And then there were 8. The quarter-finals of the 2007 RWC are set to kick off in a few days and to be honest, the match-ups are quite interesting. Even if you are a die-hard All Black fan, I think the fixtures are going to captivate rugby enthusiasts of all persuasions.
QF1 – AUS v ENG
While many of us were surprised to see England bounce back against Tonga from a mostly disappointing pool stage, I for one want to know if England has truly got their act together. At their best, they can push hard and make Australia work. Of course England need to put points on the board, something they had trouble with against South Africa, and need to tighten their defense. A healthy Jonny ‘Wilco’ Wilkinson and Jason Robinson are encouraging signs. On the otherhand, if the Aussies can keep fly-half Larkham healthy (he had knew surgery just 3 weeks back) and stick to their game plan, they will have their revenge in this repeat match-up of the 2003 RWC final.
QF2 – NWZ v FRA
Had France won Pool D, then Argentina would be facing the All Blacks instead of France, and I don’t think this would have looked like much of a quarter-final. As it stands however, France has been building and gaining momentum since their defeat on the opening day of the championship while New Zealand have not had any real pressure from any of their opponents. As a long-time fan of Les Blues, I know they are one of the few teams with the potential to upset New Zealand just like they did in the RWC 1999 semi-finals. If they play solid defense and throw the French creativity at the All Blacks, there is a chance for French victory. 2007 may be the year that New Zealand takes their revenge for the loss in 1999 (a dish served cold anyone?), but whatever the outcome, this will be an exciting game.
QF3 – RSA v FJI
For me, this is a mismatch and I expect a bit of a blow-out. That’s too bad because Fiji can really be an exciting team to watch. South Africa is just too strong in every phase of the game and will not be starting their ‘B-side’ like they did against Tonga in the pool stage.
QF4 – ARG v SCO
I wouldn’t call this a mismatch, but Scotland better bring their best to defeat Argentina who have only given up 2 tries during the entire championship (both against Ireland in their last pool match). Scotland were lucky to squeak past Italy and even Chris Patterson’s boot will be cold given the patience and discipline Argentina have shown in all their matches to date. Viva La Revolucion!