The 2019 Rugby World Cup has been one to remember. The script was written and then rewritten as teams romped home or came from behind to secure unlikely victories. The quarter-finals followed along in quite a similar fashion as England and New Zealand won convincingly while South Africa and Wales worked hard for victory.
With everything to play for, all 8 teams came out of the blocks firing and ready to go. Though, as often happens in World Cups, the cream rose to the top.
Australia v. England
As close rivals Australia and England entered Oita Stadium, the buzz around the ground was that this was going to be a tight match. The two teams have played 50 times in the past with the Wallabies claiming victory 25 times to England’s 24 while one match finished in a draw.
However, with England winning the last 6 matches against Australia, they had all the running. England’s passing was slick and everything they did in attack seemed to be executed at a fast pace. This energy transferred into their defence as well, with the rushing English line wreaking havoc on the Wallabies’ ball playing opportunities.
As the full time siren sounded, England progressed to their first World Cup semi-final in 12 years, beating Australia 40-16.
New Zealand v. Ireland
As the New Zealand and Ireland rugby teams made their way out onto Tokyo Stadium, there was an air of uncertainty. The All Blacks have won 28 of 31 meetings against Ireland. However, two of those losses had come in the teams’ past 3 outings. With so much to play for, New Zealand had to be ready to stop an upset.
The All Black’s class became evident in the 13th minute. The carries were strong. The set pieces were executed to perfection and their long passing game was simply flawless.
There were tries all over the park. From set pieces and tries against the run of play to incredible instinctive football, New Zealand never allowed Ireland to get close, emerging 46-14 victors.
France v. Wales
By the time France and Wales walked out onto Oita Stadium, there was a sense of anticipation within the ground. Given the events of the previous nights’ World Cup quarter-finals, no one knew what to expect. As the game progressed, an eventual winner somehow seemed even harder to pick.
France had all the running early. Their at times flamboyant playing style afforded them two scoring opportunities within the first three minutes. Following a beautiful long range effort, France’s next scoring opportunity came courtesy of a string of short passes.
20 minutes later and the fight back was on. French lock Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off thanks to a reckless elbow to the head of Wales’ flanker Aaron Wainwright. After the penalty goal, Wales kicked into action. Securing the win in the 74th minute through a Ross Moriarty try. The 20-19 win sees Wales progress to their third Rugby World Cup semi-final.
Japan v. South Africa.
The host nation was abuzz as Japan walked onto Tokyo Stadium ready to face South Africa.
Despite a spirited effort where the physicality and talent of the entire Japanese rugby team was on display, the Springboks were simply too powerful.
Japan were afforded next to no opportunities to get back into the game come the second half. The South Africa pack banded together for a powerful display of structured attack and relentless defence.
In spite of the loss, Japan are putting the rest of the world on notice. They’ve beaten two, tier-one nations on their way to the quarter-final match and are only getting better. Had it not been for the individual brilliance of Makazole Mapimpi, the score would of been far closer than 26-3.
As the Rugby World Cup nears its pointy end, everything goes up a notch. The scrutiny. The intensity. The desire to win. Who will be the last two teams standing?
New Zealand v. England
Despite New Zealand entering this World Cup as favourites, the English media are talking up their sides’ chances. There is the belief that England have the personnel to apply enough pressure to the All Blacks. Pressure can undermine the best of teams, especially in a World Cup semi-final.
Player to watch: Jonny May
As the two teams run out onto International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday October 26, look for one player in particular to shine. England’s Jonny May is in rare try scoring form. Establishing himself as one of the leading wings in the world, his speed and phenomenal try scoring record could prove the difference.
Wales v. South Africa
On Sunday October 27, Wales will attempt to qualify for their first Rugby World Cup final. History is against them as South Africa have won 28 of their 35 matches against Wales. The court of public opinion seems to think that the Springboks have what it takes to grind out the win.
Player to watch: Makazole Mapimpi
Look for the formidable Makazole Mapimpi to possess the spark that provides the difference between these two powerhouse teams. A try scoring machine, Mapimpi could well break the game open.
Rugby World Cup: Semi-Finals time
The best Rugby World Cup action is yet to come. With everything to play for, no team will want to give an inch. At the end of the day, rugby will be the winner, as the top four teams in the world rankings go head to head for a spot in the final.