Talking points as Marseille and Paris prepare to host World Cup quarter-finals

Talking Points As Marseille And Paris Prepare To Host World Cup Quarter-Finals
Ireland versus New Zealand is the headline act of the World Cup quarter-finals, © PA Archive/PA Images
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By PA Sport Staff

Marseille and Paris take centre stage when the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals unfold on Saturday and Sunday.

Four intriguing contests see Ireland meeting New Zealand and France tackling reigning world champions South Africa at Stade de France, while Marseille plays host to Wales against Argentina and England taking on Fiji.


Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the key quarter-final talking points.

Warren Gatland has worked his magic

World Cup
Wales versus Argentina facts and figures (PA Graphics)

After Wales won a solitary game during last season’s Six Nations, any prospect of them becoming World Cup semi-finalists seven months later could have been described as fanciful in the extreme. But head coach Warren Gatland has come up trumps once again in his second stint at the helm, transforming Wales through an unbeaten four-match run in their pool, collecting 19 points out of a possible 20 and going into Saturday’s clash against the Pumas as firm favourites. It would be Wales’ third semi-final appearance in the last four World Cup campaigns under Gatland if they get there, and Argentina have their work cut out to stop them, especially given patchy form during the group phase when they qualified as Pool D runners-up behind England.


In-form Ireland to banish last-eight curse?

World Cup
A heavyweight clash looms between Ireland and New Zealand (PA Graphics)

Ireland have topped the world rankings for 15 months and are favourites for Saturday’s mouthwatering Paris showdown with three-time world champions New Zealand. Yet the Irish have never won a World Cup knockout match. Seven times previously they have reached the last eight of the tournament and seven times they have been sent home. The last of those early exits came at the hands of the formidable All Blacks four years ago. Head coach Andy Farrell has masterminded three wins from four meetings since that 46-14 hammering in Tokyo, including a historic tour triumph on New Zealand soil last summer, and instilled great mental resolve in his players. His team will equal the record for consecutive Test wins by a tier one nation (18) by banishing Ireland’s quarter-final curse. However, standing in their way is one of the toughest challenges in world rugby and an All Blacks side intent on revenge.

Pantomime villains England

World Cup
England are favourites to topple Fiji (PA Graphics)

It will be akin to shooting Bambi if England are to reach the semi-finals due to Fiji’s status as darlings of the World Cup, willed on by neutrals who desire the fairy-tale scenario of a Pacific Islands team progressing into the latter stages of the tournament. Number eight Billy Vunipola has acknowledged his side are “public enemy number one”, but points out that historical anti-English sentiment means they are well versed in fighting against popular opinion. On the favourites’ side is that the vast numbers of red rose fans who have followed their team in France will turn the Stade Velodrome into a home ground. Fiji, after pushing Wales to the limit in their opening match, have struggled to regain such fluency and it could prove a game too far for them.

French flair or Springboks power?

World Cup
Hosts France take on reigning world champions South Africa (PA Graphics)


The second of the weekend’s two box-office Paris quarter-finals pits the expectant hosts against the defending champions. Whoever prevails on Sunday will view it as a huge obstacle overcome in their quest to win the tournament. France will have the backing of a frenzied home support sensing an opportunity for their team to claim the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time. Les Bleus have not lost on home soil since Scotland defeated them in Paris behind closed doors in a Six Nations match two-and-a-half years ago. The Springboks – chasing World Cup glory for a fourth time – entered the tournament in scintillating form and began with an impressively comfortable win over Scotland before their momentum was halted slightly by a narrow loss to Ireland in their penultimate pool match. The contrast of French flair and the ferocious physicality of South Africa promises to deliver an epic contest to conclude the weekend spectacular.

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