BY TED PARKER
So here we are – crunch time.
The group stages have produced some thrills and spills and even a few shocks but nothing can compete with the knockout stages of a Rugby World Cup.
All the major nations on the planet are still in contention – and throw in the wild-card of hosts Japan. Are we about to witness – despite the horrors of the typhoon – the best Rugby World Cup ever?
Australia vs England:
England will come into this encounter as the slight favourites after a strong showing in the group stage. After their two-week lay-off, the men in white will be well-rested. Giving players like Billy and Mako Vunipola valuable recovery time as they both start in this weekends encounter.
Michael Cheikas men have not played their best rugby yet in this tournament with stuttering performances against Wales and Fiji. If they are to be successful in tomorrows clash they will surely need David Pocock and Michael Hooper to be at their very best to combat the youthful loose-forward pairing of Curry and Underhill who have both been outstanding so far in Japan.
With a mouthwatering midfield face-off between Samu Kerevi and Manu Tuilagi, this game will be the perfect showpiece to kick off the knockout stages of this World Cup.
As it stands the sides have met six times in Webb Ellis Cup history with both nations taking six victories apiece. Perhaps the most telling statistic is that the Wallabies last victory against England was their decisive Pool A win back in the 2015 World Cup, a feat they have not been able to repeat in the intervening four years since that win.
England have a 95% win rate in all their matches following two-week layoffs. Based on recent form, it doesn’t look like this Wallaby side will have what it takes to buck that trend.
New Zealand vs Ireland
Prediction: New Zealand
The All Blacks are another side that have been blessed with a fortnights break following typhoon Hagibis. Steve Hansen’s men have been ruthless since their 23-13 victory over the Springboks on the opening weekend with walkover victories over Namibia and Canada.
Ireland come into this fixture as massive underdogs after a bruising group stage run which saw a shock defeat to Japan and the loss of suspended centre Bundi Aki.
The reigning back to back champions have scored at will so far In Japan with wingers Geroge Bridge and Sevu Reece in excellent form. If All Black full-back Beauden Barrett has a good day at the office then the Irish will be in for a long night in Tokyo.
Joe Schmidt will find some comfort in the fact that he will be fielding a side that has beaten the All Blacks twice since the last World Cup. Eleven of Irelands starting fifteen that defeated the All Blacks a year ago will take the field tomorrow at the Ajinomoto Stadium. The men in green will know that no matter how daunting the task, they have it in them to defeat New Zealand.