Three grueling weeks of pool play have produced upsets, controversy, several cancelled matches, and at least one suspension. On Saturday, the 2019 Rugby World Cup moves along, as eight teams take to the pitch for the quarterfinals. Saturday’s contests include England (-300) taking on Australia (+260) in Oita, followed by favorites New Zealand (-460) against pre-tournament #1 Ireland (+390) from Tokyo. Sunday’s action features Wales (-225) versus France (+235), also from Oita, then surprising hosts Japan (+459) face South Africa (-600) at Tokyo Stadium.
The Lions (9-2) breezed through Pool C, racking up three bonus-point wins in as many games (their tilt with France was cancelled). England, of course, haven’t made it out of the quarterfinals since 2007, and supporters need only go back eight years to find another Lions team that crashed out early, following an unbeaten run in pool play. The Wallabies (28-1), meanwhile, came in as the most inconsistent major team in the tournament, and it’s safe to say they played down to expectations. Three underwhelming wins against overmatched opponents, and a loss to Wales, put them in second in Pool D. Few teams are as well-acquainted as these two— it will be their seventh meeting in a World Cup. If statistics mean anything, Australia have lost their last six, in all competitions, against England.
Likewise, the All Blacks (13-10) feasted in Pool B, running their World Cup unbeaten match streak to 18. New Zealand destroyed Canada and Namibia by a combined score of 134-9. It’s their opening win, however— 23-13 over rival South Africa— which proved they’re still the team to beat (their final match, against Italy, was also cancelled). Ireland (20-1) may have peaked last year, thanks to their famous win in Dublin against the All Blacks. Since then, they had a lackluster Six Nations and never really recovered. An upset loss to (and then some help from) the hosts has this formerly top-ranked team sitting second in Pool A. Notably, Ireland will also be without center Bundee Aki, who was sent off during their 47-5 win over Samoa.
Thanks to their win over the Wallabies, Wales (9-1) topped Pool D. The Six Nations champions hope to keep their momentum going, and give retiring coach Warren Gatland a sendoff to remember. Everyone is healthy too, including center Jonathan Davies and fly-half Dan Biggar. France (40-1) have a well-earned reputation for underachieving, and indeed, seemed to escape Pool C by the skins of their collective teeth: 23-21 over Argentina, and 23-21 over Tonga. If Les Bleus ever equalled, much less exceeded the sum of their parts, however, they could be as good as anybody in Japan.
Of course, the pageantry and spectacle of the 2019 Rugby World Cup took a backseat last week to the reality and destruction of Typhoon Hagibis. The strongest storm to hit Japan since 1958 has left 77 dead, 10 missing, and more than $9 billion in damage. The three matches which were cancelled by the typhoon almost seem trivial, by comparison. After upsetting the Irish, the Brave Blossoms (64-1) put on a courageous face for a shaken country. Last Sunday, they sent a fancied (and furious) team of Scots packing, thus topping Pool A.
At 300-1 entering the tournament, Japan will again be heavy underdogs against the Springboks (7-2). They did, however, beat South Africa four years ago, at the last World Cup. Ultimately, South Africa has the power, depth, and draw to get to November. The hosts will be no pushover Sunday, however.