Gareth Jones predicts the outcome of the Rugby World Cup quarter finals
Gareth Jones predicts the outcome of the Rugby World Cup quarter finals

Rugby World Cup: Quarter-final predictions including England v Australia, New Zealand v Ireland & Wales v France

Overall it is so far so good for my predicted route to the Rugby World Cup final, especially with my main pool stage tip coming in at 9/2, so now we know the quarter-final fixtures it is time to cast full eyes on the knockout stages.

Recommend bet

Japan v South Africa: Japan race to 10 points at 7/2

The only nation not to reach the last eight from my predicted route is Argentina. This is particularly frustrating as they should have won their 23-21 defeat to France 10 times over, missing eight points with the boot and scoring just two tries from eight visits to the 'red zone', but that is sport.

The only other difference is Japan climbing to Pool B's summit, rather than my predicted runner-up spot. But when everyone else seemed to have predicted an Ireland/Scotland one-two, I'm remaining relatively smug, especially as it delivered my recommend bet of Scotland being knocked out in the group stage at 9/2.

And Japan's impressive form and France's luck have actually made these quarter-finals that much more interesting and harder to call.

The Quarter-finals

The Rugby World Cup quarter-final lineup
The Rugby World Cup quarter-final lineup

Quarter-final one: England v Australia

Winner: England

When: Saturday October 19; kick-off: 8.15 BST

Where: Oita Stadium, Oita Prefecture

Sky Bet Odds: England to win 4/11 | Australia to win 5/2

For the football enthusiasts among you, this is a World Cup rivalry to match that of England v Germany and at these showpiece events history teaches us that anything can happen in this one.

This rugby rivalry is more tit-for-tat than the football equivalent. Australia beat England at Twickenham in the 1991 World Cup final. Sir Clive Woodwood's side returned the favour in 2003, claiming an extra time victory in the Sydney finale. Underdogs England defeated the Wallabies at the quarter final stage of the 1995 and 2007 tournaments, but in 2015 Michael Cheika's outfit took great delight in knocking England out of their own World Cup at the pool stage.

So anything could happen in Saturday's latest intriguing instalment, but it really shouldn't. This should be an England victory.

Former England boss and now ITV pundit Woodward fears Australia have deliberately not shown all their cards yet, and their line-out and scrum will be too strong for England. While the Wallabies will never be a walkover, I disagree with the World Cup winning coach.

Cheika's bizarre decision to revert back to an ageing backline in the defeat to Wales - playing a totally new halfback partnership in their win over Georgia - and his constant selection tinkering highlights he does not trust whichever starting XV he picks.

England coach Eddie Jones, left, with his Australian counterpart Michael Cheika
England coach Eddie Jones, left, with his Australian counterpart Michael Cheika

That has resulted in a lack of chemistry, cohesion and fluidity in their play to date, which contributed to their defeat to Wales, plus it is clearly affecting the players' confidence - all very different to their run to the 2015 final.

While their 2019 form is improved from the previous two years - a low bar by the way - I still don't rate them higher than 'average'. Had Reece Hodge rightly been red carded in their opening match against Fiji - he was later banned for three games - the Green and Gold very possibly would have been on the wrong end of a shock defeat.

Against Wales they again benefited from poor officiating, escaping two clear yellow cards. They did fight back in the second half in impressive style, but they were aided by a Wales side that went within themselves and stopped playing due to nerves, as they closed in on just their second ever World Cup victory over one of the three Southern Hemisphere giants.

While Australia have been stuttering, England have been building momentum nicely and shouldn't be too hampered by their cancelled contest with France, especially as it should mean a fully fit squad to pick from. Eddie Jones' side have really benefited from the increasing scale of opponents as the pool stage rumbled on, allowing them to slowly go up the gears without ever hitting maximum effort.

It means they've developed cohesion, confidence and flow in their play and should now be at the right level to see off the Wallabies. The only concern with England's route is that they've yet to be tested against a true world force and could be caught cold at some point, especially as they've not hit their best form yet. This should be more of a concern for the semis. As much as Australia will be a major step up for Jones' side on Saturday, they, like France and Argentina, are currently just an average tier one nation and not world class.

Like Wales, England will match and thus neutralise Australia's set-piece strength. They have the more powerful runners and their defence has vastly improved, conceding the least points in the tournament to date, although having played a game less. I also feel England's defence is strong out wide, where the Wallabies gained advantage over Wales.

