The loser of the game between France and Ireland on Sunday faces New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re heading out of the competition. Neither France nor Ireland should fear New Zealand.
You can’t go into a game and fear the opposition otherwise you’re immediately on the back foot. You have to respect the All Blacks, but Joe Schmidt and Phillipe Saint-Andre will have their own game plans to get on top. It will be difficult, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be achieved. The focus for both managers will be Sunday’s clash at the Millennium Stadium, and getting the win that would guarantee an easier route to the final, but neither should fear a showdown with the tournament’s favourites.
The All Blacks are a world-class squad who are a joy to watch. They’re well coached and well-drilled, but they’re not firing on all cylinders. When it comes to big games, New Zealand will step up, but anyone can beat anyone on the day and that is what has made this tournament so exciting. There are many top teams in this competition – Ireland, Wales, France, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, even Argentina could go on to win it, and that’s an exciting prospect for world rugby.
It’s good for the sport, but obviously it’s disappointing that England aren’t still there. Stuart Lancaster has done a great job galvanising the English squad and he has my utmost respect. Working with him was a pleasure, so there is no negativity towards him and I’m sure the rest of the squad feel the same. After every tournament there will be a review period, but now it’s down to whatever the RFU decide, and which path they want to go down.
Ireland come into their Group D decider with France after two very comfortable wins against Canada and Romania, before they struggled slightly against Italy. They’ve had a relatively easy time so far in Group D but Joe Schmidt has installed the right mentality in the camp for them to step up for the clash with France and settle into their pattern of play quite easily.
If France come out and play unstructured, it will make for a great spectacle. Federic Michalak might rather keep the French side disciplined from fly-half, and then it will come down to who breaks first. Ireland have a very efficient kicking game and if France try to replicate that it could be a case of who makes the first mistake.
In England’s group there’s a top of the table decider between Wales and Australia. The Welsh showed an incredible amount of resilience in their comeback over England at Twickenham two weeks ago, but throughout the tournament the Aussies have been getting into stride and have started to show their dominance. They beat Fiji by 15 points, and followed it up with a 62-point win over Uruguay before the victory against England last week. They’ve been building well under Michael Cheika and the fact that he coaches the New South Wales Waratahs as well keeps him in touch with the game. It’s a unique situation for an international coach to be in, but it’s a great opportunity and it has clearly helped with the development of the Australian national side.
You can’t write Wales off in tight games though. They have a coaching set-up in Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards who have been in plenty of big games and come out on top throughout their careers at club level and international level. Dan Biggar is calling the shots at 10, to a team that’s very settled. Despite their injury problems in this competition, they have enough depth in the national squad to bring in quality replacements. Wales have always been contenders for the World Cup, but Australia are the form team at this point in the competition.