Rugby World Cup
Rugby World Cup begins in earnest with quarterfinals
John Mitchell
October 14, 2015
World Cup Quarter Finals Preview

Now that we have reached the quarter-final stage of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the competition begins in earnest. Reflecting on the 2003 campaign when I coached the All Blacks, I can't recall our pool matches in detail. Meanwhile, when I travelled to the 2007 showpiece as a spectator I only really bothered watching from the quarter-finals onwards.

In the first quarter-final, South Africa lock horns with Wales at Twickenham. The Springboks have regained their confidence since suffering a shock defeat to Japan, with wins against Samoa, Scotland and the USA. However, those matches weren't played at a high intensity. The clash with Wales will represent a significant step up in terms of intensity and tempo. If South Africa can reach that level quickly, they will beat Wales; but if they are lethargic early on, and take time to get into the game, they'll make life exceedingly difficult for themselves.

Team selection will be critical for the Springboks. Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager are their best locking combination, but Heyneke Meyer may opt to start veteran Victor Matfield at No.5 because of the experience he brings to the team. I firmly believe that Meyer needs to start players who will lift the side's intensity from the outset, put their bodies on the line and get them over the advantage line. Moreover, he must select substitutes who can make an impact when they come on, help lift the tempo and finish off the match with a flourish.

Dan Biggar
Dan Biggar© GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images

The Springboks will also need to maintain their discipline or run the risk of being punished by Dan Biggar's boot. To date, the fly-half has slotted the second-most penalty goals in the competition. South Africa have conceded the most penalties of the quarter-finalists (49), with almost 60% of said indiscretions inside their own half. The Springboks have also had two players yellow-carded, and they cannot afford to play against Wales with only 14 men.

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While Wales' forwards impressed me against the Wallabies with their pick and goes, their backs were too narrow-minded. There were too many cut-out passes that didn't allow the ball to beat the man, and that played into the hands of an 11-man defensive line. They also lacked the ability to beat man on man. However, Wales are battle-hardened, having played two tough pool matches against England and Australia, which you can't say about the Boks.

Turning to the All Blacks, tactically they are playing too much off No.10. They have demonstrated over the past four years that they are the best side in the world at getting the ball wide into space. At the moment, however, there are too many forwards involved in the backline attack, which is cramming up the space for their wonderfully gifted outside backs.

Dan Carter
Dan Carter© Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The All Blacks need to create more one-on-one situations. From a professional coaching perspective, I'd like to see the forwards punch more on the advantage line in order to create quicker ball from wider rucks. One of the issues is that Daniel Carter stands flat all the time rather than adjusting his depth when the ball is slower, because he has lost a bit of pace.

The All Blacks also need the likes of Owen Franks, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read, Conrad Smith and Ben Smith to step up in the play-offs, because they haven't been in great form recently.

Turning to France, Les Bleus have given no indication since 2012 that they boast either the belief or the ability to win a match against the All Blacks. But this is the World Cup and history shows they can lift themselves for a big play-off fixture, especially one against New Zealand. The All Blacks will be well aware of that and won't underestimate them at all.

Conor Murray of Ireland
Conor Murray of Ireland© Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

In the third quarter-final, Ireland tackle Argentina in Cardiff. Ireland's depth is getting tested following tournament-ending injuries to Peter O'Mahony and Paul O'Connell. New Zealand won the 2011 World Cup with their fourth-choice fly-half, Stephen Donald, and the Irish will have to overcome similar adversity if they are to progress to the semi-finals for the first time. Much will depend on whether Jonathan Sexton is passed fit. Ian Madigan did so well against France, but Sexton is world-class and a player the Irish can't afford to be without.

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Ireland are relatively battle-hardened heading into the last eight, having played France in their final pool fixture, while Los Pumas haven't faced tough opponents since their opening pool encounter against the All Blacks; this may give Ireland the edge on Sunday.

Argentina possess the ability to play an attacking brand of rugby - they have scored the second-highest number of tries in the competition - but can they attack with purpose when the pressure is really on against an Irish outfit that is very disciplined in their approach?

Finn Russell
Finn Russell© Steve Bardens - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

Casting an eye to the fourth quarter-final, there is no doubt that Scotland will have to be at their very best in order to beat Michael Cheika's men. However, the problem Vern Cotter's charges have is they that like to play an attacking brand of rugby from inside their own half. As such, if they don't look after ball possession, the Wallabies will hurt them with turnovers.

Australia, along with Wales, are the most battle-hardened of the quarter-finalists. The Wallabies have been very impressive thus far, but can they sustain their intensity? They were excellent on attack against England and outstanding on defence against Wales. Their scrum has also improved tremendously and has become a weapon rather than a liability.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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