By Andy Capostagno
Saturday’s much-anticipated Ireland/South Africa clash was the highlight, but such was the quality on display that it appeared almost insignificant in the greater scheme of things.
No other sides in the tournament are capable of such intensity.
Closer to the business was the facial injury suffered by the great French scrumhalf, Antoine Dupont, the return from his ban of England flyhalf Owen Farrell, and the almost certain departure from the tournament of Australia.
Australian rugby has been on a downward curve for at least five years now, but their 40-6 defeat to Wales was probably the worst Wallabies performance in half a century.
Australia’s emergence as a world-class side began in the early 80s.
The arrival of the Ella brothers, Nick Farr-Jones, Andrew Slack, David Campese and others brought a dynamic, close passing game that culminated in their two World Cup wins of 1991 and 1999. How far away those brilliant days must seem now.
It is not just the margin of defeat to Wales, but the fact that Australia barely fired a shot in anger, that will drive their supporters crazy.
News that coach Eddie Jones has already prepared for his move back to Japan comes as no surprise.
The final round of Pool play is spread over the next two weeks. Mathematical games are being played to justify unlikely scenarios, but in all probability, the quarter-finals will look like this: Wales v Argentina, Ireland v New Zealand, England v Fiji, South Africa v France.
There is a satisfying northern hemisphere versus southern hemisphere balance to those fixtures which goes some way to justifying the curious draw for the competition that saw so many contenders being lumped in the top half.
Much as the first three weeks served as an appetiser for South Africa versus Ireland, the next three will be overshadowed by the thought of those two monumental quarter-finals.
Can the All Blacks find enough in their mighty DNA to eject Ireland and will the Springboks break the hearts of the World Cup hosts?
Pictured above: Australia losing to Wales
Image source: Twitter