Rugby World Cup quarter-final takeaways

One of the great weekends in Rugby World Cup history saw four quarter-finals decided by an average of six points with every game in the balance until the final minutes.

One of the great weekends in Rugby World Cup history saw four quarter-finals decided by an average of six points with every game in the balance until the final minutes.

In Marseille, Argentina and England emerged triumphant over Wales and Fiji respectively while Ireland and then France were beaten in heart-breaking fashion in Paris by New Zealand and South Africa.

That sets up a World Cup final rematch for England, who face the daunting challenge of taking down the Springboks, with the winner to meet whoever emerges from the first semi-final between the All Blacks and Los Pumas.

England hold their nerve late on

England have spent the World Cup building momentum and confidence. They were pushed to the very limits by Fiji in Marseille, seeing a 24-10 lead evaporate in the closing stages.

When a second converted try in four minutes allowed the Fijians to draw level at 24-24, it seemed that the game had swung their way.

But it was then that England dug deepest, working their way back into the Fijian 22 on two occasions, with Owen Farrell slotting a drop goal and then a penalty.

They still had to hang tough as Fiji had a final attack to try to snatch victory. In the end, it was fitting that Courtney Lawes got the turnover that sealed it.

Alongside Ben Earl, he had been one of England’s standout performers, as they take their place in the semi-finals and a clash with South Africa in Paris next Saturday.

No regrets for Galthié but France will have a few

After a painful one-point defeat to world champions South Africa, France coach Fabien Galthié was asked whether he had any regrets over anything his side had done to prepare for a World Cup on home soil.

Echoing the great Edith Piaf, he said he had none, but Les Bleus will surely look back on their 29-28 defeat to the Springboks and wonder how they let it slip.

South Africa were outstanding, but France had their chances to win it. They started brilliantly with Cyril Baille’s try after four minutes, and had two more tries by half-time – the first time the Springboks have ever conceded three tries in a half at a World Cup.

The problem was that South Africa had also scored three tries, doing so despite having only three opportunities in the half.

France led 22-19 at the break, but they could have been further clear, and were similarly unable to take advantage of an extra man in the first ten minutes of the second half.

That cost them as they suffered only their second home defeat under Galthié. They will come back, and the majority of this side will be back for the Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland in Marseille in February – Uini Atonio and Romain Taofifenua announced their international retirements, however.

Still, after everything they had built over the past four years, it was a tough way to go out.

Quarter-final heartbreak cruel on Ireland

Ireland have done it all over the last four years, a Grand Slam, a series victory in New Zealand and a national record 17 successive victories.

They came desperately close to another landmark, missing out 28-24 to the All Blacks in the quarter-finals at the Stade de France.

It is a game that will go down as one of the greatest ever at any stage of a World Cup, and was incredibly cruel after they had fought back from 13-0 down early on.

In the end, an attack lasting 37 phases could not find a way through the All Black defence, leaving Irish hearts shattered.

It means the end of the road for Johnny Sexton, who played his final game and was still pulling the strings in the 80th minute.

As disappointing as the defeat is, it should not detract from what they have achieved under Andy Farrell. They will lose their place at the top of the world rankings but they have established themselves as one of the greatest Ireland teams ever.

Wales young guns will come again

Wales have been a team transformed over the last six months, turning a difficult Guinness Six Nations campaign into an unbeaten run through the pool stages in France.

When they led 10-0 early against Argentina, it felt like their magical run would continue, but they appeared to run out of steam in Marseille, eventually going down 29-17.

That scoreline was harsh on them, with Louis Rees-Zammit narrowly missing out on a try to put them back in front in the final ten minutes.

It was a sad way to finish for Dan Biggar, who announced he would be retiring from international rugby after this tournament, while Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric had already called time on their own Wales days this summer.

Still, Warren Gatland has started to build the core of a new side, led by inspirational skipper Jac Morgan, with the likes of Rees-Zammit, Dafydd Jenkins and Rio Dyer looking like they will be mainstays in the coming years.

What that will look like in the 2024 Guinness Six Nations remains to be seen, but there are certainly building blocks in place.