Quarter Final Thoughts: Part 1

4 10 2011

The quarters await us and some teams are in better shape than others. Here are a few thoughts on the first two clashes:

Wales vs Ireland

This promises to be an epic game. Both sides are playing unusually well for a World Cup, both have exciting backs and dynamic packs and, for probably the first time in their rugby histories, both have a realistic chance of going all the way to the final. Depending on what media outlet you read both have been named as having the slight edge over the other – yet for us it is Ireland who will go in as slight favourites.

The main reason behind this leaning is the Irish back row. Yes it is true that in Warburton Wales have one of the players of the tournament but Ireland have arguably the best 6,7,8 combination at the world cup along with New Zealand. Led by the extraordinary Sean O’Brien (a player that even the Kiwi commentators are drooling over) plus the proven excellence of Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip, this is a powerful force to have on your side and as a result the crucial breakdown area should go Ireland’s way.

In the backs things are less clear cut although Wales probably have more strength. They have more dynamism, a higher ability to break the line, certainly more youth and the hugely impressive George North. The men in green have Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll and potentially more experience in the all important fly half channel (if they pick O’Gara that is) but, if a measure of the quality of the two sides is working out a composite team, then Wales definitely have the slight edge here. Phillips, O’Gara, North, Roberts, O’Driscoll, Bowe and Byrne – four Welsh, 3 Irish would make our favoured team.

The O’Gara / Sexton battle has long been an interesting one and in the past we have usually come down in favour of the Leinster man – yet now, in a winner takes all scenario, we would suggest the veteran and Ireland’s leading point scorer is the right man for the job. Goal kicking will become all important and as much as Sexton offers more around the park, ROG seldom misses from the tee – something that cannot be said for Sexton. For Wales youth has won the order of the day it seems and Priestland (who could easily slot into that composite back line) will be looking to continue his excellent World Cup so far.

The two players we are most looking forward to see however are Bowe and North. Bowe has been acknowledged to be one of the world’s finest wingers ever since the Lions tour of 2009 and his line breaking, creativity and excellent angles of running are crucial to Ireland’s cause. He truly is a joy to watch. North on the other hand has, like O’Brien, got the Kiwi commentators purring. Strong, huge and quick he is someone to reckon with and has shown some very deft touches over the last few weeks. The tussle between these two could be worth the entry fee alone.

For both sides they know that a win here would mean a semi final meeting with an inconsistent albeit winning England or a hopelessly misfiring French side. Something that both sides would relish in the form they are in. We’re going for Ireland, just, but both are playing so well that it would not be a surprise if the result was reversed.

Ireland by a single score.

England vs France

A quarter final that in some quarters has been described as a travesty and a bad thing for the world cup. True Tonga beat France and so perhaps the French are slightly lucky to be there but really, in our eyes, it would have been travesty if they hadn’t been there. You want the strongest sides contesting the quarters and this is how it has turned out. England on the other hand have not exactly impressed in terms of the type of rugby they’ve played, yet they have won all four and crucially have displayed the dogmatic attitude that carried them through the 2007 World Cup.

England go into this game as clear favourites but they will surely be worried about a player inspired French backlash. There is too much strife in the French camp to go all the way sadly for them but one more win is far from inconceivable.

It seems that every one of the surviving 6 Nations teams is having fly half selection quandaries of some sort. For France the Parra experiment is set to continue although to us Trinh-Duc’s selection would have seemed more sensible. Parra is a fine footballer although his game management has not been nearly as effective as an experienced fly half’s might be and France are suffering. England of course have the seemingly perennial Wilkinson/Flood debate. Although Jonny came in for a lot of flack during the Scotland game, bar his kicking, we didn’t feel he did too much wrong and tackled brilliantly. Despite this Flood is the man we’d pick as going forward he is more creative with his ability to make the half breaks and offload in a tackle very useful.

It’s about time the England and French really clicked into gear. Hopefully the threat of a knock out game will give these two sides the impetus they need to raise the standards and give the many naysayers (both English, French and international) something to chew on.

England by 10.




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