So, the pool stage of this year’s Rugby World Cup is behind us and, if you’re Scottish, the tournament itself is also a thing of the past. We now face several days without a game until this coming weekend, when the quarter finals are played. By Sunday lunchtime, thanks to time differences, we’ll know who has made the last four of this edition of the tournament – and with Typhoon Hagibis having passed, these are four games that we can confidently predict will be played.
This weekend’s matches offer some interesting showdowns. Can Australia overcome the inescapable feeling that they’re not very good, and knock out England? Can Ireland rediscover the quality that saw them defeat New Zealand just under a year ago, and deliver a surprise repeat? Can Wales wait patiently while France inevitably beat themselves? Perhaps most intriguingly, can Japan repeat the shock of the 2015 tournament and deliver a win against South Africa to keep their no-longer-very-shocking 2019 run going? All this, and more, will be exercising the bookmakers as much as it is animating the world’s rugby fans.
Let’s go through the quarter-finals one-by-one and see who we can expect to be preparing for the semis in a week’s time.
England vs Australia, Saturday 08.15 (all times UK; Japan time is +9:00
The bad news for Australia heading into this match is that they have not beaten England in just over four years, a run of defeats that now totals six – and most of those haven’t been close. If there is good news for the Wallabies, it’s that if you go back four years, that takes you to the previous Rugby World Cup, where the teams were drawn together in the pool stage. A 33-13 evisceration was handed out by the visiting Australians, and they’ll hope for a repeat dose this weekend.
The problem there is that, by any standards, that was a dire England side, completely without answer to Australia’s swarming back row. Eddie Jones’ side are a different animal and, even with an 11.5 handicap at Betfair, still decent value at 5/4. The Gold and Green have shown little in this tournament to suggest that they will be competitive here.
New Zealand vs Ireland, Saturday 11.15
How Ireland must wish that this game were being played in a more favourable setting, such as November 2018. The winners of this match will face a semi-final against whoever wins the above game, making it a fairly winnable path to the final. However, defeat against Japan means that Ireland – who just aren’t hitting the heights they were a year ago – now need to beat a New Zealand side that has been able to rest up for a fortnight – and it’s worth remembering that Ireland have never got beyond the quarter-final stage of any World Cup.
Regrettably, unless Joe Schmidt has been playing an expert game of 4-D chess since the start of 2019, this does not look like it will ninth time lucky for the Boys in Green. New Zealand are almost unbackable, and the smartest bet may be on the mercurial Beauden Barrett to score the game’s first try. He’s 8/1 with Paddy Power to do just that.
Wales vs France, Sunday 08.15
This is arguably the most straightforward of the four matches to predict, although many bookmakers are calling it closer than we would. Simply put, France have given no reason to imagine that they will be particularly competitive in this match. As England showed during the Six Nations, this is a(nother) French side with a tendency to struggle the moment it is put under sustained pressure. Wales, riding a Six Nations Grand Slam and a pool-stage win over their bogey side Australia, are coming to the boil nicely and a worthwhile outside bet to win the tournament outright.
While the Welsh are odds-on favourites to pick up the win, the bookmakers generally reckon there’ll be a try or less in it. We’d disagree and, with Grosvenor, back them to win with a handicap of 9.5 – which is a 6/5 shout and makes a lot of sense to us.
Japan vs South Africa, Sunday 11.15
When Japan beat Ireland at the mid-point of the pool stages, much of the media focus was on the disappointing result for the European side. However, the Blossoms then put Scotland to the sword in even more impressive style to win Pool A. Slowly, people are starting to realise that if you bring together a collection of talented players, a whip-smart coach like Jamie Joseph, and let them train and play together for the year before a World Cup, they might just be good enough, and unified enough, to win some games.
This will, for sure, be Japan’s toughest test yet. South Africa have bounced back from an opening-weekend defeat against the All Blacks to win three crushing victories over Italy, Namibia and Canada. They have an exceptional set of forwards, and can open it up in the backs against any team. With that said, anyone who has watched Japan will know just how good they are right now, and they could well make a mockery of the 14.5 points spread most bookies are giving South Africa.
Our advice? Back Japan +7.5 with 888 for this game, at 21/10. Maybe they won’t win on the night – although it’s far from out of the question – but if you back them at this level, you win as long as they’re within seven points of the Springboks. You’ll still win, at a good price, should they manage another incredible victory.