Ireland aim for history as quartet target semi-finals

Dupont France
Grand Slam champions Ireland will look to make history this weekend as four Guinness Six Nations sides set their sights on a place in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup.

Grand Slam champions Ireland will look to make history this weekend as four Guinness Six Nations sides set their sights on a place in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup.

Ireland, the world’s number one side, have never previously made it past the quarter-finals at the Men’s Rugby World Cup, but will break new ground against New Zealand in Paris.

Elsewhere, World Cup hosts France take on defending champions South Africa in one of the most anticipated quarter-finals of all time on Sunday.

Meanwhile, down in Marseille, Wales will hope to make it three semi-finals in their last four World Cups when they take on Argentina, before England look to avenge a Twickenham defeat to Fiji in August when the two sides meet on Sunday.

Ireland aiming for history

Under Andy Farrell, Ireland have achieved almost everything. They have a Grand Slam under their belts in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, a first-ever series win in New Zealand, and a record win streak that currently stands at 17.

One more victory would equal the record for a tier one men’s side, currently held by England and New Zealand.

The latter stand in Ireland’s way, fresh from finishing second in their pool for the first time ever at a World Cup.

But while the All Blacks are in the unfamiliar position of being underdogs, Ireland will not take them lightly.

Farrell had been waiting on a few injuries from last week’s win over Scotland, with the news that Mack Hansen having recovered from a calf injury proving particularly welcome.

Should Ireland get the better of the All Blacks at the World Cup for the first time, they will crush their quarter-final hoodoo and maintain their status as the team to beat in France.

France welcome back Dupont

It has now been three weeks since Antoine Dupont was forced off in the second half of France’s win over Namibia, having suffered a facial fracture that required surgery.

The France skipper returned to full training this week and has been passed fit to take his place in the starting line-up for their quarter-final clash with South Africa.

Remarkably, for two teams who have made the knockout stages of every World Cup in which they have competed (New Zealand are the only other team to have done this), France and South Africa have met just once on this stage.

That came in the pouring rain in Durban in the 1995 semi-final, a game the Springboks claimed by the narrowest of margins.

This weekend could be just as tight, with France have snuck home a year ago in Marseille when the sides met.

Back-row absences crucial in Wales quarter-final

Wales and Argentina will line up in Marseille on Saturday with a big name on each side absent in the back row.

Warren Gatland lost his No.8 Taulupe Faletau to a broken arm in their final win over Georgia last time out, meaning a reshuffle in the back row. Skipper Jac Morgan has shifted to blindside flanker, Aaron Wainwright takes over at No.8 while Tommy Reffell comes into the side at openside.

Argentina have also lost a talisman, with former skipper Pablo Matera also ruled out of the tournament with a hamstring tear.

That means that Facundo Isa, who plays his rugby just down the road in Toulon, will get the chance at No.8.

Argentina earned their place in the last eight with a thrilling victory over Japan last week, but face a Wales team who have won four from four, taking 19 of a possible 20 points.

England look to learn lessons of Twickenham

England also won four from four in the group stages, to top Pool D, but were pushed all the way by Samoa.

Danny Care’s heroics at both ends of the pitch helped them come through that game, and they know they cannot afford to drop their level this weekend.

Steve Borthwick’s side take on Fiji, who claimed a memorable win at Twickenham during the Summer Nations Series in August.

Simon Raiwalui’s side have not been as sharp since, edging out Georgia before losing a tight clash with Portugal.

However, their win over Australia in their second match was enough to earn a place in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2007, and England will be only too aware of the threat posed by the likes of Levani Botia, Josua Tuisova and skipper Waisea Nayacalevu.