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Pitchside with Ferris: New Zealand v Ireland and much more…

| 18.10.2019

With the knock out stages of the Rugby World Cup almost upon us the excitement is reaching fever pitch among rugby fans with some mouthwatering fixtures this weekend.

Earlier this week we caught up with our man in the know Stephen Ferris to get his thoughts on the quarter-finals.

New Zealand v Ireland, Saturday @ 11:15am UK time   

A Scotsman walks into the pub, normally an Irishman, a Welshman and an Englishman are there too but they are still in Japan. Well for at least another week anyway!

Team selection will tell us a lot about how Ireland are going to play so I am intrigued to see who Joe Schmidt picks for this knockout game.

There are a few big calls to make.

At full back, you have the reliable Rob Kearney who always delivers in big games and as we all know is one of the best in the world under the high ball. Or do you roll the dice and select Jordan Larmour who has been one of the standout performers for Ireland so far in this World Cup.

His ability to beat defenders with his electric footwork and acceleration is something that can spark a huge moment in a big game like this. Does Joe go with the steady hand or the fearless youth…? Rather Joe than me! 

On the wing you will probably have Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls, but Andrew Conway has been playing some of the best rugby of his career and I think he could be a smart call, however Earls’ experience is vital in this clash.

In the centre it looks like Robbie Henshaw will take the place of the suspended Bundee Aki. But Henshaw hasn’t played much rugby in the last couple of months and that is always a concern, especially in such a crucial match.

Peter O’Mahony could start in place of Tadhg Beirne because we all know Joe usually goes back to his tried and tested. O’Maghony has been tested by the All Blacks before and came out as the man of the match.  

I think Ireland are the best defensive team in the tournament. If we remember back to that game in Chicago where the Irish defence had unbelievable intensity, accuracy and commitment, the New Zealand team couldn’t deal with us. Games are won or lost in defence. Can Ireland deliver that type of performance again? We are all hoping so.

Tactics wise, first and foremost Ireland need to win the gain line. They have only averaged 2.8m per carry which is the lowest by any of the quarter final teams. NZ/SA are averaging 4.5m per carry which is a significant difference.

It makes Sexton’s job a lot easier if he has front foot ball, so I’m expecting a big shift from the Irish forwards to provide this. If this doesn’t happen there is only going to be one outcome unfortunately, and that’s the reality of this test match in my opinion.  

New Zealand are playing some great rugby. They have had a two-week break which is a lot of time to prepare whereas Ireland have a seven-day turnaround. Victories against the All Blacks don’t come around too often, but Ireland have had recent success against them which will fill every Irish fan with hope and confidence that we can pull this off.

However, the game in Chicago and the Autumn international at the Aviva stadium probably didn’t rate that highly on the Kiwi’s priority list as there was nothing on the line for them. Does this matter? Well the history books show two wins and the All Blacks will not be wanting that number to change to three. 

We must remember this NZ team are going for three World Cups in a row which is really something to admire, I wouldn’t be betting against them.  

England v Australia, Saturday @ 8:15am UK time  

England not having to play their last group game has given them plenty of time to cool off coming into the quarter final. I think they will be in a much better place going into this game and they will be ready to rock and roll come that first whistle.  

Wales beat Australia and England are a much more powerful team then Wales. I think England will come out on top due to the raw power they possess, and the game management Owen Farrell brings on these big occasions.

It will be interesting to see if Billy Vunipola is fit enough to start this match after going over on his ankle in the last game.

But if he is not then the tackling machine Mark Wilson will wear the number 8 jersey, and this fella won’t let you down. What a player!

I predict England are going to win this game by a score or two and assert their dominance upfront. Mentally I think Australia are fragile, can Eddie Jones break Michael Cheika and bring England to a World Cup semifinal? I think he can.  

Wales v France, Sunday @ 08:15am UK time   

The French have had a two-week break and are typically renowned for having limited training so maybe this French team will come into their quarter final matchup with Wales undercooked.

They are so unpredictable, but this also makes them a dangerous team, or does it? we said the same about Scotland.  

If they want to get a result against Wales, they are going to have to play 80 minutes of amazing rugby that we haven’t seen from a French side for what feels like years.  

Well it probably has been years, but with poor discipline and a sporadic kicking game I feel the French lads are going to come up short.  

