Well, it’s quite a weekend of rugby we have to look forward to! After 4 weeks of action, 20 teams have been reduced to the final 8. Each of the teams has had a tough road to get to this stage, a quarter-final, but this is where the World Cup really begins. This is where the real winners start to come to the fore. Each of the 4 games has a story behind it. I’ll look at the Saturday’s games first.
IRELAND V WALES Saturday 8th Ocotber 6 a.m. (on RTE 2, UTV, SETANTA)
Both have these teams have struggled to get this far, but will be the better for that struggle. Wales came out of probably the toughest pool, with a lot of credit. Before the tournament started, there was specualation that they may not even get out of the pool. Not only did they face, the reigning World Champions, South Africa, but they also had to face 2 very tough opponent’s, in Samao and Fiji. Both these teams had knocked them out of previous World Cups. Wales had played very well in the World Cup warm-up games, and they carried that performance into the pool stages. In the first shock of the tournament, they almost beat the Springboks, losing by a single point. They then managed to defeat Samoa, and then completely anhilated Fiji. Their confidence will be high, and they will be battle-hardened after those tough encounters. They’ve picked a young team, but a team that is on a role at the moment.
Ireland had a pretty tough pool as well. They faced the current Tri-Nations champions, Australia, and also, regular 6 Nations opponents, Italy. Considering Ireland’s form had been abismal going into the tournament. And that we have a poor record against the Wallabies. And that Italy almost beat us earlier in the year, things didn’t look good for us. A poor result seemed to look likely when we struggled against the U.S. in our opening game. We managed to turn it around completely though, in our next game against Australia Amazingly, Ireland went one better than Wales, and managed to beat the Wallabies, quite comfortably in the end. This came as a shock to everyone, and really galvanised the tournament. This also put Ireland on a role, and, despite a shaky start against Italy, they turned it around in the 2nd half and won very well. Now they come to the quarter-final. They should feel pretty confident. This is likely the last chance for a lot of these players (half will have retired before the next World Cup) to really achieve something special. After the Grand Slam in 2009, and the double Heineken Cups achieved by both Munster and Leinster, a World Cup sem-final, and possbily even more, would be the icing on the cake for this Irish Squad.
Ireland have the more experienced side at the moment, but the Welsh players have achieved alot in a short space of time. I think that Ireland will just have the nod, although that might be my emotions talking. It should be one for the ages, though!
ENGLAND V FRANCE Saturday 8th Oct 8.30 a.m. (RTE 2, UTV, SETANTA)
This is another tough match to call, though for different reasons. France have really struggled in this tournament so far. They were pool with New Zealand, so advancing seemed a certainty. But they were also expected to give a good account of themselves. They have failed to do so, with 2 poor performances (against Japan, which they won, and New Zealand, which they lost). And they also suffered a shock loss to Tonga. The French squad are also in disarray at the moment. Their seems to be in-fighting amongst the players. And they’re also been criticised by their coach Lievermont (who’s been attacked by everyone). France have a good record of turning it around when it looks dire, but I think that they’re going through too much at the moment.
England got through a tough pool as well. They were competing with Scotland and Argentina, and there seemed to be a 3-horse race for both places. Each of the 3 teams seemed likely to progress. To England’s credit, they managed to beat both their rivals, and finished the pool, undefeated. Like France, they too are suffering from off the field controversy, but, unlike France, they have managed to keep it off the field. Apart from Jonny Wilkinson’s kicking, which has been poor.
Of the 2 teams, England have been playing better, and I would have to give them the nod. On a different note, it’s great to see that they’re will be one Northern Hemisphere side in the final, which is great for Europe.