With 24 games played, we are exactly halfway through the Rugby World Cup 2023 with the make-up of the quarter-finals starting to take shape.
There are five teams who remain unbeaten, with all five coming from the Guinness Six Nations as Wales became the first side to book their place in the quarter-finals.
Ireland, England and France are also top of their groups, while Italy have won two from two ahead of crunch clashes with New Zealand and Les Bleus.
Last, but not least, Scotland are up and running following a bonus-point success over Tonga that keeps their chances of making the last eight alive.
Ireland make a statement
It was billed as the biggest match in the history of the World Cup group stages, and Ireland against South Africa did not disappoint.
In the battle of the world’s number one side and the defending champions, it was the former who came out on top, 13-8 at the Stade de France on Saturday.
Mack Hansen scored the sole Ireland try as they withstood everything that the Springboks threw at them in a game played at an exceptional intensity.
It was a match that made everyone sit up and take notice but most importantly for Ireland, they came out on top despite some missteps in traditional areas of strength.
Ireland’s lineout was a particular issue, with the first four throws lost and six in all. For a team who are usually so strong at the set-piece, that is an area they will look to fix ahead of a clash with Scotland that will decide the final standings in Pool B.
A nation holds its breath
The biggest storyline of the third round of matches came on Thursday evening when France skipper and three-time Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship Antoine Dupont was forced off midway through a record win over Namibia.
Dupont had already scored one try and made two more with sumptuous cross-kicks in the 96-0 success, but suffered a facial fracture after a head-on-head tackle by Namibia skipper Johan Deysel, who was sent off as a result.
The scrum-half required an operation on Friday night and is now facing a race against time to be fit for the rest of the competition. The latest reports suggest he could be back for a potential quarter-final, but it is a testament to his importance that the timeline for his return was the major talking point for the days following the game.
In his absence, Maxime Lucu and Baptiste Couilloud will have the task of stepping up at scrum-half, while Charles Ollivon is set to take over the captaincy.
Warren’s Wales are doing it again
Warren Gatland’s record in the Guinness Six Nations is impressive but he might be even better at World Cups.
In three campaigns in his first spell in charge of Wales, Gatland reached the semi-finals twice and only narrowly missed out in 2015.
Now, his Wales team became the first side to clinch a place in the quarter-finals in France thanks to a record 40-6 win over Australia in Lyon.
That was done despite the loss of Dan Biggar to injury early in the game against the Wallabies.
For a team who won just once in the 2023 Championship, the transformation has been stark, with Wales brimming with confidence after three successive victories.
They will now prepare for Georgia knowing that a quarter-final place is Marseille is in the bag, with the possibility of a third semi-final in four World Cups the next target.
King Henry V
Henry Arundell shot to fame with a stunning length-of-the-field try in the Under-20 Six Nations last year, and the winger showed that he can be just as eye-catching at senior level.
Handed a first World Cup appearance, and start, against Chile, Arundell was simply unstoppable, running in five tries in a 71-0 success.
In doing so, he joined a very select group of men to have scored five tries in a game at a World Cup, legendary England winger Josh Lewsey (against Uruguay in 2003) and Wallabies full-back Chris Latham (against Namibia in the same year), with the only man to do better, Marc Ellis (against Japan in 1995).
Whether that is enough to earn Arundell a spot in Steve Borthwick’s starting XV against Samoa and in the quarter-finals which should follow, is another question.
But the youngster could not have done much more to push cause.
Italy set up two shots at history
When they trailed 17-7 at half-time against Uruguay, there must have been some concerns in the Italian camp that their campaign was about to go off the rails.
Instead, the Azzurri turned things around in the second 40 minutes in Nice, scoring 31 unanswered points as they played with a tempo that Los Teros could not match.
That leaves Italy with 10 points from a possible 10 ahead of clashes with New Zealand and France in their last two matches.
While they will be underdogs in both games, Italy’s perfect return so far means that a win in either game would be enough to reach the quarter-finals for the very first time.
The first shot comes against the All Blacks in Lyon on Friday, before they return to the same ground to take on Les Bleus a week later.
Under the radar but Scotland are still alive
The schedule of this World Cup meant that Scotland went into their clash with Tonga on Sunday already 14 points behind Ireland in Pool B.
Their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals rested on a bonus-point success against the Ikale Tahi and despite a hard-fought opening half-hour, they did just that.
Although the Scots lost Jamie Ritchie in the first half to a head injury that will rule him out of their upcoming clash with Romania, Scotland were able to pull clear to record a 45-17 success.
Now, they need to add a bonus-point success over winless Romania before their last game against Ireland. Against the Grand Slam champions, it will be a big ask, but Scotland would secure their passage to the last eight if they can beat Ireland by more than seven points while conceding at most three tries.
Considering the position in which they found themselves on Sunday morning, it is the sort of equation that Gregor Townsend and his squad would probably take.