Whilst we only have 8 matches left in the Rugby World Cup, things start getting serious now as each team remaining knows that 3 consecutive wins will see them lift the trophy.
With the stakes so high, the pressure increases and it makes predictions that much harder. Each one of these quarter-finals has a clear favourite, but any or all of them could see an upset.
Here are my predictions for this weekend’s quarter-final matches.
England v Australia
Having been confident of an England win earlier in the week, now that I’ve seen the team selections I’m less sure. Dropping George Ford, one of England’s best players in recent matches, seems like a risky strategy given that Owen Farrell hasn’t quite been at his best.
But the Wallabies have sprung a surprise or two of their own though, with young Jordan Petaia selected at outside centre and Will Genia partnering Christian Leali’ifano at halfback.
I think the English pack has the edge, and it looks like they’ll try to play as they did against Ireland in Dublin, with big ball-carriers running direct lines to get England on the front foot. I suspect we’ll see a fair bit of kicking from Farrell and Ben Youngs as they try to pressure the Wallaby set-piece, and they could expose some suspect defending from the likes of Kurtley Beale, Marika Korobeite and Petaia.
Having won the last 6 against the Wallabies, I’m backing England but my nerves will be on edge on Saturday morning.
England by 7 and Australia +8 on the handicap
New Zealand v Ireland
The All Blacks would have been cheering on Scotland against Japan on Sunday, as I suspect they’d much rather face the Scots than Ireland. They know that Ireland will bring great line-speed and a robust defence, looking for turnovers and to hold up the All Black attack in every way.
Based on their performances so far, Ireland won’t offer a great deal in attack outside of direct running, picking and going around the fringes with more than a few box kicks thrown in. They’ll test the young All Black back three, but my instinct says the World Champions will come through this and send Ireland home at the quarter-final stages yet again.
New Zealand by 9
Wales v France
I know some Welsh friends will be hoping I pick France for this one, such is my poor record in predicting Welsh defeats. I don’t particularly rate them as a team, but there is no questioning their winning mindset and their outstanding record of results over the last 12 months.
They have the measure of France and I’d expect them to make it to another semi-final.
Wales by 13 and Wales -7 on the handicap
Japan v South Africa
I think a repeat of South Africa’s win just before this World Cup is more likely than a repeat of the Brighton Miracle in 2015, despite Japan’s impressive record so far in this tournament.
Home advantage will most certainly be a factor, and this will be a fascinating clash of styles, with the Springbok power game looking to counter the Japanese efficiency, their crisp attacking game and the extraordinary precision in everything they do.
The bookies have the Springboks as comfortable winners, offering a 15-point handicap, but I think it will be closer than that, given what’s at stake.
South Africa by 9 and Japan +14 on the handicap
Follow Hutch on Twitter: @Hutch_James