World Cup Round Up: 1st-2nd October

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The World Cup Pool stages are all wrapped up and we move onto the business end of the tournament with the quarter-final knockouts in Auckland and Wellington this weekend. No further chances of an incredible upset by the minnows, an undiscovered superstar or a one-sided demolition – perhaps unsurprisingly, the final 8 will be comprised of the top 8 world rugby-playing nations from New Zealand to Argentina.

Talk will undoubtedly return to the question of whether the hosts have what it takes to go all the way or whether they will capitulate under the weight of expectation from an entire nation of rugby fanatics. Will Australia be able to repeat their Tri-Nations victory and topple South Africa and New Zealand? Can England reach their third final in three consecutive World Cups? Will Argentina outdo their efforts of 2007? Will the Green Army and neutral’s favourites, Ireland, build on the momentum taken from dominating their Pool?

The weekend’s final games certainly gave some indication as to what the answers will be come 23rd of October. Here is our round up of the best of the action...

Ireland 36 Italy 6

Ireland will relish their quarter-final with Wales after another impressive win over the talented Italians sees them finish unbeaten in Pool C, having notched up 15 tries in 4 games in New Zealand. The game was close at halftime with Ireland holding a 9-6 lead through accuracy from the kicking tee. After another converted penalty 3 minutes into the restart, Ireland got the try that would confirm their place in the knockout stages after yet another exciting line break from PUMA’s Tommy Bowe saw him offload to Ireland captain for a wonderful score. Andrew Trimble then compounded Italian woes with a great run and assist leading to another try in the corner.

Declan Kidney’s only concerns going into Saturday’s game will be for his influential hooker who came off with a collar bone injury and could be ruled out for the remainder of the competition. The Men In Green will hope their incredible performances thus far continue to be matched by the strength of support, which their captain described as being even more deafening than Dublin on the odd occasion!
 

Wales 66 Fiji 0

Wales banished the demons of four years ago when the Islanders crushed Welsh hearts and dumped them out of the competition with too much power and pace. Wales were an entirely different prospect in Hamilton yesterday and never looked close to losing the match. Having taken the World Champions so close in their opening World Cup fixture seems to have inspired even greater confidence in a group that look willing to fight for every ball to ensure they go as far as possible this time around.

Such was their dominance that Wales went into halftime commanding a 31-0 lead with tries from all over the park and from all kinds of situations. The new-look Wales are young, physical and full of skill as epitomised by their 22 year-old captain, who celebrates his 23rd birthday on Thursday. Alongside the skipper, Wales have unleashed another Shane Williams on the world in the form of their 19 year-old number 11, who ran home one of eight Welsh tries. Wales were clinical and classy in every aspect of their play running the ball at pace and with good hands throughout the 80 minutes.

They will now face a much tougher task in Wellington on Saturday against an Irish side buoyant from their fabulous performances in Pool C and will look to the big game experience of PUMA’s Ryan Jones, Paul James, Andy Powell and Shane Williams to see them through.

England 16 Scotland 12

England set up a quarter-final clash with France after a slightly less convincing victory than their British fellows over Scotland. Typically English, winning without being convincing has become a staple feature of their last two World Cups and appears to be continuing in New Zealand. With further rumblings in the media over off-field activities, England escaped as a result of a try in the 77th minute after their replacement fly-half chose to be brave and kicked to the corner instead of going for goal. The English lineout held firm, the ball was recycled and found its way out to the tournament’s leading try scorer to finish. Relief was clear to all as England celebrations were akin to the euphoria seen in 2003 after ‘that drop-goal’.

The one enduring positive for Martin Johnson and his men has been the stern defence that has been shown in the English 22. It was out in force once more against Scotland and saw several last ditch tackles save England from conceding. PUMA’s Manu Tuilagi stood out again for his power in attack, intelligent offloading and muscular defence. Indeed, the greatest urgency England showed in attack came after several replacements (including PUMA’s Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley, Tom Palmer and Nick Easter) took to the field to add power to the pack.

England will definitely need to address some of the issues they have seen with ball in hand, ill-discipline and consistency in kicking if they are to beat the French on Saturday, but will take some comfort in knowing that they are possibly taking on the weakest of the quarter-finalists, who may still be smarting from defeat in their final Pool game against a nation with a population of approximately 104,000 (Tonga).

We can’t wait to see what surprises might still be in store in this amazing tournament!

Who are you tipping for glory?

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