And so we enter the knockout phase (having knocked out 12 teams to get there).
QF1: England vs Australia, Oita
England have this, if only because Cheika has done a Cheika and selected 19-year old Jordan Petaia at centre.
No worries about choosing a 19-year old, who is clearly a big future talent. But up to this point he’s been a winger.
It’s just another data point in Cheika’s long history of imagining shit up.
Eddie Jones is not rolling any dice. He’s got a very solid team who will bore you to defeat.
Heart says England (but without much passion). Head says England.
QF2: New Zealand vs Ireland, Tokyo
Ireland’s loss to Japan in the pools means they get the joy of meeting the All Blacks. And their performance through most of the pools says this is a team that peaked too early: 2017 and 2018 were great, 2019 not so much.
On paper, this is the ABs match to lose. They have the experience, skill and, most importantly, pace to make the Irish weep. The only question, really, is whether they turn up with the right mental attitude.
Heart says All Blacks, obviously. Head says All Blacks. But I’ll be anxious as hell until they actually do the business.
QF3: Wales vs France, Oita
Wales are another team that have not greatly impressed through the pools. A couple of great players in Alun Wynn Jones and Dan Biggar, but for long periods they have fumbled and bumbled. Let’s assume that Warren Gatland puts a rocket up them before kick off.
France is still France. They snuck a win against Argentina, numerous reports of revolts against the coach, and way too many questions about their connectivity.
But they’re France, and this might be the one match where they turn up and play like angels.
Heart says Wales. Head says Wales, but this is the one quarter-final where it really could go either way and you wouldn’t be surprised.
QF4: Japan vs South Africa, Tokyo
After that nervous first start against Russia, Japan have been absolutely fabulous through the pools, collecting Ireland and Scotland scalps along the way.
And now they’re going to go bump. Because South Africa is not going to play an expansive, helter skelter game. They’re going to play hide the ball in the jumper, and use their yuge forwards to steamroll the Japanese pack. It won’t be pretty, but it will be very effective.
Japan are going to have to find a way to win with 30 percent possession and 20 percent territory. Good luck with that.
Heart says JAPAN JAPAN JAPAN. Head says (whisper it) South Africa, in a crushing slow-motion mauling mashing sort of way.
Ned will be in attendance for QF2 and QF3 (which requires some nifty footwork to make the connections). Let’s get ready to rumble.