Everything that has gone before has led to this… which is the final stepping stone towards Rugby World Cup playoffs.
Only two teams have booked their passage to the knockout stages and even they still don’t know where they will land in the quarter-final bracket, so Week Four offers some tempting morsels for the rugby fan who still hasn’t had enough.
- All Blacks determined to beat yellow-card blitz
- Italy props to miss All Blacks clash
- Power Rankings: Fiji rekindle fading playoff hopes
If you’re more selective in your rugby viewing, check out these match-ups over the next six days…
Wales v Fiji
Wednesday, October 9
TAB: Wales $1.13, Fiji $5.35
These two teams share World Cup history – Fiji has only once made the playoff rounds of the tournament and did so by beating Wales in pool play in 2007.
Can history repeat?
Wales have been steady through the opening three weeks, accounting for Australia and seemingly headed for the top of Pool D.
But Fiji have shown glimpses of their other-worldly skill and power, and still have a sniff of a quarter-final spot, if they can topple the recent world No.1 side (and Georgia shock the Wallabies).
That World Cup victory stands as their only success against the Welsh, although they drew their next encounter in Cardiff three years later and have finished within 10 points on five other occasions.
New Zealand v Italy
Saturday, October 12
TAB: NZ $1.001, Italy $36
The Italians have never seriously challenged the All Blacks – the closest they’ve come in 14 previous encounters is 10 points and the average winning margin is 49 points.
Last time they met, New Zealand prevailed 66-3 in Rome, so realistically, anything but a comfortable win for the two-time defending champions would be totally unexpected.
But the All Blacks have virtually been on rugby vacation since dispatching South Africa in their opening game, taking an 11-day break from competition and then returning to play the two lowest-ranked teams in the draw.
They will need an emphatic performance against Italy to blow out the cobwebs before the knockout phases – and actually they still need a win just to reach that stage.
England v France
Saturday, October 13
TAB: England $1.18, France $4.45
The English have had the best build-up towards the business end of the tournament, with their opponents gradually getting tougher through pool play.
They and France have both qualified for the next stage – it’s just a matter of who tops the group and faces the easier path to the semis.
The double-edged sword of England’s progression is that they – and France – now face five straight weeks of tier-one opposition, if they hope to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.
The French have been typically enigmatic so far, barely surviving their last encounter against Tonga… which means they’re due.
History favours the English 58-40, with seven draws.
Namibia v Canada
Sunday, October 14
TAB: Namibia $2.28, Canada $1.58
And while the big guns do battle for places in the quarter-final, those two aforementioned lowest-ranked teams will face off for the wooden spoon.
If your office sweepstake has a prize for the worst team at the World Cup (like ours), this game will likely decide that dubious honour.
Namibia (-141) enter the contest with the worst for/against differential in the tournament, with Canada (-104) the next worst.
The North Americans are ranked one spot higher in the world, have seven World Cup wins to their name, progressing to the 1991 quarter-finals, and have beaten the Africans in both previous meetings.
But frankly, Namibia have looked more enterprising at this tournament in quest of their first-ever win.
Japan v Scotland
Sunday, October 14
TAB: Japan $2.08, Scotland $1.69
We’ve waited for this clash all tournament, but certainly since the hosts upset Ireland on the second weekend to set up this mouthwatering showdown in the final pool game.
Pool A is up for grabs and victory here would see Japan unbeaten and progressing to their first-ever World Cup quarter-finals appearance.
A whole nation is aching for this result – perhaps the whole rugby world – so you have to feel for the Scots, who have stumbled through the draw as the poor cousins no-one wants to know at the family wedding.
They’ve won all seven previous encounters, including – notably – the last World Cup, where Japan upset South Africa, but still couldn’t progress past pool play.
Will history repeat?
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