I honestly can’t recall a set of World Cup quarter-finals as close as the ones we’ve got this weekend.
Maybe that’s partly down to the draw, but that shouldn’t take away from just how evenly-matched these four matches are as we finally reach the knockout stages.
Despite how finely poised it all is, I’m just tipping a piece of World Cup history to be made. Never before have the semi-finals been made up entirely of northern hemisphere teams, but I just fancy, on form, that to happen this time.
What odds would you have had on that before the tournament? Part of that is the draw, but it’s testament to northern hemisphere rugby too. Each of the pools, after all, were topped by northern hemisphere teams.
If we get four sides in to make history, that’s brilliant. But saying that, you just don’t know. What you do know, and all the teams will be well aware of this, is that, from this point on, it all steps up a level.
The teams that Wales face from now on will be technically better up front, they’ll be physically better, they’ll have a better kicking game and they’ll be more structured compared to what has come so far. It’s interesting to see how this pans out.
Starting with Wales’ quarter-final against Argentina, I thought their winner-takes-all clash with Japan in Nantes was a good game. They scored some nice tries, but a lot of them came from missed one-on-ones by Japan, which I don’t think Wales will allow so easily.
I think they’ll be direct and play a lot better than they have done. I think it’ll be a real tough game. They haven’t got the big names perhaps, but they’ve beaten the top sides in the world in recent years.
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They’ve got a bit more about them out wide, but I feel if Wales can get parity up front, we’ve got a great chance with the confidence we’ve built and the clinical nature we’ve shown. I think we’re in a good place.
People may think we’re going to win, but it’s not that easy. Wales’ plan will be to kick and have a lot of kick chase. They’ll have to build pressure and keep possession when they can as you can’t give the better sides too much ball.
Losing Taulupe Faletau is a huge blow. He does so much dirty work around the field. He cleans up at the back of the scrum and he reads the game so well. He pops up in attack and defence around the field, he’s very influential.
His all-round technical ability and game awareness will be sorely missed. Those are the things he does that you don’t always see.
Obviously, Argentina have lost Pablo Matera so that’s a big blow for them, too. They have another big bloke coming in, but he’ll be missed. I don’t think there’s too much between these two sides. It’s about who turns up on the day to be
…. to be continued
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