Adam Davy New Zealand perform the Haka ahead of their pool game against South Africa.
# down to business
How are the teams shaping up entering the World Cup quarter-finals in Japan?
As the Rugby World Cup enters the knock-out stages, we take a look at the health of the eight quarter-finalists ahead of a massive weekend in Japan.

FINALLY WE ARE down to the business end of things in Japan, with the quarter-finals kicking off at the Rugby World Cup this weekend. 

For the most part there are not too many surprises in the make-up of the games, bar the odd exception, but not every team has enjoyed a smooth path to this point.

We take a look at how the eight quarter-finalists are shaping up ahead of what promises to be another hugely exciting weekend of action.

japan-rugby-wcup-new-zealand-namibia Christophe Ena Brodie Retalick played 30 minutes against Namibia. Christophe Ena

 1. New Zealand

As always, the All Blacks remain the team to beat. New Zealand haven’t lost a World Cup game since the quarter-final defeat to France in 2007, and we wouldn’t bet against them carrying that record into France 2023. 

They entered this World Cup with more questions than usual surrounding the team after a mixed return in the Rugby Championship, but their performances in that tournament were always going to be marked with an asterisk so close to the World Cup.

Didn’t hit the heights in their opening pool game against South Africa but still produced two wonderful passages of play which won them the game. The resulting thrashings of Namibia and Canada taught us nothing new. Suffered a brief scare in the early stages against Namibia but pulled away to score 71 points.

Sevu Reece, a player due to join Connacht before a domestic violence incident, has been a revelation for Steve Hansen, while the decision to shift Beauden Barrett back to full-back has allowed Richie Mo’unga to flourish at out-half. The formidable Brodie Retallick, injured in the Rugby Championship, is also back in the mix this weekend after his 30 minutes against Namibia.

Have had two weeks to prepare for the quarter-finals after their final pool game against Italy was cancelled, so should be fit and fresh in Tokyo this weekend. A frightening prospect.

That said, an Ireland win – unlikely but far from improbable – would throw the whole competition wide open. The gap may be closing between New Zealand and the chasing pack, but they are yet to be caught.

japan-rugby-wcup-south-africa-italy Shuji Kajiyama Cheslin Kolbe scored two tries against Italy. Shuji Kajiyama

2. South Africa

The Springboks are hitting form bang on cue at a World Cup, just as they always do. Put it up to New Zealand in their opening pool game but just didn’t have enough, starting the game well and finishing strongly but fading in between those two impressive spells.

Rassie Erasmus has done a solid job since taking the reins, delivering a first Rugby Championship title in a decade this summer. 

As usual physicality is the Boks greatest strength. Most teams simply can’t compete with their power up front. That said, they aren’t limited to the power game, with Cheslin Kolbe arguably the stand-out back in Japan so far.

Face a tricky task this weekend against an electric Japan team, but remain on course for a final showdown against New Zealand on 2 November.

england-v-usa-pool-c-2019-rugby-world-cup-kobe-misaki-stadium David Davies Billy Vunipola has recovered from injury to start against Australia. David Davies

3. England

It’s almost difficult to remember that Eddie Jones appeared to be facing the axe a year ago, with England losing to Scotland, France, Ireland and South Africa (twice) in successive matches. 

He has steadied the ship brilliantly. They have been wonderful at various stages this year, including a dominant win against Ireland in Dublin which set Joe Schmidt’s team on a slide in the opposite direction.

In Japan, they have done what has been required without ever really being tested in the pool stages. With Australia up next, Jones had made some curious decisions ahead of their first knock-out match since 2011. The George Ford-Owen Farrell axis has been put on ice to allow Henry Slade come in at outside centre. Ford had been one of England’s outstanding performances in the pool games.

Talent over all the pitch, with Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola all capable of turning a game.

Should have enough to get past the Wallabies and if they keep their key men fit, will be a match for anyone.

wales-v-georgia-pool-d-2019-rugby-world-cup-city-of-toyota-stadium PA Wire / PA Images Jonathan Davies celebrates a try against Georgia. PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

4. Wales

They’ll miss Warren Gatland when he steps away after this World Cup. The former Ireland boss has worked wonders with Wales and they’ve been a joy to watch this year, hitting form nice and early with a first Grand Slam since 2013. 

