Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 November 2019

Japan to keep fairy-tale run alive by cutting Springboks down to size: Rugby World Cup 2019 predictions

England kick things off when they face Australia on Saturday, followed by New Zealand v Ireland and Wales v France

The quarter-finals for the Rugby World Cup 2019 take place in Yokohama this Saturday and Sunday.

Hosts Japan, playing in a knockout match at rugby's global showpiece for the first time, take on South Africa on Sunday, hoping to carry on their fairy-tale run that has seen them win the hearts of many neutrals.

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England kick things off when they face Australia on Saturday, followed by New Zealand and Ireland. The All Blacks, winner of the last two editions, are looking to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for a fourth time.

The other last-eight match sees a battle of the northern hemisphere as Six Nations champions Wales take on France.

Below are predictions of who will advance to the semi-finals.

Quarter-finals

England v Australia, Saturday, 11.15am (all times UAE)

England eased through their pool without really having to hit top gear. A scrappy performance against an Argentina who played for over an hour with 14 men will have caused coach Eddie Jones concern before the final Pool C match with France was cancelled due to safety concerns. Jones has sprung a major surprise by dropping in-form George Ford and naming Owen Farrell at fly-half. That gamble may be critical. Australia have already tasted defeat in the pool stages. The sense is that England have the edge in key positions of 8, 9, 10, 12 but with the scavenging talents of Michael Hooper and David Pocock the Wallabies are adept at foiling the best-laid plans.

Prediction: England win

New Zealand v Ireland, Saturday, 2.15pm

Whoever comes up against the All Blacks at World Cups in recent years automatically assumes the mantle of underdog, but Ireland can point to recent history as proof they are beatable. A 16-9 triumph in Dublin last November was a first for the men in green over the men in black on home soil and came 12 months after a first ever victory in 111 years against New Zealand on neutral turf in Chicago. Ireland boast arguably the best half-back pairing in world rugby in scum-half Conor Murray and fly-half Jonny Sexton but the decision to switch Beauden Barrett to full-back to bring in an extra playmaker in Richie Mo'unga at No 10 means the All Blacks carry even more of an attacking threat. A battle of Kiwi minds will go a long way in determining the outcome of this match. Steve Hansen and Joe Schmidt will step down from their respective coaching posts after the tournament and the latter is adept at developing strike moves to target chinks in opposition defences.

Prediction: New Zealand take a step closer to a three-peat of world titles

Wales v France, Sunday, 11.15am

Grand Slam winners Wales are the smallest nation left in the tournament, but boast a squad huge on talent, who have already claimed the scalp of two-time World Cup winners Australia in pool play. Warren Gatland's side swept a World Cup group for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 1987, with Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay also comfortably dispatched. Veteran forwards Alun Wyn Jones and Ken Owens have been down to the coalface so many times their teeth are permanently charred black and a backline boasting the fleet-footedness of Liam Williams, the bulk of George North and the nous of Jonathan Davies - all British & Irish Lions - have been accustomed to the art of winning under coach Warren Gatland. But they face a France that always walks a tightrope between dashing and damned. Rugby World Cup's greatest bridesmaids - Les Bleus have thrice finished runners-up - it remains to be seen which mask Jacques Brunel's side will wear. The only thing you can trust this French team to be is, well, French.

Prediction: Wales to leave French hearts broken

Japan v South Africa, Sunday. 2.15pm

It's probably no stretch to say that everyone without South African blood coursing through their veins will be rooting for the hosts to prevail in the last of our quarter-final match-ups. While many thought a win over Ireland, who only a week earlier had been the top-ranked side on the planet, was as good as it would get for Japan, they went and topped Pool A by beating Scotland in a humdinger in the same Yokohama stadium where they will face the Springboks on Sunday. Thoughts will turn to the "Miracle of Brighton" where flanker Michael Leitch was one of the Brave Blossoms to help inflict a last-gasp 34-32 victory over South Africa at the last World Cup in England four years ago. And while that result was a cosmic, a win over the two-time champions Springboks would be seismic. This Japan team are the quickest at the tournament; speed of thought, speed of movement, speed of ambition and invention, and they are reinventing the wheel with decoy runners, often using two men for long passages of play. South Africa will be wary of avoiding a repeat of 2015, and in Cheslin Kolbe have a jet-heeled winger that is a match for Japanese "Ferraris" Kotaro Matsushima and Kenki Fukuoka, as their coach, Jamie Joseph, calls them. Few want to see the hosts go home (or on holiday), and with a sold-out International Stadium and record number of people expected to watch the team's first-ever Rugby World Cup quarter-final on TV, Japan could pull off the greatest shock of all.

Prediction: Japan into the last four

Updated: October 17, 2019 11:35 AM

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