A look at the last eight in France

The phoney war is now over in France, with the fun and games of knockout rugby now ahead of us. Only 560 minutes of the World Cup are left.

With just eight teams left in for the running for ‘Bill’, we give a rundown on the quarter-finalists and their form heading into the home straight.

Argentina

The surprise package of the last eight and dark horses to go all the way.

The Pumas are not the fourth-best team in the world for no reason, and they have proved with their victories over France and Ireland – as well as their win over England at Twickenham – they have the complete game.

Traditionally strong in the pack, Argentina have used the IRB Sevens series to develop an entertaining backline.

Juan Martin Hernandez has turned into a class fly-half as well as full-back, while in Ignacio Corleto, Lucas Borges and Horacio Agulla they have a dangerous back three.

In the pack, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the great flankers, while Patricio Albacete is a true powerhouse.

However, the Pumas’ success has been built around a superb kicking game – disrupt that then they are susceptible. Also they cannot yet boast the same strength in depth in their squad as, say, New Zealand.

Australia

Like the Germans in football, you know Australia will always be there or thereabouts.

Packed with a blend of experience and youthful exuberance, Australia seem to have the perfect line-up.

Drew Mitchell looks a real threat on the wing, while Matt Giteau has the skills to play anywhere along backline. Chris Latham is also in the form of his life.

In the pack George Smith continues to be a thorn in the side of opponents, while Dan Vickerman is a clever lineout operator.

However, question marks still hang over the Wallabies’ front row – something England are sure to try and exploit – while the injuries to key players have hit them.

Stephen Larkham and David Lyons will both be missed, although the fly-half should be back for the semis… if they get there.

England

The reigning champions have failed to impress, but even by playing badly they have still made it into the knockout stages.

South Africa brutally exposed their weaknesses – something the rest of the world could see anyway – but England will claim they have addressed the issues. After all they did pay South Africa without a flayhalf and they now have good old Jonny back.

The return of Jonny Wilkinson is a massive boost, with the fly-half capable of winning a game on his own with his boot or his creativity.

The backline now looks more capable of breaking lines, while in the pack they remain fearsome scrummagers. The form of Andy Sheridan and Matt Stevens has been encouraging, while Simon Shaw – if he can avoid the referee’s attention – can bulldoze his way ahead for the hard yards.

England are still not as incisive in attack as some of the other quarter-finalists, while their inability to produce quickball at the breakdown is a frustration.

 

Their pack however will stand up to anyone.

Fiji

Despite being the weakest of the quarter-finalists, the Pacific Islanders have thrilled everyone at the tournament.

They have the ability to attack from anywhere on the field, meaning just one slip up can result in a try.

The entire team plays like 15 backs – albeit 15 giant backs with the ability to smash massive holes wherever they charge.

Seru Rabeni has been awesome to watch in attack and in defence, while Nicky Little has been the general of the side. It will be interesting to see how they cope without him now.

In the forwards, Akapusi Qera has been a phenomenon – something Gloucester can look forward to in the Premiership.

The loss of Little for the tournament could be a cri

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