As the World Cup pool stages came to a close, all eyes were on a colossal clash between two Guinness Six Nations heavyweights.
The odds were stacked against Scotland qualifying from Pool B given the result required, and they never really came close against an Ireland side who delivered a performance of potential champions.
France had already joined them as group winners after their 60-7 victory over Italy, while Wales and England also topped their pools with wins over Georgia and Samoa respectively.
That left Italy to join Scotland in heading home, as the quarter-final line-ups were confirmed.
Ireland too strong for Scotland
From the moment James Lowe crashed over inside two minutes at the Stade de France, there was an inevitability about the outcome of Saturday’s showpiece match.
Scotland were bidding for an historic victory, but little could prepare them for the green wall which met on the field and in the stands, as hordes of Irish fans roared their heroes home to a 36-14 win.
But Scotland will surely lament the missed opportunities for scoreboard pressure early on, when they turned down three kickable penalties.
The Irish defence, led by Peter O’Mahony on his 100th cap, met everything the Scots had to throw at them, and after Blair Kinghorn and captain Jamie Ritchie succumbed to early injuries, Ireland sensed an opportunity.
An Irish deluge ensued and did not stop until the hour mark with the hosts 36-0 up. If ever there was a way to prepare for the challenge of a quarter-final tie with New Zealand, this was it.
This was a 17th straight victory for Ireland but they will have to be at their very best to beat the All Blacks and reach a first-ever World Cup semi-final.
Recent history is on Ireland’s side, however – they have won each of their last two and three of their last four meetings against Saturday’s opponents.
If their dominance at the breakdown, brutality in defence and clinical brilliance in attack ensues, then even serial winners New Zealand may have no answer.
No Dupont, no problem as Penaud closes in
France cruised into the last eight with a commanding victory over Italy and will now play South Africa for a place in the final four.
The hosts faced elimination with a defeat but showed no sign of any nerves, leading 31-0 at the break and running in eight tries in all.
Maxime Lucu deputised for the injured Antoine Dupont and delivered a solid, if not, spectacular performance when under the spotlight.
The headline-grabbing showing came yet again from Damian Penaud, who scored twice to move to 35 tries for Les Bleus – just three behind the great Serge Blanco.
France want to go all the way, and with three games to glory, Penaud could make history on two fronts. While also bidding to become France’s number one, he could also break the record for the most tries scored in a single World Cup – a record which currently stands at eight.
He has scored six tournament tries so far and while the toughest tests are to come, Penaud is a man for the big occasion – he topped the scoring charts in the Guinness Six Nations earlier this year and crossed in France’s opening day win over New Zealand.
He and his teammates were too slick for the Azzurri, who suffered a record defeat to France and finished third for the sixth successive tournament, leaving incoming boss Gonzalo Quesada with much to ponder.
Wales’ perfect pool campaign ends with concern
Wales made it four from four with a 43-19 victory against Georgia as Louis Rees-Zammit scored a hat-trick.
But a day of celebration turned to one of concern with a spate of injuries to key personnel ahead of their quarter-final clash with Argentina.
Taulupe Faletau suffered a broken arm, Gareth Anscombe strained his groin and Liam Williams ended the match on crutches in what was a cruel triple blow.
That left Rees Lightning to roar to the rescue in Nantes, with Tomas Francis, Williams and George North also crossing.
The third of the Gloucester star’s tries was the highlight of the afternoon, as he kicked in behind the Lelos defence and won the footrace effortlessly before a fingertip grounding.
Wales do not have long to patch up their wounds, with the Pumas lying in wait after their confidence-boosting win over Japan, but Gatland’s sides will be favourites to make the final four for a third time in four editions.
Farrell into the history books
England have had better days at this World Cup, but Owen Farrell’s history-making kick was a moment to savour.
A first-half penalty from the captain took him to 1,181 points and past Jonny Wilkinson as England’s record points-scorer.
He did then claim the unwanted record of becoming the first man in World Cup history to be timed out as he took longer than the allotted 60 seconds to kick a third penalty.
Thankfully, that lapse had no bearing on the final score, as Danny Care’s late try spared England’s blushes in a tense 18-17 victory over Samoa.
That was not the end of the drama, though, as Care and Harlequins teammate Marcus Smith hared back to stop one final Samoan attack.
Steve Borthwick’s team were very nearly punished for a slow start, trailing 17-8 early in the second half, and will be relieved to have avoided another defeat to a tier-two nation.
Fittingly, it is Fiji who they will face in next Sunday’s quarter-final tie, with a chance to avenge the defeat suffered on home soil in August.