World Cup winner Matt Dawson has taken to the BBC to discuss the upcoming quarter-final matches this weekend. It is exclusively northern vs. southern hemisphere as the greatest sides from either pole come together to forge their way to the zenith of rugby lore.
The former Northampton and England scrum-half has given his expert opinion leading up to the tournament.
Wales v Argentina
Dawson has had his fair share of dealing with Wales in the past, particularly during the challenging 2003 quarter-final in which Wales put England to the sword and almost ended their campaign well before they got close to the final in Sydney. Speaking about the current Welsh side, Dawson said:
“Warren Gatland and his side have a happy habit of stepping up when they need to. They have a fantastic pedigree of raising their level in the latter stages of this competition.
“Gatland will be reminding them of the opportunity in front of them. They have a very winnable game for a place in a World Cup semi-final.”
His attentions then turned to the opposition.
“Argentina looked better against Japan in their final Pool D game, but, up until that point, I thought they had lacked cohesion and rhythm.
“That game, coming a day later than Wales’ game against Georgia, won’t have helped them overall. It was a really intense one, with lots of running, open rugby in hot conditions in Nantes.
“I think it will be a really tough ask for them to turn over Wales.”
Dawson’s prediction – Wales victory
Ireland v New Zealand
Matt Dawson played in an era where the All Blacks were dominant between World Cup’s, but flakey during them. It appears that despite the pure dominance the All Blacks displayed for the majority of the 2010’s, this decade will not be draped in black.
“New Zealand are a very dangerous beast. They have recovered from their opening-day defeat by France by scoring a total of 36 tries in their wins over Namibia, Uruguay and Italy and showing their free-flowing, intelligent rugby.
“But in a top-end Test match, against an Ireland side who have not put a foot wrong in the tournament, you need more. You need to be able to back up those moments of genius with relentless physicality and faultless consistency and I just don’t think the All Blacks have that gear in them.”
Ireland have been a team on the rise, and fall, and rise again for many years, with their best rugby often coming in the Six Nations. The World Cup is a tournament that has eluded them for eight long tournaments, with their quarter-final curse weighing down heavily on the men in green. This could well be the turning point according to Dawson though.
“Ireland have a 16th man, with the fans at the Stade de France. They beat South Africa there a fortnight ago, they beat Scotland there on Saturday and they will play New Zealand there at the weekend. Paris has become a home from home with thousands of supporters in the stands and the streets. The team feed off the fans, the fans feed off the team and the connection feels really personal between the two.
“Ireland have been too good for too long and have too much momentum for the All Blacks.”
Dawson’s prediction – Ireland victory
England v Fiji
Whether in doubt or not, Dawson has put across the case for his own country to take victory here, but not without a fight. Pointing out that England appear to struggle against more power based sides, like the Pacific Island nations, they could be on the receiving end of an early exit.
“England have greater experience of the Rugby World Cup knockout stages with veterans of the Japan 2019 campaign throughout the team, but let’s not over-state the difference.
“Fiji have Levani Botia who has played in the last three Champions Cup finals. They have Josua Tuisova who has played in an Olympic final. Half of their squad play their rugby with big European clubs and are used to week-in week-out high-quality rugby. The other half now get exposed to some of the best rugby in the southern hemisphere with the Fijian Drua’s participation in Super Rugby.
“They are tactically astute and disciplined in defence, while retaining that attacking edge, even if some of the old inconsistencies remain.
“I think England’s forward power will just about see them home, but they have to be so much clearer and more clinical compared to the Samoa game.”
Dawson’s prediction – England victory
France v South Africa
Not many people would bet against the hosts after the initial group stages, and Dawson appears to be on the same lines of thinking. Despite claiming this to be one of the toughest to call games, the BBC pundit has called for a France win…potentially upsetting a lot of Springbok fans.
“One thing in France’s favour is the support of the home nation. We have sometimes wondered if the occasion and expectation might prove too much for them, but head coach Fabien Galthie, team manager Raphael Ibanez and defence coach Shaun Edwards seem to be able to manage them through the pressure.”
“South Africa have the tools to beat France” he continued. “Their defence comes up so fast and they tackle so hard that they can defend the gain-line and slow down France’s supply of ball.
“But France have threats across their team and the intelligence and composure to find them and depose the defending champions.”
Dawson’s prediction – France victory