Rugby World Cup: Shocks, exits and knockout matches ahead

Published on Thursday 12 October 2023 Category: Sport

Now that the group stages have come to an end, we look back at the main stories from the first month of the Rugby World Cup and preview the next few weeks as the knockout stages culminate at the end of October.

Australia pack their bags prematurely

Back on the 8th September, World Cup hosts France began their campaign in Pool A and kicked off the tournament in a packed Stade de France against three-time world champions New Zealand. France, who were one of the favourites, got their campaign off to a perfect start with a comfortable win against the All Blacks 27-13. France continued this form and eased into the last 8.

Meanwhile, for New Zealand, they knew that one more slip-up could end their chances of getting their hands back on the coveted Webb Ellis Cup. However, the All Blacks bounced back perfectly and joined France in the quarter-finals as Pool A runners up.

Current world champion South Africa were drawn in a very tough Pool B group with Scotland and the #1 ranked side in the world, Ireland. With Scotland comfortably beaten by both South Africa and Ireland at the beginning and end of their campaign, it was clear that the group winners would be decided out of the South Africa vs Ireland tussle.

In what was a very intense game between two physical sides, Ireland managed to come from behind and sneak the result 13-8. This means that Ireland will face New Zealand, and South Africa will battle it out against the hosts France.

Pool C saw the two biggest shocks of the tournament, both in terms of the result and a big name exiting the competition early. With Wales, Fiji and Australia all in this group, there was no real surprise that an upset occurred. Wales, who’s form coming into the competition was quite mixed, were very impressive in the pool stage, winning 4 from 4 and comfortably finishing first.

That then left Fiji and Australia battling it out for a place in the quarter-final. These two sides met on the 17th September and it turned out to be a very entertaining game. With many twists and turns, it was in fact Fiji who came out with a shock win, which left them with the runner up spot. A notable mention must also be given to Portugal, who shocked Fiji in their last pool game to give them their first ever World Cup win; it was some performance!

The last group, Pool D, saw a struggling England side put their pre-tournament concerns quickly behind them by winning all their group games. Despite going down to 14-men in their first game against Argentina, England fought hard to come out on top and never looked back, coming out of a potentially tricky group with Argentina and Japan very comfortably.

The last quarter-final spot available was between two sides who love to play attacking rugby, Argentina and Japan. In a high-scoring affair, Argentina came out victorious with a 39-27 win. This all means that England will face Fiji and Argentina will take on Wales.

Can France go all the way?

When the Rugby World Cup pool draw took place back on the 14th December 2020 in Paris, all eyes were fixed on the potential match-ups between the now top four ranked sides in the world; Ireland, France, South Africa and New Zealand. With all four teams coming out from Pools A and B as expected, Ireland will face former world champions New Zealand, and current holders South Africa will face the in-form and much-fancied France, in what should prove to be two wonderful quarter-finals.

Before any of these sides take to the pitch this weekend though, the first quarter-final is between Wales and Argentina on Saturday 14th October at 16:00 at the Stade de Marseille. Wales, who finished 5th in this year’s Six Nations, came into the tournament with mixed form and some fans were concerned if they’d ever make it out the group. However, proving all the doubters wrong so far, they haven’t put a foot wrong and will hope to keep their 100% record up when they face Argentina in Marseille.

Michael Cheika’s Argentinian side on the other hand have done as expected. They got out the group as runners up, but now face another stern test in Wales. These two sides met last year, with Wales narrowly coming out on top, so this Saturday’s game should be a cracker.

The winners of Wales and Argentina will face the toughest of tests in the semi-finals, with the victors facing either Ireland or New Zealand. The second quarter-final sees these two rugby heavyweights go head-to-head on Saturday 14th October at 20:00 at the Stade de France. Ireland come into this game with a perfect record and will be confident of reaching the semi-finals for the first time ever, especially considering they beat the All Blacks twice in New Zealand last summer.

However, writing off the Kiwis, especially at this stage of the competition is always a big risk. The three-time world champions know how to win these knockout games and will be keener than ever to topple the world number one side as they pursue their quest to win their fourth world title.

Looking at the bottom half of the draw, the much-improved England face the ever-dangerous Fiji on Sunday 15th October at 16:00 at the Stade de Marseille. England, who’s confidence would have grown throughout the competition, will still be very wary of the unpredictable Fiji. It was only in August 2023 that Fiji got their first ever win over Steve Borthwick’s men, when they came out on top at Twickenham, winning 30-22.

The free-flowing Fijian game style always proves tricky, as two-time champions Australia found out in the group stage which resulted in Fiji reaching this stage of the competition for the first time in 16 years. Sunday’s late afternoon kick off should prove to be a very entertaining affair, with the winners facing a huge test in the semi-finals.

The last quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup will see the whole French nation tune in, with hosts France facing the three-time world champions South Africa on Sunday 15th October at 20:00 at the Stade de France. The French side came through their group stage with flying colours, including a very convincing win over former world champions New Zealand, so Fabien Galthié’s side will certainly look to use their home advantage to reach their first semi-final for 12 years.

Three-time winners South Africa on the other hand will always be a tough test for the French, with France only managing one win over the Springboks since 2009, but this did come in November last year. Sunday’s game between these two powerhouses of nations has the making to be an absolute cracker, with all eyes turning to Paris on Sunday evening.

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