15 October 2015
Rugby Quarter-finals: preview by Rob McKinlay
After 40 matches at 13 venues, 176 penalties, 231 tries and 2,020 points, the group stages of England 2015 are over. Things just got serious.
We’ll miss the flying Fijians, the giant Georgians and, in particular the joyous Japanese Brave Blossoms but, most pertinent of all and for the first time in the tournament history, there’s no host nation in the quarter-finals. So who should England fans get behind as we begin the knock-out stages this weekend and who will make the last four?
South Africa v Wales
Sat 17 October, 4pm
Saturday’s narrow loss to Australia means Sam Warburton’s men finish second in the Group of Death and face a resurgent Springbok side, who bounced back from the seismic Japan shock in style. As South Africa’s confidence grows, so does Wales’ injury list, but through adversity comes strength and spirit in the camp remains undiminished, built on that famous defeat of England at Twickenham. Wales can still field a talented enough starting XV to have a chance, but this match may be one too far for such a depleted squad. The Boks’ direct style and power in the set piece should be enough to see them through.
Winner: South Africa
Who should England fans support? Next-door neighbours from Heaven, Wales
New Zealand v France
Sat 17 October, 8pm
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
The All-Blacks haven’t needed to get out of third gear in a relatively straightforward group, but feelings of déja vu will have been stirred when a quarter-final meeting with France was confirmed. Their clichéd unpredictability has always unnerved New Zealand, with some classic World Cup upsets and encounters over the years, including the last final where France were arguably refereed out of their first tournament triumph. However, like England, this French side doesn’t seem to know how it wants to play, and a Dan Carter-inspired All-Blacks should ease into fourth gear and banish those demons.
Winner: New Zealand
Who should England fans support? Cross-Channel chums, France
Ireland v Argentina
Sun 18 October, 1pm
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
After a couple of years in the Southern Hemisphere’s Rugby Championship, Argentina are starting to look the real deal, hopefully proving to World Rugby what Tier Two nations such as Japan and Georgia can achieve, given the opportunity. A traditionally solid scrum sets the platform for a back division full of flair, but lack of belief they can go all the way may be the Pumas biggest barrier. Ireland have been the best of the home nations, but injuries to O’Mahoney and the mighty O’Connell, plus a ban for O’Brien, level the playing field for this one. It will be close, but if Jonny Sexton recovers in time, Ireland’s experience should see them through.
Who should England fans support? They gave us Guinness: Ireland
Australia v Scotland
Sun 18 October, 4pm
Scotland qualified on nerves and noise in Newcastle, eventually extinguishing Samoa’s fire 36-33 in one of the matches of the tournament. But it came at a cost, with key men Jonny Gray and Ross Ford out, receiving harsh bans that will test the Scots’ strength in depth to the limit. Australia, meanwhile, were too good for England and Wales and currently look the likeliest threat to the All-Blacks throne. Suddenly, the Wallabies have a scrum to match the talent behind it and, in Hooper and Pocock, two beasts of the breakdown that no opposition have managed to work out an answer to yet. A full-strength Scotland would have secretly eyed an upset, but Australia will march on.
Who should England fans support? Do you really want to see Australia win at Twickenham again? Scotland