Nobody batted an eyelid when they lost three warm-up games because Wales have made a habit of showing up when it counts. Outside of those games they have strung together 18 wins on the bounce. Despite winning comfortably they looked off-colour against Georgia in the pool stages, but were magnificent when it mattered against Australia. The way they closed out the final moments of that game showed huge confidence and discipline. Jonathan Davies has been a menace in midfield while Josh Navidi has excelled in the back-row.

They boast one of the best defences around, but might lack the attacking prowess needed to break down South Africa or New Zealand, should it come to that. They won the Six Nations despite scoring less tries than England, France, Ireland and Scotland. 

jonathan-sexton Dan Sheridan / INPHO Johnny Sexton remains Ireland's key man. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

5. Ireland

Battered, a bit bruised, but still here, which is all that counts. The pool stages were far from ideal, to put it mildly. Ireland impressed against a poor Scotland team, were outplayed by Japan, stuttered past Russia and looked a little better against Samoa. 

Not ideal preparation for the biggest game of the Joe Schmidt era, but it won’t change the fact that Ireland no longer hold any fear against New Zealand, having won two of their last three meetings with the All Blacks.

A fit and firing Johnny Sexton is vital. Ireland look a completely different beast when the Leinster out-half is calling the shots, but they are by no means a one man team. Conor Murray has rediscovered some form at the right time, as has Tadhg Furlong, while CJ Stander has underlined his importance to the cause in recent outings.

Won’t be expected to beat New Zealand, but neither is anybody else. If they do, then they are right back in the mix to win the whole thing. 

australia-v-wales-pool-d-2019-rugby-world-cup-tokyo-stadium Adam Davy Australia veteran David Pocock will retire after the World Cup. Adam Davy

6. Australia

Have disappointed up to this point, despite the huge amount of talent in their ranks. Head coach Michael Cheika is as cantankerous as ever, while the whole mess surrounding Isreal Folau’s dismissal hardly helped team spirit over the summer.

After staggering through the pool stages Cheika has been forced to make some big decisions, throwing in exciting 19 year old Jordan Petaia at outside centre for Saturday’s clash with England. Petaia has only played 97 minutes of Test rugby, so adds an element of the unexpected. David Pocock remains as reliable as ever as he edges towards his final days in the jersey.

Their scrum has been excellent, but so far the Wallabies have been guilty of switching off for large periods of matches. They can’t afford to be so generous now.

Beating England would be a big achievement – Cheika hasn’t got the better of Eddie Jones in six attempts as Wallabies boss – but even if they do, it’s hard to see them pulling off two more upsets to go the whole way.

japan-v-scotland-pool-a-2019-rugby-world-cup-yokohama-stadium Ashley Western Kotaro Matsushima has scored five tries in this World Cup. Ashley Western

7. Japan

The team of the tournament. The performances against Ireland and Scotland were hugely impressive, so who is to say they can’t do it again this weekend? Will probably struggle to match South Africa up front, and if Erasmus sends his team out to pin the hosts back it could be a difficult evening, but Japan have played some of the best rugby we have seen over the last few weeks.

Electrifying in possession, what was most impressive against Scotland was the fact that they simply never let up. Their offloading in that game was a joy to watch, and Kotaro Matsushima and Kenki Fukuoka have been two of the most fun players to watch in the tournament.

Already in bonus territory, they have nothing to lose, and a solid start on Sunday would be enough to put some doubts into South African heads. 

france-v-tonga-pool-c-2019-rugby-world-cup-kumamoto-stadium David Davies France's Antoine Dupont is a stand-out player in an often misfiring team. David Davies

8. France

Should be ranked ahead of Japan, but have shown nothing to inspire any confidence. 

It wouldn’t be a surprise if they didn’t lay a finger on Wales on Sunday, but being France, they just might dig out the performance of the weekend.

The problem with Les Bleus is that while they are fully capable of playing brilliant rugby, they tend to do it in patches rather than delivering consistent performances. Scrum-half Antoine Dupont is an excellent operator, while lock Sébastien Vahaamahina has also performed well, but they need to get the whole squad pulling in the same direction.

It’s hard to keep up with the problems off the pitch.

Full-back Thomas Ramos was sent home with injury, but lined out for Toulouse a couple of days later. Rumours of a rift between captain Guilhem Guirado and the coaches would be a concern for most team, but with France chaos has often kick-started them into life.

The most unpredictable of teams.

Well, it’s finally here. Andy Dunne, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey make a call on Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final with New Zealand.

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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