There is no doubt that a World Cup Quarter-Final focuses the mind like no other rugby day in a 4 year cycle. I remember vividly in 1991 as we prepared for ‘ Le Crunch’ against France in the Parc des Princes we knew one certainty – lose and we go home. It became a huge driver for us and while the intensity or even fear doesn’t win the match it ensures that each player will perform with desperation. It was a historic win for England in a truly gladiatorial atmosphere.
That is why this round is by far the most intoxicating and with sub narratives everywhere. For example, the fast moving All Blacks have to knock down the relentless and pressured approach of the Irish. What a challenge and the Men in Black will not fail for the lack of pushing their qualities to the limit -it’s the only way. As for France, while their skill and intelligence is worth so much, if South Africa select the right mix in the backs – e.g. Esterhuizen and Moodie in the centres – then they surely have to prevail. After all they have two packs of equivalent strength, can you believe.
Meantime, in the other pool which is rather muddy or even full of sludge, we cannot split the teams for known reasons. It is all about selection for England, and I will be a scratched record on my views of the midfield. Pick Arundell for a start, and allow the whole team to breathe with Marchant at centre, Farrell or no Farrell. Then a semifinal approaches, and make no mistake England will fancy themselves in a one off!! The emotion all rides with the Flying Fijians who have been somewhat grounded since their wonderful early performances. They must fancy their chances but when the pressure is on England remember has 1000 caps at its disposal and in previous eras that is enough to win a World Cup so should be enough for Fiji.
As for Wales, they have been the surprise package and seem super fit – able to outlast a rampant Fiji team and despatch Australia with ease. I like the variation of their game plan, and they have real passion and belief. Argentina is uncallable, they epitomise the whole side of this draw, ie noone has to play particuarlly well to progress. Well, that wont be good enough I sense but this one is too close to call.
Finally, how can we not celebrate with Portugal for their tears of joy and in a rather disjointed World Cup to date this was a moment to savour. Not least because Sporting Wine Club has just brought to the market its first Portuguese sporting wine, a delectable red from the Algarve called the1st XV. How appropriate for the proudest day in the history of rugby in Portugal. Parabéns!!