The business end is upon us, only 8 teams left, 4 quarter finals to fight out, time to crystal ball gaze upon the RWC starting with the 2 matches played first on both nights.
England vs Australia 8.15 Saturday night.
Can't go past the Poms on this one people. Of all the teams left in the tournament I rate this lot right behind the All Blacks.
They are big, boisterous & play a real physical game based on breaking the advantage line using their twin robust ball carriers Vunipola & Tuilagi to great effect.
Eddie Jones is also a very clever coach capable of designing the perfect game plan for the 1-off occasion, including both this and a potential semi-final vs (hopefully) the All Blacks.
On the other side of the half way line stand the Wallabies. The one question about this side is are they the team that trounced us in Perth or the one that's struggled to find that same form since?
Michael Cheika has confused all with his selections in Japan, especially around the positions 9/10 with a lack of consistency there still causing concern.
The Ozzies are definitely in this only they'll need to play twice as well as they did against Wales in group play - and that's where I have my doubts. We've seen nothing from them in the last 2 months that comes close to that Perth performance and unless they can rediscover some similarly scripted magic potion then it's an early and ignominious exit for the Wallabies followed by an immediate inquisition into the future of Cheika as coach.
I'd love Australia to go through here but can't go past their forward pack failing to win enough quality ball to feed a backline with all the potential to enable an upset. England to win 12-.
Wales vs France 8.15pm Sunday night.
If there's going to be a boilover then Oita is where it'll be. The perennial unanswered question at all World Cups always involves les Bleus. How good are they, are they any good at all, even if they aren't are they capable of being good for just one game and how will anyone know until kick-off comes anyway? Attempting to read anything into their pool match form is like trying to predict the result based on watching their final team training run.
Yes it's a cliche and yes it's also true, France remain the tournament's biggest enigma. Always capable of the enormous upset and always favoured because of the unpredictable nature of everything about their play.
At times (e.g. the first half vs Argentina) they've looked quite impressive, at other times (e.g. vs USA) they've looked as disjointed and unco as only they can. Wales outplayed Ozzie in pool play, admittedly letting them back into the match late on, but showing enough to suggest they certainly have what it takes to go one better than last time when they lost to South Africa.
If anything will handicap Gatland's mob it might be the coach himself and his inherent conservatism. He tends to design his game plans around strangling the opposition into submission relying on their mistakes rather than his own players magic to make the difference.
Nine times out of ten these tactics are enough to subdue a side like France, it's that one anomaly that creates the uncertainty and given that cancellation
saved the French from what would've been an intensely physical encounter vs England, I'm picking they've got enough left both up top and in the tank to cause the one big upset of these quarter finals and beat them boyos.
France in a boilover 12-