ruthlessly efficient in mind and body. However, we should not underestimate Japan, that has been the key takeaway from the tournament thus far. Powered by the emotion of a nation, they could well spring a surprise. We all know what happened in Brighton four years ago.
Prediction: South Africa, once bitten, twice shy.
Written by Joe Ronan