While Australia vs England has the edge to its rivalry, the other match-ups — New Zealand vs Ireland on Saturday and Wales vs France as well as Japan vs South Africa on Sunday — are no less dramatic; Here are the talking points from the Rugby World Cup.
The ABs ‘Black lash’ or beautiful retribution?
Steve Hansen’s New Zealand are the best team in the world, and have a level of World Cup nous and experience to clinically drown out Ireland. But Joe Schmidt’s Irish won two of their last three against the ABs, including their last meeting in 2018 November. What Ireland are used to seeing after such wins are brutal clampdowns from the ABs, so the quarters are expected to be a rampaging scythe. Writing for the New Zealand Herald, Gregor Paul points to New Zealand’s reaction to a loss by the Irish on one such avenging tempestuous night in 2016, which was out of character.
“The All Blacks needed to respond and they needed to win. Ireland had out-muscled them in Chicago so the All Blacks, feeling the most intense pressure for the first time under Kieran Read, decided they needed to meet Ireland’s fire and fury with their own and 80 minutes of carnage ensued at Aviva Stad.” “The All Blacks tackling bordered on reckless at times. They pushed the boundaries at breakdowns and attempted to intimidate Ireland out of the contest.” Last year’s 16-9 defeat has rankled the All Blacks — so their response on Saturday, on the biggest stage of all, is keenly awaited.
Irish talisman Johnny Sexton was asked about the ‘black lash’ of 2016 by Irish Times, and how ABs turned on the cynical quotient in the subsequent match. “I am sure they will bring that physical edge that they always do…it’s what they will be speaking about leading into the game. As far as that last game went [2016 in Dublin] I think that was almost the turning point in a lot of the law changes. High tackles. Some of the yellow cards that were given out, some of the things that were missed, would now be red [Malakai Fekitoa got a yellow card for a forearm to neck contact with Simon Zebo and Sam Cane cited but not suspended for shoulder to head contact that knocked Henshaw unconscious].”
Sexton however doesn’t believe they were intentional at the time but if it happened now there would be bigger consequences and ABs won’t repeat that after playing with 14 men against Australia this year. Paul in NZ Herald suggests a disciplined ABs will be Ireland’s biggest fear. “That’s what Ireland fear the most – an All Blacks side that under pressure reverts to trait, but with the confidence to trust itself to be appropriately physical and disciplined. The All Blacks don’t need to reinvent themselves to win this game. They don’t need to respond to pressure by re-thinking who they are or how they should be playing. Their natural game should be able to put all the pressure back on Ireland and if it does, the All Blacks can be certain about what they will be facing.”
He also says losing to the Irish last time might help ABs more. “Ireland’s blueprint is so basic that they could hardly lock up their intellectual property by slapping a patent on it. Others would see and others would copy and potentially those who replicated would reap the rewards. He reckons the loss last year instilled in the All Blacks a ferocious desire to rebuild their attack game and exact not so much a terrible revenge in Japan as one that would be inspired, creative and innovative.
Ireland meantime are keen on breaking their quarter-final duck. “After more than 100 years of trying, the Irish have beaten the All Blacks twice in two years (in 2016 and 2018).They will bring their own form of pressure with their famous defensive wall, but can they handle the mental pressure after losing their previous six World Cup quarter-finals? Against a team that hasn’t lost a world cup game since [losing to France in the 2007 quarter-final].
France -Wales: 2011 once again
Sunday’s France vs Wales Rugby World Cup quarterfinal is the one with the least buzz. But what binds the two teams is memories of an unforgettable 2011 World Cup when they met in semis. Wales will be driven by the pain of that loss to France, according to Welsh backs coach Stephen Jones, who missed a conversion in that 9-8 defeat in New Zealand.
The game’s highlight was the then-Wales captain and talisman Sam Warburton’s red card, which left the Welsh with an endless lament about the agonising defeat. His sending off has been grieved copiously. “It’s great fuel to drive you forward to achieve your goals,” BBC quoted Jones. During his playing career, Jones lost nine of his 12 matches against Les Bleus but Warren Gatland’s 11-and-a-half year reign as Wales boss has brought with it unprecedented success: Three Grand Slams and a Six Nations title.
France are to rugby what Pakistan are to cricket – unpredictable and exciting. French newspaper Midi Olympique is quoted by Stuff.co.nz as saying that the Bleus campaign is threatening to descend into turmoil after French club Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal told the players to overthrow the coaching staff and Guilhem Guirado was reportedly ousted from the captaincy by the management having lost the confidence of head coach Jacques Brunel and assistant Fabien Galthie. Stuff adds this comes eight years after France did exactly that in the 2011 World Cup, with coach Marc Lievremont sidelined as the team recovered from a humiliating pool-stage loss against Tonga and reached the final, losing 8-7 to New Zealand. Boudjellal urged, “Kick the coaches out, take control, tell your own story, because we are ready to follow you.”He also had words of advice for coaches: “Our coaches who are there, I invite you to visit Japan, go and look around, treat yourself and leave the players to tell their own stories because for years I have not understood the game plan of this France team. Something is going wrong, so it’s over to you guys [the players]. Tell the coaches to go on holiday. Write your story yourself.”
Post-script: Boks jammed by
J for Japan
Springboks are exasperated that, before their quarter-final on Sunday, the questions they are asked are invariably about their rivals and tournament hosts Japan, not the team rated New Zealand’s closest challengers for the trophy, writes The Guardian. An article on their union’s website complained that “almost no questions” had been asked about the Springboks at their media conferences. “Japan, Japan, Japan has been the focus of attention. Expect more of the same.” Boks forwards coach Matt Proudfoot issues the first warning: “If you think it is ing to be one-dimensional, then you have not noticed our evolution,” he said. Boks were beaten by the Brave Blossoms at Brighton in 2015. “We know that most people want Japan to win,” Proudfoot said.