Two Cents Rugby’s five takeaways from the Rugby World Cup as quarter-final curse strikes again

Two Cents Rugby
Two Cents Rugby gives his five takeaways from the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.

Two Cents Rugby gives his five takeaways from the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.

With the 2023 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals now in the books, what are five notable trends from a gripping weekend’s action? Two Cents Rugby investigates.

Quarter-final curse strikes again

It was always going to be a close-run thing between Ireland and New Zealand on Saturday. Ireland went into this one as the number one side in the world and on an historic 17-game winning run, but ended up once again being knocked out in the quarter-finals.

I don’t think many fans will take joy in seeing this Irish team’s run come to an end (some will). It will be small comfort to Irish fans but the match itself was certainly one fitting of a final.

As with most teams after a World Cup there will be a changing of the guard in Ireland with the likes of Johnny Sexton and some of the other senior players likely to make way for the new generation.

All fans will hope for a more balanced draw in 2027 which doesn’t see the top four teams on one side of the tournament.

Pumas’ bench impact

Argentina did exceptionally well to come back from 10 points down against Wales in the first of the quarter-finals. A big part of the Pumas’ revival came from their experienced bench as both their tries were scored by substitutes.

The big prop Joel Sclavi came on in the 67th minute and burrowed over a minute later. Then the veteran Nicolas Sanchez with the intercept on Welsh youngster Sam Costelow all but secured victory for his side.

It wasn’t just the try scorers though, veterans Matias Moroni and Agustin Creevy both added great value. Moroni’s try saving tackle on Louis Rees-Zammit was a match defining moment and Creevy helped finish the game with a win for his side at the breakdown.

They’ll need all of that impact in their semi-final against the All Blacks.

New Zealand key areas

The All Blacks were slight underdogs for their quarter-final and needed to be accurate in key areas. Two facets in which they shone were the breakdown and lineout.

The Irish lineout had been one of the few seemingly vulnerable areas in 2023, and sure enough the All Blacks managed to pinch a couple of throws while some of the Irish ball wasn’t clean. On their own throw the All Blacks were eight from eight.

Ruck time, often where Tadhg Berine causes havoc, became an area of strength for the All Blacks too. Ardie Savea bagged a couple of turnovers, so did captain Sam Cane, who also finished as the game’s top tackler. The most important one though was from another of the senior players, with Sam Whitelock getting the game-winning call after 37 phases of defence.

Springbok line speed

To get a win over this French side at home was going to take something exceptional from the South Africans.

In multiple aspects of the game, they showed this, but perhaps most impressive was their line speed on defence. The South African defenders constantly closed down the French attacker’s space, often driving them backwards and making them uncomfortable with ball in hand.

Seven of the South African players managed double figure tackle counts. They were Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende in the backs and five of the forwards, including big prop Frans Malherbe and tireless flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit.

The missed tackle count will look high, but when you consider many of the guys shooting up were looking to close down the space first and foremost, it may not do their impressive defensive performance justice.

English calm

England almost had to win their game against Fiji twice.

After building a seemingly comfortable 14-point lead, Steve Borthwick will be concerned with how Fiji were able hit back with a couple of quick tries to level the game with 10 minutes to play.

What was encouraging though was his team’s response to this setback. With the momentum all going Fiji’s way, England replied with their pack showing some good go forward which in turn allowed captain Owen Farrell to slot a comfortable looking drop goal. A few minutes later they bagged a penalty to extend the lead to six points, which was the final margin.

With a tough game against South Africa on the cards, they’ll need to hold their concentration for 80 minutes. However, having been under this pressure and responding well, it will be valuable experience for them.

READ MORE: France v Springboks: Five takeaways from the quarter-final as the Rugby World Cup is now South Africa’s to lose