We witnessed two magnificent quarter-finals in RWC2011 last night, and tomight promises to be no different.
First-up, it's a clash of the titans as South Africa and Australia go head-to-head in Wellington. This match promises to be an absolute belter. The South Africans are running into some form after a poor 2010, whilst Robbie Deans has spent four years building a side for this moment. Sometime around 8pm tonight one team will be jubilant, and the other will be off to the hotel to pack for the trip home; it's that cut-throat.
We're going for a narrow Springbok victory. South Africa will play a structured game, and we reckon that their forwards, even without Bakkies Botha will have an edge over the Australians. And in Burger, Brussow and Spies, the South Africans have a hard, rugged loose forward trio who will put all sorts of pressure on Will Genia and Quade Cooper.
That's not to say that Australia can't win; they have the players to tear a match apart. But this is sudden death, take-no-prisoners rugby, and we reckons that the South Africans might just be a little more composed.
And so on to Auckland, for what should be, on paper at least, the most one-sided quarter-final; New Zealand versus Argentina.
Firstly, big congratulations to Mils Muliaina for being the second All Black to 100 test caps. Muliaina has been a magnificent servant of New Zealand rugby for ten years, and we are delighted that the will mark the honour with a run-on start; a milestone like that should not be achieved from the bench. Muliaina leaves New Zealand rugby post-RWC, and it would have been unfortunate for him to have been stranded short of 100, but now Richie McCaw has company in the Centurions Club.
On to the match itself; the clash of the two forward packs will determine this match, and the All Black selectors have picked their strongest eight. It's hard to see them being bettered by the Argentinians. And Colin Slade will be under the microscope, but tonight is his chance to emerge from Dan Carter's shadow, and become a very good All Black in his own right. We're also hoping that New Zealand may be able to forge enough of an advantage into the last quarter of the match that Aaron Cruden can be given some RWC game-time. At least one more crunch match lies ahead for New Zealand (and hopefully two, but we won't get ahead of ourselves), and Cruden may be needed at some point. Tonight is a great opportunity to give him a taste of rugby's biggest stage.
Argentina has never beaten New Zealand, and has seldom come close in contest in New Zealand. We don't see that changing tonight, and predict a comfortable New Zealand victory. But we'll also be looking for an emphatic performance more than anything.
By the time we head for bed tonight, just four teams will remain in RWC2011. The cream is rising to the top.