With the knockout stages looming large on the horizon, we take a look at the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals MVP players from each of the eight teams. Names who could prove pivotal to their nations reaching the semifinals.
Australia: David Pocock
Pocock, in his final World Cup, needs to give the performance of his life if Australia is to topple England. In the last 18 months, Tom Curry has been imperious and now alongside his back-row partner, Sam Underhill, they’re a formidable duo at the breakdown. The England pair play a similar game to that which Pocock and Michael Hooper have been exhibiting for years in the green and gold; complementing each other perfectly to dominate most encounters at the breakdown.
With this being Pocock’s swan-song on the international stage, he and his back-row partner of many years will be hoping to extend it to the semi-finals by putting the young English pretenders in their place.
South Africa: Cheslin Kolbe
The most exciting player in the world right now and is set to put his hand up as the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals MVP. If he’s in the mood, opposing teams can only watch, mouth agape, as he does things beyond most mere mortals.
"Cheslin Kolbe! Tshezi! Cheesy!"@Cheslin_Kolbe11's insane finish against the Italians will be remembered as one of the best moments of the #RWC2019 pool stage 🔥#StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/ga91o0a1P7
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) October 17, 2019
The Japanese back-three is as dangerous as they come, yet with Kolbe in opposition, anything is possible. If South Africa can engineer even the smallest gap in the Japanese line, the man from the Western Cape will take full advantage. Simply electric and a born match-winner.
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) October 16, 2019
France: Antoine Dupont
Following the grand tradition of little French generals, Dupont needs to grab this game by the scruff of the neck, and organise this disjointed French team.
In recent weeks, problems within the camp have come to light that make Jacques Brunel’s team the underdogs in their quarter-final. It’s for these reasons that how Dupont plays is integral to how far France can go in this World Cup. If the Toulouse man can offer some structure to move his heavy-duty forwards around the field in a distinct game plan, while providing clean service to this young backline, the French could cause Wales some problems.
The old adage goes that you never know which French team will turn up, but if Dupont fails to bring some structure to their game, it looks likely to be a long-old afternoon for Les Bleus.
Japan: Kazuki Himeno
We all know how dangerous the Japanese backline can be if given space, but what’s gone largely unnoticed at this World Cup is the work Himeno and his fellow forwards have done in providing that.
One of the top carriers for the tournament (see main picture), seemingly making ground with every forward surge, Himeno has provided the go-to forward in the tight for the Brave Blossoms. His playing style is designed to allow the backs to wreak havoc on [suspected] disjointed backlines.
South Africa will be looking to physically bully the Japanese forward pack, and disrupt the platform for the backs to run off. If Himeno and his pack can front-up physically with the Springboks, it will give the Japanese backline license to do what they do best.
And that smile. He is one quarterfinals MVP candidate who has fans across all rugby nations excited.
Ireland: Jonny Sexton
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that in the past year the rugby world hasn’t seen vintage Ireland, and many would attribute this to the drop in form of Sexton – noticeably since his World Player of the Year win. So much of Joe Schmidt’s game plan centers around the Leinster pivot, and though he hasn’t been poor, he has struggled to exert the same influence as he has in the past.
If Ireland is to have any chance of turning over the All Blacks, Sexton needs to recapture the form which saw him rightly crowned the World’s best player in 2018. Standing tall, leading his side around, he is always going to be a contender for the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals MVP.
If the former Racing 92 man can control the kicking game to put Ireland in the right positions and engage the Irish attack, the men in green have a chance of beating New Zealand for the third time in three years.
England: Manu Tuilagi
Since returning from his long-term injury problems, Manu Tuilagi has become one of the first names on the team sheet for Eddie Jones’ England. Whether at inside, or outside-centre, the Leicester stalwart provides the physical presence that allows the outside backs to show their pace.
The battle between Tuilagi and Samu Kerevi promises to be a titanic one, with neither taking any prisoners in attack or defence – just ask the Welsh midfield.
If the English centre can get the ascendancy in the contact, it will go a long way in sparking the English backline and taking them through to the semifinals.
— Ultimate Rugby (@ultimaterugby) October 17, 2019
New Zealand: Brodie Retallick
Ireland know the only way they can go through to the semifinals is, if they engage their power game and dominate up-front. Retallick will be central in countering this tactic, with his usual bulldozing work in the tight and carrying.
To be the MVP though, the former World Player of the Year returning to full involvement in Test rugby will look, in tandem with the outstanding back-row partner Sam Whitelock, to co-lead this tough Kiwi forward pack to dominance at the Irish breakdown.
If the Chiefs man, who will be moving to the Kobelco Steelers in Japan in 2020, can negate the Irish pack at the contact area. If he does that, if he is the MVP fans know he can be, the electric All Blacks backline should run rings around the men from the Emerald Isle.
Wales: Alun-Wyn Jones
The easiest decision to make in this entire list. If Jones plays well, Wales play well. Simple. Wales’ problem at times is lack of concentration, as shown in their close encounters with Fiji and Australia, as well as their lacklustre display versus Uruguay. But Jones is a big-game player, and knows the importance of not losing concentration when facing this unpredictable France side.
If Jones rallies his troops and plays from the front, this should be a win for Wales; such is his influence on the entire side.
Rugby World Cup quarter finals fixtures:
Saturday, October 19 – England v Australia | New Zealand v Ireland
Sunday, October 20 – France v Wales | Japan v South Africa
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images