England vs Australia
Prior to the clash, Japan 2019 had not yet really tested England. Their match against Argentina was rendered null as a contest when an early red card ended the South Americans’ chances of victory. The game against France was then called off due to Typhoon Hagibis and the men in white had two perfunctory victories against tier-two sides in the USA and Tonga.
Australia had a much more difficult route to the quarters, losing to Wales, struggling to put Georgia away and spending an hour playing catch up against Fiji. Coach Michael Cheika – who has since left his role – had issues at half-back, with starters Will Genia and Bernard Foley failing to impress and their attack only looking sharper with the introduction of Nic White and Matt Toomua. England can feel wellsatisfied with their 40-16 victory, securing vengeance for their 2015 humiliation.
Ireland vs New Zealand
Ireland had the rare distinction of a winning record against New Zealand going into their World Cup quarter final, with two victories in three matches played. The Irish put in a strong performance against a lacklustre Scotland but were poor against Russia and outplayed in their defeat to Japan. Their forwards in theory had the power to cause New Zealand issues but needed to dramatically improve to win.
Earlier in their campaign, the All Blacks emerged victorious against a spirited Springbok display with backline looking particularly devastating, new wingers Sevu Reece and George Bridge have shredded opposition defences and will thrive if given quick ball. The fact that Ireland have never won at this stage of the competition may have proved a psychological barrier too far against the reigning champions. The colossal 41-14 mauling that the All Blacks inflicted on Ireland was a tragic farewell for retiring Ireland captain Rory Best.
Wales vs France
Wales have been one of the in-form teams of this tournament, winning all their matches in a tough pool. Their Shaun Edwards-drilled defence is probably the best in the world and captain Alun Wyn-Jones has been imperious throughout the tournament. Josh Adams has been a revelation on the wing; scoring five tries while his back three partners Liam Williams and George North complete a fearsome unit.
France played to type, being maddeningly inconsistent. A flurry of late tries against the USA spared their blushes and they only managed a two-point victory over Tonga. A late drop goal saw them past Argentina. Their final match against the English was cancelled. Whilst France’s performance for 65 minutes was exciting and uncharacteristically well-drilled, a moment of Vahaamahina madness condemned Les Blues to another World Cup exited and allowed Wales to scrape through to semis with a 20-19 victory.
South Africa vs Japan
This match-up provided the greatest upset in the history of the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and South Africa were keen to avenge their shock defeat in the Brighton Miracle.
In the pool stage of this year’s tournament they played well, but could not thwart New Zealand’s attacking prowess while winning their other games easily. Their forwards will want to outmuscle Japan and will probably view the scrum as an area in which they can exert dominance while Cheslin Kolbe’s explosive acceleration is uniquely threatening in the wider channels.
Japan have shown that 2015 was no fluke. Victories over Scotland and Ireland saw the Blossoms finish top of their pool. Wingers Kotaro Matsushima and Kenki Fukouka are fast, skilful and score tries at an impressive rate. Up front Shota Horie and Kauzki Himeno carry hard, tackle ferociously and will look to smash the Boks at every opportunity.
Every neutral and the entire host nation was willing Japan to continue the fairy tale, but after a brave fight, the Springboks proved too powerful and experienced to be thwarted this time.
Image: Edo Village via Wikimedia Commons