The Rugby World Cup knockout stages got off to a flying start with all four quarter-finals going down to the wire.
England are the last northern hemisphere side standing while France, Ireland and Wales were dumped out of the tournament in cruel fashion.
Here we rank the four teams left in the Rugby World Cup and also offer retrospective rankings on all the teams to have exited after the pool stage.
Do you agree with the rankings below? Join the debate in the comments section. And remember, you can also compile your own rankings at the foot of this page.
Also take a look back at our tournament power rankings from round one, round two, round three, round four and round five.
The semi-finalists ranked. . .
Argentina exploited Wales’s second-half despondency with such ruthless energy that the Pumas emerged as more than worthy victors. It might not have matched the quality of the two Parisian quarter-finals, but Michael Cheika will not care one jot. His side, after the nadir of the opening weekend and defeat to 14-man England, are now in a World Cup quarter-final. They will be unfancied but they have picked All Black pockets twice in the last three years – and how much that quarter-final victory over Ireland took out of New Zealand remains to be seen.
Whatever the anecdotal beliefs and narrative around Steve Borthwick’s side, the fact remains that they are flying the flag for the northern hemisphere and are the only unbeaten team remaining in the competition. The level of their opposition and the way that the draw has panned out for them are criticisms and accusations that cannot be levelled at them. It is not their fault who they are told to play and when. Of course, Steve Borthwick’s side arrive in the semi-finals as underdogs but, what is that adage? Beware of them.
2. New Zealand
A narrow second, it must be said. One of the All Blacks’ greatest ever showings came when it mattered most, in Paris on Saturday night. The New Zealand back row – back five of the scrum, in fact – was simply magnificent, delivering career-defining performances on the grandest of stages. Will they have the mental and physical resolve to dust themselves down from such a gargantuan effort? With the positivity that must be pervading within their camp, they surely must.
1. South Africa
A titanic performance in a titanic bout. These Springboks might not possess the same audacity and attacking flair as the French, but they are full of grit and made of granite. In the end, that was the difference in Paris, as South Africa stuck in the battle before pouncing when it mattered most. It was a tactical, strategic masterclass.
It was the performance of a team who know how to win Tests and knockout rugby, against a team competing in what is, in essence, their first proper one. South Africa will be furious to not make the final; and must be considered the favourites after toppling the hosts.
Best of the rest
Ultimately, they pushed England all the way but they might look at that quarter-final as one that got away. Did we see the best of them? No, although England’s suffocating tactics must take some credit. And a message to World Rugby: can we please see more of them against quality opposition?
Perhaps, given the draw, Wales are the losing quarter-finalist who should be the most heart-broken, the losing quarter-finalist who under-achieved the most? Certainly, Warren Gatland’s side seemed to be cruising in the opening 40 minutes until a second-half capitulation handed the Pumas a comfortable victory.
As with France, Ireland could not have done much more, the match coming down to one of the all-time great defensive stands. As with France, some of the attack, with the retiring Johnny Sexton at the helm, was awe-inspiring. The problem for Ireland was that some of New Zealand’s was just as spectacular. The quarter-final hoodoo persists but, with Irish rugby in a purple patch, it will surely not last beyond 2027.
It cannot be far off the greatest ever losing performance in quarter-final history. There were errors, of course – some of which were match-defining – but this Les Bleus team played some of the most spellbinding rugby that the sport has ever seen – all in a losing cause. Some of the speed and accuracy of ball movement in the first half was breathtaking, and in Peato Mauvaka – alongside Sam Cane and Ardie Savea – France had the player of the weekend.
Have your say
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