Four weeks since the ninth world cup officially kicked off at the Tokyo Stadium, we have witnessed matches being suspended, upsets served, but most importantly rugby connoisseurs have been served with pulsating action.
Hosts Japan also put up a brilliant show to upset Ireland on their way to topping their group to become the first ever Asian nation to qualify for the knockout stage.
With the corn having separated itself from the chaff, it is a reckoning moment for all the eight teams in the final eight stage, you slip you miss. England will get the brawls underway against Australia before paving way for New Zealand to entertain Ireland on Saturday. Wales against France will open proceedings on Sunday leaving Japan and South Africa to play for the last semifinal spot.
Japan Vs South Africa (Tokyo Stadium, Sunday, 20 Oct, 1.15 PM EAT)
An historical 32-34 win for Japan over the Springboks in the group stages of the 2015 Webb Ellis cup perhaps was a sign of greater things to come for the Asian nation. The host nation has gone on to romp over his opponents in the group stage, a 19-12 win over former six nations champions Ireland sending a strong message of intent from the Jamie Joseph coached side.
Finishing on top of pool A, they become the first Asian nation to qualify for the knockout stages and the second tier 2 nation after Fiji to achieve the same fete. The brave Blossoms will face the Springboks who finished second in pool B, their only loss coming against New Zealand in the opening match. South Africa reacted well to the loss to put together convincing wins over their opponents in the other group stage matches.
As Japan look to rewrite history, it surely feels like this marks the end of the road for the considering the depth and quality the springbok side bring with them. Tokyo Stadium where they started their way to stardom might be where their dreams are crushed. It will be key for South Africa to control the tempo of the game as the Japanese side have shown how dangerous they can get when left to play the footy.
New Zealand vs Ireland (Tokyo Stadium, Saturday, 19 Oct, 1.15 EAT)
The All Blacks up against Ireland will probably be the biggest clash of the weekend, on paper. New Zealand did not lose any match in the group stages, despite not playing their last group match which was suspended over fears of adverse weather. The Kiwis easily overcame their biggest test, South Africa, to silence critics who had foreseen the fall of the giants, saying they had lost their fear factor. The return of Brodie Retallick will act as a shot in the arm for New Zealand after missing out on the group stage matches from an injury.
Ireland on the other hand have had a rough start to their world campaign, a loss to Japan followed by patchy wins have cast a doubt on how far Joe Schmidt can go in their campaign. Current form against the Kiwis favors the men from the Northern Hemisphere, having won two of the last three meetings between them. If Ireland can rediscover their form on Saturday, then Steve Hansen and his men in black should prepare for a bruising battle.
Before Nigel Owens, the man who will be officiating the clash blows his whistle or throws in one of his one-liners which we will miss as he set to retire after this world cup, All Blacks remain slight favorites over Ireland.
England Vs Australia (Oita Stadium, Saturday, 19 Oct, 10.15 AM EAT)
This year’s global showpiece serves us yet another cracker of a match, a clash of the southern and northern hemispheres. For England under Eddie Jones, they seem to get stronger with each passing game as they seek to put behind the ghosts of 2015 where they fell out of their own world cup in the group stages with a loss to Australia.
The red roses had an unblemished run in the group stages, winning convincingly and rotating their squad at ease, which shows the depth that they carry into this year’s show. Their last game against France was among the three suspended clashes.
Wallabies under Michael Cheika have had a rocky start to their campaign, losing to Wales before producing an unconvincing display against Georgia. Finalists in the last global showpiece, the gold plated men cannot be ruled out just yet although England look stronger. England have won all of their five past meetings.
Wales Vs France (Oita Stadium, Sunday, 20 Oct, 2019)
A perfect pool stage win record for Wales which saw them claim the scalp of world cup finalists Australia along the way to assure them of a quarter final berth against France. The French labored past their opponents to make it to the last eight. Narrow 23-21 wins against Tonga and Argentina, all tier two nations will leave question marks on the ability of France to compete among the best of the best.
Wales under Warren Gatland look poised to deal with any stiff opposition that the Blues may present on Sunday.