Thursday, 6 October 2011

A World Cup fight at Close Quarters

No more group matches, no more working out point difference, bonus points and qualification permutations. We are at the do or die stage. This World Cup has finally reached a genuinely interesting and difficult to call round of exciting Quarter Final matches

Bar the NZ-Arg match, which is unlikely to have the edge of our seats and the ends of our nails worn down, there are 3 truly close matches ahead. These are the top 8 IRB ranked teams in the world and as per last week's rankings they were paired as 2 vs 3 (SA-Aus); 4 vs 5 (Eng-Fra) and 6 vs 7 (Ire-Wal). France's defeat to Tonga has since seen them drop to 8th but make no mistake, they aren't just making up les nombres...

England - France
As amusing as it would be to continue a very thinly disguised attempt at English sporting arrogance (and endeavour to evoke a further remarkable barrage of abuse from those whose understanding of sarcasm and irony is about as advanced as Jonny Wilkinson's involvement in twitter), there's simply no way England can confidently assume their semi-final place is secure. The "convincing" Six Nations win was only 9-9 at half-time and a missed Yachvili penalty just before the break could have made for a very different result. 
England are going with Flood and Wilkinson, the fairly blunt instrument that has been Tindall dropped ruled out with an horrific dead leg, an injury so devastating and crippling that it was kept completely under wraps until it happened to be that Johnson had to reveal that he didn't want our royal centre to play. Extra kicking options, wingers with 9 tries in 5 matches between them and a self-belief that we're better than our Gallic rivals in disarray makes England strong favourites.
As much as I might try to suppress my patriotism, it seems to be winning out over the English sporting cynicism, so I'm going to go for a 21-13 victory pour les Blancs.

Ireland - Wales
The Celtic clash has been well covered by Ben Dirs so I won't labour to expand upon his analysis but I can't help feeling it is going to be worth the early morning start. These two expansive, attractive rugby-playing nations are 1-1 in World Cup head-to-head but 63-46 to Wales all-time and Ireland have never made it beyond the quarter final stage. But after a famous victory over the Wallabies in the pool, and a convincing dismantling of a potential banana skin in Italy, the Irish must be brimming with confidence. Wales have had a couple of close shaves, one nearly sneaking a win against the world champions, one narrowly escaping going down to the less-than-mighty Samoa. A swansong for greats like O'Driscoll, O'Gara and Williams will only add to the drama.
The fact that I have them in my work sweepstake has nothing at all to do with the fact that I believe Ireland will come through for a 24-17 win.

Australia - South Africa
An absolutely mouth-watering clash between 2 of the 3 teams to have ever defeated the All Blacks in the RWC. They share a 1-1 world cup record and have both won the tournament a joint record 2 times. Remarkably, Australia have never been ranked 1 in the world and the reigning Tri-Nations champions have a losing 26-40 overall record against the Springboks. That said, they beat them in both of the Tri-Nations clashes and go into the match marginal favourites, despite the form of new record South African try scorer Bryan Habana
Not too sure why, but I've just got an inkling that it could be the Springboks' day and I'll go for a closely fought 18-14 win for the Africans.

New Zealand - Argentina
By no means a guarantee without the talismanic Dan Carter but the dominant All Blacks who, dismissive of the pressure on them, have looked thoroughly solid thus far, start as overwhelming favourites against a team they've not lost to in 13 matches. Argentina will no doubt do what they do well, and keep the tide at bay for periods but there'll be no stopping New Zealand making their 6th semi final in 7 world cups.
No second consecutive semi for the Pumas unfortunately, going down 37-9 I reckon.


  1. As a Welshman starting to dream of World Cup glory, the thought of losing to Ireland doesn't bear thinking about, but to think we could go out when England or France will be in the semis is a cruel twist of fate. Ireland or Wales to be strong favourites to win said semi, although still think England will sneak into 3rd final on trot! Whoever wins out of Oz / SA to beat NZ in the other semi.....

  2. Sam, I was hoping for a little bit more accuracy from your predictions!! Loving the work though!!

  3. Please would you predict France to beat Wales and Australia to beat the All Blacks next weekend? - (and so set up a Walse NZ final)

  4. i was hoping for a little more accuracy in my predictions too! especially the first one. Oh well, there's always next time...