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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.
Brodie Retalick played 30 minutes against Namibia.
Source: 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.
Cheslin Kolbe scored two tries against Italy.
Source: 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.
Billy Vunipola has recovered from injury to start against
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