Added to this, while recognising history goes out the window at World Cups, England are currently in the groove against their old rivals, having won their last six matches against the Wallabies, eight of the last 10, and 10 of the last 12 meetings.

Quarter-final two: New Zealand v Ireland

Winner: New Zealand

When: Saturday October 19; kick-off: 11.15 BST

Where: Oita Stadium, Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo

Sky Bet Odds: New Zealand 2/9 | Ireland 7/2

Ireland beat New Zealand in their last meeting 16-9, just their second ever win over the All Blacks
Ireland beat New Zealand in their last meeting 16-9, just their second ever win over the All Blacks

For the past three years, all the way up until Sunday lunchtime, New Zealand will have been expecting to face Scotland or Japan in this tie, not Ireland. This gives the Irish an advantage and they are one of only a handful of teams that will unnerve the reigning double World Champions.

Joe Schmidt's side won their last meeting in November 2018, just one of two defeats the Kiwis have suffered in the last 12 months. Ireland at their best, as in 2018, play a suffocating, high intensity game that can defeat New Zealand. A high pressure kicking game and ferocious rush defence, making the All Blacks earn every metre, is the way to force mistakes and knock them off their stride - this is what the Irish can do.

But can they do it on this occasion? After all they are not the team they were in 2018. Their dismantling of Scotland in their opening pool match seemed to signal their return to top form, but both their own and Scotland's performances since have proved this was more a case of how terrible the Scots were, than how brilliant the Irish were.

They of course lost to Japan but here you must always add the asterisk of *without fly-half Johnny Sexton, as the Irish are never as good without their world player of the year. But this defeat, regardless of Sexton's absence, showed how the Irish have lost that intensity.

Talking of intensity, Ireland's New Zealand born centre Bundee Aki brings a heck of a lot of that in midfield, but he looks set to miss this match after receiving a very harsh three week ban for his red card against Samoa. He will be a huge miss.

A chink of light for the men in green is that New Zealand have not had to perform to a high level since their opening match victory over South Africa way back on Saturday September 21. Could they be off the pace for this one?

This is very different scenario from the last time these two nations met. Yes Ireland were brilliant in Dublin, but Steve Hansen's men where playing their 13th game of a long tough season, which had seen a three match test series against France, the Rugby Championship and facing England. This year is different, this is just game eight and just the fifth against a tier one nation. Rusty or fresh, we will find out this weekend.

Then also consider this, the All Blacks do not lose two games in a row to the same side. Ireland claimed their first ever win over New Zealand in November 2016 in the USA, only to be beaten a week later in Dublin. England last beat them in 2012 and have lost the next six matches; Australia turned-over a 14 man Kiwi side in August 47-26, only to be hammered 36-0 seven days later; France won in New Zealand 27-22 in 2009, but have been made to pay for that insult, losing the next 14.

Even South Africa, the closest side to rival the World Champions currently, defeated them 36-34 September last year and since then have drawn and been beaten twice in their following three meetings, including at this tournament.

If Ireland win, and they can, it would be the first time they've ever reached the semi-finals, but this weight of history could be another indication that this will be the All Black's day.

Quarter-final three: Wales v France

Winner: Wales

When: Sunday October 20; kick-off: 8.15 BST

Where: Oita Stadium, Oita Prefecture

Sky Bet Odds: Wales to win 2/5 | France to win 2/1

Dan Biggar's game control at fly-half will be vital for Wales in the knockout stages
Dan Biggar's game control at fly-half will be vital for Wales in the knockout stages

I'm not the only one cursing Argentina failing to finish second in Pool C, so are Welsh fans. Argentina have lost their last four matches against the Welsh, and won just once in the past eight meetings. The French, despite only beating Wales once in their last eight meetings, will provide Wales with a few more pounding headaches than Los Pumas in this quarter final.

As I've written many times this year, the French are at their poorest point in the professional era. They've literally only performed in the opening 40 minutes of their opening match against a rusty Argentina and were so fortunate to cling on to that victory in the second period.

But they will cause Wales problems for two reasons. One, they always have one big World Cup performance in them - this could be it. Two, more scientifically, their style is one Wales hate. They are unpredictable and with nothing to lose they will throw the ball out-wide. Wales like a close quarters game, keeping the play around the breakdown. When it goes out-wide quickly and the game becomes open, their normally excellent, organised defence can be stretched, with holes being created regularly.

Australia, in their second half, ultimately failed, comeback got the ball wide early in the phases and moved quickly and easily from halfway to the Wales try line. Once on that line they were forced to play one out crash-ball rugby and that's when Wales could repel their opponents and cling on to the win. We witnessed the same pattern in Wales' victory over Fiji.

