All but one of the quarter finals pitted traditional rivals against each other. The weekend started with the battles from the Northern Hemisphere with Ireland facing Wales and England battling France. The second day of games focused on the Southern Hemisphere where the host country’s All Blacks squared off against Argentina and South Africa clashed with Australia. As with any rivalries, the outcome is a coin flip and the matches are often classics.
Ireland and Wales kicked off the weekend. Ireland qualified as the top nation in Pool C by upsetting Australia in pool play. However, many experts pegged them as underdogs to Wales who had produced wonderful form during the pool stages and were unlucky not to be unbeaten. The match was fiercely contested with no quarter given. Wales looked the more enterprising team, but Ireland’s veterans were calmly steering their side toward victory. It wasn’t until Mike Phillips, the Welsh halfback, spotted some lazy defense on the blindside that Wales took control the match. The opportunism epitomizes the patience that Wales plays with; they do the basics well and look to be one of the fittest teams in the RWC. The earned a victory and a semi-final berth.
The second match kicked off with questions about France’s ability to play after losing to Tonga in their last pool match. England were favorites but meet “that” France team. This is the French side that turns up for the RWC knockout stages. In 1999 and 2007, the All Blacks caught “that” French team and this time it was the English. England tried to play an expansive game and gave the French too many opportunities. This sets up a thrilling semi-final between two highly skilled teams, but the question will remain, “Which France will arrive at the ground?”
The second day of matches started with the South Africa and the Wallabies. Some had picked this game to be the final of the RWC and the match had all the intensity of a final. These two teams battered each other with or without the ball. There was not dirty play, just great ball running and tackling.With an intimate knowledge of each other, the Boks and the Wallabies knew what to expect and both sides were prepared. The Boks looked the better side on the day, but a late lineout penalty was awarded to Australia and James O’Connor calmly slotted the points for the win.
The last quarter final was between an over matched Argentina and New Zealand. Argentina planned to use spoiling tactics to slow the New Zealand attack and were successful. The Pumas even took an early lead, but the All Blacks overcame the loss of another first five-eighth, Colin Slade, to convincingly beat the Pumas. This set up a trans-Tasman showdown of epic proportions.
The interesting thing to note about these quarterfinals is that three of the four teams in the semis were runners’ up in their pools. This shows how close the teams are at the top of the pile and should be a shot across the bar for all players to bring their best for this opportunity at World Cup glory.