Exeter, Devon UK • Jul 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home SportGlobal Rugby World Cup 2023: Knockout Stage Preview

Rugby World Cup 2023: Knockout Stage Preview

With the Rugby World Cup knockout stage on the horizon, Ben Scott discusses what to expect from the quarterfinals.
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The Rugby World Cup is being played in France
Image: Erwan Harzic, via Wikimedia Commons

With the end to the 2023 Rugby World Cup group stage, the quarterfinals have been confirmed for this weekend. Except for Australia’s absence and Fiji’s first quarter-final appearance since 2007, the most formidable teams have successfully advanced from the group stage and are now aiming to progress to the semi-finals. The weekend promises four great games, with two particularly titanic clashes amongst the four highest-ranked teams in the first stage of knockouts. 

QF1 – Saturday 14 October 16:00 Wales v Argentina Stade de Marseille, Marseille 

The first fixture guarantees a tense game with a Welsh side that claimed the top spot in Pool C. Stood in the way, Argentina will no doubt build on their performances in Pool D, in which momentum looked to be gathering for Los Pumas.  

Wales:

After appearing to be struggling before their arrival in France, Warren Gatland’s team’s resurgence marks the fourth successive World Cup quarter-final for the Welsh under the head coach. Following on from a clean sweep in the pool stage, Wales are the team with the second most tackles (669) in the tournament and are early favourites for the tie. Speedster winger Louis Rees-Zammit will also be looking to add to his try tally as the joint-second-highest try-scorer in the pool stage. However, with the loss of the experienced back row Taulupe Faletau with a broken arm, Wales will need their rising young players to fill a gaping hole in the pack. 

One to watch: Louis Rees-Zammit

Argentina:

Los Pumas are no strangers to success at a RWC, finishing third in 2007 and fourth in 2015. Their performance so far in 2023, however, has left much to be desired. Promising quick and exciting play with an electric backline, Argentina capitulated against a 14-man England and barely passed by a low-ranked Samoa. Nonetheless, a hattrick for the elusive Newcastle Falcons winger Mateo Carreras in their final pool fixture vs Japan has given hope for a team that has not lived up to expectations thus far.

One to watch: Mateo Carreras

QF2 – Saturday 14 October 20:00 Ireland v New Zealand Stade de France, Saint-Denis 

Saturday evening brings a monumental battle between the world’s number 1 ranked Ireland and number 4 New Zealand. Ireland, the favourites for the tournament, cleanly swept what was the toughest pool and now line up against an All-Black side with a remarkable depth of talent. 

Ireland:

Defeating a decent Scotland side 34-16 in their final pool fixture to cement their progression, Ireland look to break their quarter-final curse in Paris. What is probably the strongest Irish side to ever play at a World Cup has exhibited the best performances so far, especially with the physical win against South Africa. But the Irish should be cautious in revising lyrics to what has become their victory song, Zombie by The Cranberries, as New Zealand are the most experienced side with three World Cup trophies. Not short of experience, however, captain and team-leading points scorer, Johnny Sexton has hopes of ending his career with his nation’s first World Cup trophy before all his hairs turn grey. 

One to watch: Johnny Sexton

New Zealand:

The All Blacks are the highest-point-scoring team with a ridiculous 253 points in fixtures against France, Namibia, Italy, and Uruguay. Despite a tough defeat against the tournament’s host in the first fixture, New Zealand have shown remarkable try-scoring capability, whilst constantly altering their backline with an incredible depth of world-class players. Damian McKenzie, at first a bench player for the team, rose to the second highest individual points scorer in the pool stage and has brought a challenging decision for head coach Ian Foster in picking his starting XV, already juggling the likes of Richie Mo’unga, Beauden and Jordie Barrett. Spoilt for choice, the All Blacks XV will need to fall back on their tournament experience to have any hope of facing up to the undefeated Irish team. 

One to watch: Damian McKenzie

QF3 – Sunday 15 October 16:00 England v Fiji Stade de Marseille, Marseille 

The first game on Sunday, whilst potentially overshadowed by the other fixtures, should bring another close game. England, claiming the top seed in Pool D with four wins from four, capitalised on an easy pool but still looked shaky in their performances against weaker sides. Fiji, perhaps the dark horses of the tournament, look to achieve history by making it through the quarterfinals.

England:

Having lost to Fiji in their World Cup warm-up fixture, England are eyeing redemption after a narrow victory over their islander neighbours Samoa in their last pool match. Head coach Steve Borthwick, perhaps prematurely hired to the role in December, has tinkered with the side with the return of captain Owen Farrell from ban and the form of George Ford. Farrell, unfairly or not, has his critics, and with Ford’s performances in the pool stage, the backline could once again be changed after the failed combination of the two fly-halves versus Samoa. Nonetheless, England remain favourites for the fixture with stars Ben Earl and Henry Arundell deserving a place in the starting XV. With a range of selection dilemmas, it’s up to Borthwick to pick a team best suited for a victory over the flying Fijians.

One to watch: Ben Earl

Fiji:

Finishing second in Pool C despite giving world-ranked 16th Portugal their first victory at a World Cup, and narrowly losing to Wales, Fiji are perhaps fortunate as the only side to make the quarterfinals with two losses. However, quickly becoming a fan favourite side, Fiji play exciting rugby capitalising on an exhilarating backline led by Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova. The Fijian attack should challenge an English defence that was left guessing to a similarly styled attack in Samoa. Following the loss to Portugal, Fiji will have more than enough motivation to demonstrate their ability as a ‘high performance’ rugby nation. Potentially an easier route to a record-breaking semi-final appearance, the flying Fijians may fancy their chances against a wounded England. 

One to watch: Josua Tuisova

QF4 – Sunday 15 October 20:00 France v South Africa Stade de France, Saint-Denis 

Completing the weekend, the hosts France take on South Africa in Paris on Sunday night. Second favourites to win the tournament as the second northern-hemisphere side in Rugby World Cup history, France looked unchallenged in Pool A. South Africa, following on from their victory at the 2019 World Cup, also look strong despite narrow defeat to the favourites Ireland. 

France:

Captain and arguably rugby’s best player for the last few years, Antoine Dupont, is set to return for the host side after suffering a broken cheekbone during the 96-0 victory over Namibia. The importance of Dupont cannot be understated, and France pose an infinitely more dangerous threat to South Africa with him leading the XV. Holding the players with the most tries with Damian Penaud (6), and points with Thomas Ramos (61), France will be favourites in this clash. As tournament hosts too, France will have all of Paris behind them and the noise will be deafening. A case could be made for this French side as the strongest XV on paper, but they will first have to face the physical challenge that South Africa will throw down.

One to watch: Antoine Dupont

South Africa:

With convincing wins over Scotland, Romania, and Tonga, the Springboks will look to make up for their 8-13 loss to Ireland. History may however, repeat itself, with the holders losing to New Zealand in the group stages of the 2019 tournament before going on to win the trophy. South Africa will bring a physical game plan to France, with tactics like the ‘bomb squad’ and the 7-1 bench split coming into fruition with firepower in Kwagga Smith and RG Snyman but will miss the try-scoring efficiency of winger Makazole Mapimpi to injury. There is, however, good news for the Springboks in the return of Lukhanyo Am in the centres. The Boks seem to be in no shortage of world-class players, and the leadership of backrower, Siya Kolisi, will be vital to beat the host nation. 

One to watch: RG Snyman

All Rugby World Cup quarterfinals games are available to watch on ITV.

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