But this still will be a major failure for Wales if they do not see this one out. They are a cohesive, mature side that believe in their systems and structures. Once in the lead they can squeeze the life out of teams, and if one or two scores behind they can still slowly work their way back into matches. They've displayed everything needed to get to a World Cup final without every being at their very best - like England in 2003.

They are calculated where the French are wild and this showed in Warren Gatland's side Six Nations victory in Paris earlier this year, where they trailed 16-0 at the break to eventually win 24-19. In that second half Wales played the wet conditions well and they kept grinding forward slowly, wearing down their opponents. Les Bleu hated the grind and lost concentration.

They tried to play an open game, shot themselves in the foot and allowed Wales to win it - so typical of both sides. With handling so difficult in Japan due to the humidity I expect to see similar in this game.

France's unpredictable flair used to give nightmares to their opponents, but now they lack the skill to execute this game plan to the highest levels required in the big games, and Wales' simple, perfect execution of their own tactics is what should win out eventually.

In the 2011 semi-final Wales lost to France after Sam Warburton's controversial red card. Expect the Welsh to be fired up for revenge in this one.

Quarter-final four: Japan v South Africa

Winner: South Africa

When: Sunday October 20; kick-off: 11.15 BST

Where: Oita Stadium, Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo

Sky Bet Odds: Japan to win 11/2 | South Africa to win 1/12

Recommend bet: Japan v South Africa: Japan race to 10 points at 7/2

Japan have been the story of the 2019 Rugby World Cup
Japan have been the story of the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Any Springbok fan breathing a sigh of relief that they would be facing Japan rather than Ireland in this quarter final will have a rapid change of heart following the Brave Blossoms impressive victory over Scotland to claim top spot and avoid New Zealand.

The hosts have been the story of this World Cup, whether that be their stunning on-field performances or the resilience of their people after the devastating Typhoon Hagibis. Japan's progress to the knockout stages for the first time in their history, and the only tier two side to be in the last eight, is exactly what the sport needed. If the story can continue further then that will only be a good thing, but will it?

South Africa, many people's tip to win the tournament, have slipped in to bad old habits in this tournament, playing arrogantly in their victories over Canada, Namibia and Italy. They've won those matches very, very comfortably, but they've not overly impressed.

That arrogance in the pool stage four years ago resulted in them being the victims of the biggest shock in World Cup history - losing to these Japanese minnows in Brighton. That humiliating defeat should be the exact reason the Springbok remove that cloak of arrogance on Sunday and be fully focused on not being fooled again.

Japan have played in a very different style to the vogue style played by most, which is big powerful brutes smashing the ball forward time and again and then cross field kicks to the wingers when all of the defenders have been sucked in.

The Cherry and Whites instead get the ball wide early, stretching play from one wing to the other, with clever infield passes as required to stop them becoming predictable and they barely kicked the ball against Ireland or Scotland. They are comfortable and confident in keeping possession and the opposition don't know how the next attack will come, which is very hard to defend against. It is a delight to watch and I'd love to see more teams play this way.

So this contest is billed as South Africa's size and power verses Japan's skill and bravery. However, I think that's actually doing both sides a disservice. In their new era the Boks now play a wide attacking game when they want to, with half backs that want to get the ball wide and exciting runners out there, while Japan contain big powerful players themselves, who will carry the ball forward again and again and again.

So I really wouldn't be surprised if Japan, inspired again by an incredible home support, continue their fairytale story and pull off another shock. However, I am still backing Rassie Erasmus' side to win out here and become the most unpopular winners in World Cup history.

South Africa's power was too much for Japan in their World Cup warm-up match in September, as the Brave Blossoms were brushed aside 41-7, and this should be an indication of how this match should go.

Japan gave everything to beat Scotland and that showed in the celebrations after. I wonder if reaching the knockout stages was their World Cup final, and it might be harder for them to now reach those same performance and emotional levels again.

Yes they have seven days between games, but what will their stamina be like? They had to play to the last seconds against Ireland, Samoa and Scotland and they've given everything in this tournament, while the South Africans haven't had to sweat since their opening match against New Zealand.

Yes, they could be caught cold for that reason, so could find themselves behind early on, and that's why Japan to get to 10 points first is my recommend bet for this round of matches, but I'd back South Africa to eventually get into the groove, have too much for the hosts and be the ultimate party poopers.

Odds correct as of 0900 on 15/10/19

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