The Rugby World Cup quarter-final line-up has been decided after a month of pool stage matches with top-ranked Ireland and hosts France on the verge of reaching the quarter-finals with convincing victories.
Ireland immediately shook off any thoughts of an upset in their final pool match against Six Nations rivals Scotland by scoring their first try in the second minute on their way to a 36-0 lead at Stade de France.
The Scots conceded two tries and it was 36-14, but the Irish had done all the damage by then and once again confirmed Ireland’s status as the best team in the world and favorites to win a first World Cup title.
France are not far behind their current form and overcame the challenge of Italy 60-7 to also head to the quarter-finals with four wins out of four.
The top two teams in the Northern Hemisphere will test their credentials in a massive quarter-final against the top teams in the Southern Hemisphere.
Three-time champions Ireland will face New Zealand on Saturday and defending champions France will face South Africa, the other three-time winners, on Sunday in two of the biggest quarter-final clashes in years at a Rugby World Cup.
Ireland beat South Africa in the pool stage, and France beat New Zealand in the opening match, so their game is North vs. North. Souths will take two goals this weekend, the crucial difference being that it will be playing rugby this time.
These quarter-finals feature the four best teams in the world, two of whom will be eliminated on Sunday night.
England and Wales won their groups on the other side of the draw to secure a clean sweep of the Northern Hemisphere teams that top the groups in a Rugby World Cup, the first time that has happened.
Wales will play Argentina in the opening quarter-final on Saturday after Argentina qualified for a decisive winner-take-all match against Japan to see which side will advance.
England will face Fiji on Sunday in the quarter-finals after surviving a major scare in their final pool match against Samoa by staging a late comeback to beat Samoa 18-17. England had already qualified but needed to dig deep so as not to head to the knockout stage after losing.
Fiji could not avoid an upset in the 40th and final match of the tournament’s pool stage when Portugal made history in a thrilling match.
The Portuguese won their first ever Rugby World Cup match after twice leading Fiji in Toulouse and twice giving away the lead only for winger Rodrigo Marta to score with two minutes to play and Samuel Marques to kick off the match-clinching conversion in the dying seconds for a 24-23 upset.
Portugal made sure that the underdog team had the final say in the pool stage. The big guns will take it from here.
AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby