The ‘closest to call’ Rugby Quarter Finals yet!?

In what has been an exciting tournament, the knockout rounds begin this Saturday with the eagerly anticipated England vs Australia match. As weekends of rugby go, it is tough to beat the shows that will be put on by these quarter-final matches. Each team has demonstrated strength in the pool stages, and all are extremely determined to win. So, what does each game look like and what does our model predict?

ENGLAND (ranked 2nd) vs AUSTRALIA (ranked 6th)

The England vs Australia match is a longstanding fixture with over 100 years’ experience playing against each other and an almost even win ratio. The introduction of the Cook Cup in 1987 ensured that they get vital match experience every non-World Cup year.

Both teams are previous holders of the Webb Ellis cup, England once and Australia twice. But, not as recently as they would like. Neither team wants New Zealand to run away with a third consecutive win, so both England and Australia will be putting their all effort towards progression to the semi-finals.

Since 2013, England have ranked, according to our model, consistently above Australia. This rivalry is not a simple story however.

  • They have met on 6 occasions at various stages in the World Cups
  • Both have beaten the other for the Cup on the opponent’s turf
  • The last World Cup saw Australia knock England out of the tournament in the pool stage. A first in the history of the tournament for a host team.

This year our model predicts England as favourites to win. Despite this, and knowing the history of these teams, we cannot underestimate the strength of the Australian side as one of the chasers in this tournament. Expected to be a tough, gritty display.

(Rank based win predictions: England 68%, Australia 32%)

JAPAN (ranked 11th) vs SOUTH AFRICA (ranked 4th)

One of the biggest rugby upsets of all time was the defeat of South Africa by Japan in the 2015 World Cup pool match. Despite not making it out of the pool stages on that occasion, Japan proved they were a worthy candidate for tier 1 status and this argument has been further strengthened during this tournament. Their game has improved, they have shown impressive pace and handling skills and fully deserve to be in this quarter final.

The two teams played again in one of the warm-up matches resulting in a strong South African win. But that shouldn’t give the 4th ranked team a huge comfort at this point. The Japanese team have consistently dominated first phase clear-outs, leading to a fast and furious strategy that will give their South African opponents much to think about.  The South African coach Rassie Erasmus is typically full of confidence in the strength of his squad and has selected a physical starting 15 with substitutes that will allow a change of pace and style as needed.

Whilst we all love an underdog story, the rankings are showing a South African win. But Japan have upset longer odds already this tournament and no matter what the result is, if the game is anywhere near as exciting as the Japan vs Scotland game, we are in for some serious rugby entertainment.

(Rank based win predictions: Japan 25%, South Africa 75%)

FRANCE (ranked 8th) vs WALES (ranked 5th)

France and Wales are no strangers to playing each other as regular foes in the 6 Nations. In their last 8 matches, Wales have dominated and won all but one of these. Coach Gatland has played this statistic down recognising that France have enough talent in their squad to pull a win out of the bag and shouldn’t be written off based on past performances. Knowing this will be a tough game, Wales will be pleased to have key players back from injury and ready to start against France.

France were prevented from playing their last pool match (against England) because of Typhoon Hagibis. Their route to the quarterfinal was not as smooth as it could have been, with lower than expected scorelines against some of their Pool opponents. They have however, been in three World Cup finals demonstrating their capability to fight through the tournament to the last stage.

France are ranked as underdogs in this match, so we expect Wales to win, but there remains every possibility for an upset. If France manage more consistency throughout their game, this has the potential for a lot of flair and pacey flowing rugby.

(Rank based win predictions: France 39%, Wales 61%)

IRELAND (ranked 3rd) vs NEW ZEALAND (ranked 1st)

The final game of the weekend brings down the curtain in style. Ireland have not played their best rugby in the pool matches but did enough to get through to the knock-out stage. Coupling this with their recent wins over the dominant All Blacks will be enough to fire them up.

New Zealand have remained dominant and continue to top our world cup rankings table with very little change. Another team subject to the typhoon stopping play, meant that they were unable to play their last pool game against Italy. This has not hindered anything according to coach Hansen, who is not even phased by the recent losses to the Irish team.

Ireland remain comfortable as the 3rd highest ranked team, and their form has built over the last few years meaning they are strong underdogs in this tussle for rugby supremacy.  The All Blacks remain favourites for the win, but this encounter could well be set to be the most fiercely contested of the weekend.

(Rank based win predictions: Ireland 41%, New Zealand 59%)

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