Wales are a very well coached team, even if they only went out and played at 70%-80% they could come out on top in though match. 

Players like Dan Biggar, Jonathan Davies and Hadleigh Parks will make it tough for the French to break this Welsh team down. I expect this to be a resounding Welsh victory. 

Japan v South Africa, Sunday @ 11:15am UK time  

I can’t see Japan going all the way and I think they will be beaten this weekend against South Africa. World rankings are there for a reason and I think South Africa will be too good for the Brave Blossoms this weekend.

Last week against Scotland felt like Japan’s World Cup final, maybe all the emotion will drive them on to a great performance against the Springboks. However, I feel they will run out of gas and energy to this HUGE South African team.  

South Africa have dominated physically against every team they have played and even with the heart and passion Japan play with, for me South Africa have too much power. 

When it comes to the scrum, maul and line-out time I think there will be a massive dominance by the Springboks, I see them putting a halt on the Japanese bid to win a Rugby World Cup on home soil. 

But I hope I’m wrong. 

Bundee Aki’s red card   

This is extremely disappointing for Bundee Aki himself. He is not someone who is classed as a dirty player.

He got his timing wrong when he made the tackle, was three inches too high and caught the Samoan player in the head.

It was a split-second reaction the way the ball bounced up. There was no intent that Bundee was trying to hurt Seuteni. For me, the right decision was made for him to be given a red card. As we have seen during this World Cup, the standard three-week ban has been handed out and his campaign is over. 

There have been seven red cards distributed this World Cup compared to one red card in the 2015 World Cup.

Fortunately for Ireland, Robbie Henshaw was able to get significant game time under his belt and could be starting in the center alongside Gary Ringrose.   

Scotland  

At the beginning of the tournament I had a suspicion that Scotland would be a dark horse. The reason being was because head coach Gregor Townsend and a lot of their players were coming out saying they had the best camp, best warm up and they had great preparation coming into the tournament.

They felt like they had a great game plan, and everyone was in peak physical shape. Then they went out against Ireland and got completely obliterated. 

In the Japan game I think the team lacked in belief. They were fourteen points down at half time and it didn’t seem like the Scotland team had the best preparation, coaching or that everyone was in their best physical shape.

When they fall behind in games it takes a ridiculous performance like the game, they had against England in the Six Nations where they were 35 points down and ended up coming back to draw the game.   

With some guys like Greig Laidlaw and John Barkley ending their international careers, I think it is time for Gregor Townsend to bring in some fresh blood. But that is if he gets the chance, his time could be up after this woeful showing by his Scotland team.  

I feel they let themselves down not making it to a quarter Final. They were capable of it and they are going home with their tail between their legs.   

My top game to watch in the Quarter Finals  

The game I am most looking forward to watching is New Zealand v Ireland. Every Irish fan will be hoping for a massive upset, it is the topic on everybody’s lips. If everybody believes and the players believe that they do have a chance of creating an upset, who’s to say it won’t happen?

New Zealand might feel the pressure if Ireland make a good start and get three or six points ahead. It could settle the team down and help them grow into the game. Ireland are usually good front runners and I hope they get off to a fast start on Saturday.   

Ireland really need to play at 100%. Johnny Sexton needs to play 80 minutes and Connor Murray needs to play for as long as he can. Guys like Rory Best, Ian Henderson, James Ryan and Peter O’Mahony need to put in a top performance.

The players, coaches and management much like myself can’t wait for the game to come around and get started. The anxiety I am feeling is horrendous, this is boom or bust for all us crazy Irish Rugby fans.  

But I will finish with this. I feel that New Zealand are the best team in the tournament and will go on to claim glory in this World Cup. So unfortunately, I predict an Irish loss, but one thing is for sure, the lads won’t go down without a fight. And as we know, every boxer has a chance. 

My winning teams   

  • England v Australia – England win  
  • New Zealand v Ireland – New Zealand win  
  • Wales v France – Wales win   
  • Japan v South Africa – South Africa win 

Stephen  

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Author

Stephen Ferris

After a fine backrow career with Ulster and Ireland, Stephen Ferris will be sharing his thoughts on all the big rugby talking points here on Ladbrokes News, including the World Cup and Six Nations.