After a long pool phase that included many games that were complete mismatches, the 2023 Rugby World Cup enters a nail-biting phase this weekend with the quarterfinals. Two of these matches promise to be brutal and too hard to call- France v South Africa and Ireland v New Zealand. We can also expect close and exciting games in the other quarterfinals: Wales v Argentina and England v Fiji.
Wales v Argentina, 17:00, Stade de Marseille, Marseille
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Wales have surprised all with their form at the 2023 Rugby World Cup after poor form leading up to the tournament. The Dragons topped Pool C, beating Fiji 32-26 in an epic contest and smashing Australia 40-6 (their largest defeat ever of the Wallabies). The return of Warren Gatland as coach in 2023 has finally reaped rewards (after a shaky start to the year) and Wales will be full of confidence heading into the quarterfinals.
Despite qualifying for the quarterfinals by finishing 2nd in Pool D, Argentina has been a bit disappointing thus far at the 2023 Rugby World Cup. They were favoured to beat England in their opening match, but ended up losing 27-10, despite having a one-man advantage for most of the match after England flank Tom Curry was sent off in the 11th minute for a head clash. They then beat Samoa 19-10 in an uninspiring performance, before gradually improving and eating Japan 39-27 in their last pool match.
The match should be a closely contested one, with two teams of equal strength facing off. Wales will have to overcome the loss of talismanic player Toby Faletau but will hope that the rest of the forwards can continue their improved form and provide a platform for their exciting backs to make their mark. Argentina will strive to live up to their pre-tournament billing potential, and coach Michael Cheika will seek to channel the team’s Latin temperament into a fiery performance that is clinical and dynamic.
Ireland v New Zealand, 21:00, Stade de France, Saint-Denis
Referee: Wayne Barnes
This blockbuster match has the potential to be the game of the tournament. Ireland has continued their sizzling form in the 2023 Rugby World Cup, extending their winning streak to 17 matches and topping Pool B. The Irish easily beat Romania, Tonga and Scotland, but had a tough match against South Africa, beating the current champions 13-8 in a match that could have gone the Bokke’s way were it not for missed goal kicks.
New Zealand started the 2023 Rugby World Cup poorly, losing 29-13 to France in their first-ever loss at the pool stage of the Rugby World Cup. They have since smashed their opponents, beating Italy 96-17 and racking up big scores against Uruguay and Namibia. However, due to the weakness of their opponents, it’s hard to know how much can be read into these results.
Even though Ireland has never qualified for the World Cup semi-final and lost to the All Blacks at the same stage in 2019, they will be favourites for the match, owing to their consistent form and number-one ranked status. Ireland has an almost complete game, with slick tactical moves, solid defence, minimal mistakes and a host of world-class, experienced players. The All Blacks of 2023 are not as solid or consistent as teams of the past, but still possess several outstanding and dangerous players, and can beat any team when their team gains forward parity and clicks on the day.
Due to their playoff history, Ireland will feel the pressure, but the match will ultimately be determined by whether the All Blacks can match or even usurp Ireland’s forwards. If Ireland dominates upfront, it could be a long night for the New Zealanders.
England v Fiji, 17:00 , Stade de Marseille, Marseille
Referee: Mathieu Raynal
England has somewhat performed above expectations at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, topping Pool D and winning all their matches. However, they were not placed in the strongest pool, with their only tough games against an inconsistent Argentina and a Japan team not as strong as 4 years ago. Even more concern for the Roses is that they only beat Samoa 18-17 in their last pool game, a match which they were fairly lucky to win.
Fiji demonstrated terrific form in their first two matches, losing 26-32 to Wales in a thriller, and then beating Australia 22-15 (their first win against them for nearly 60 years). Their form in their next 2 matches was less inspiring; they struggled to beat Georgia 17-12 and then lost 23-24 to unheralded Portugal. They still managed to qualify for the quarterfinals though, and they will be delighted to be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Fiji shocked England in a warmup match before the tournament, winning 30-22. However, based on history and reputation, England will still be considered favourites for this match. Fiji will need to rediscover their “mojo’ and demonstrate the slick, fast-running rugby that the islanders are renowned for, and combine this with a more tactically astute approach. England will hope to suffocate Fiji through a dominant forward performance and shut off all space for the Fijians, much like they did against Argentina in the pool stage.
France v South Africa 21:00 , Stade de France, Saint-Denis
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
We’re all set for another cracker, with the hosts and no 2 ranked team taking on the current World Champions. It couldn’t be more daunting for the Bokke, as they will not only be facing a very good French team but will have to overcome an extremely partisan and hostile crowd.
France has barely been tested thus far, starting with a comprehensive win against New Zealand before three easy victories over lesser opposition. South Africa had two major tests in the pool stage, beating Scotland 18-3 and losing 13-8 to Ireland in a match where the team did not take all of its chances.
France has proved over the last 4 years to be a far more consistent team and is undoubtedly tough to beat, with a robust pack, exciting backs, and a master general in the form of Anton du Pont, widely considered to be the best scrumhalf in the world. South Africa is often considered to be a team that other teams hate to face, thanks to its powerhouse pack (including the feared/revered “bomb squad” on the bench), a rush defence that is in the face of opposing teams, and exciting backs such as Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse.
France will be buoyed that Du Pont is fit for the match after obtaining a horrific injury in the pool stage, while South Africa will be equally pleased to have Handre Pollard and Lukhanyo Am in the squad (both players didn’t make the initial squad due to injury). This one could go either way and could come down to the bounce of the ball or a tight referee call.
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