Japan, 2015 Rugby World Cup

The pool stages of rugby's premier international tournament have reached their conclusion, yielding a number of talking points, memorable moments and, of course, some fantastic rugby.

With attention now turning to the quarter finals in Cardiff and Twickenham next weekend, we look back over a memorable few weeks.

Pool A

Australia emerged top of the 'pool of death' by putting in one of the tournament's best defensive performances in an impressive 15-6 win over Wales, who will join them in the next round after securing wins over Uruguay, Fiji and bitter rivals England.

The dramatic late 28-25 victory over the hosts will undoubtedly be the highlight of the campaign so far for Warren Gatland's injury-ravaged side, who will start to believe they can improve on their semi-final berth in 2011.

However, much of the talk is likely to surround the performance of England, who after slumping to defeat at the hands of the Welsh were ruthlessly dismantled 33-13 by Australia, a result that handed them the unwanted record of being the only host nation to have ever fallen at the pool stages.

Despite restoring some pride with a dominant 60-3 win over Uruguay in their last game, questions are being asked of Stuart Lancaster and his team selection.

Pool B

Despite falling victim to one of the biggest shocks in world cup history, South Africa emerged as winners of Pool B, while Scotland edged their way to second place.

The Springboks were left reeling when Karne Hesketh's last-minute try sealed a momentous 34-32 win for Japan in Brighton, but quickly found their feet again, overcoming over Samoa, the USA and Scotland.

A thrilling match at St James' Park saw Scotland seal second place in the group with a gripping 36-33 win over Samoa in an end-to-end match that saw Scottish scrum half Greig Laidlaw rack up 26 points. The win meant it was tears for Japan, who missed out by two bonus points, becoming the first team in world cup history to win three pool matches and still not qualify.

The performances will have nevertheless impressed coach Eddie Jones, who will hope four years of work will ensure his side are a force to be reckoned with when Japan host the tournament for the first time.

Pool C

New Zealand did little to damage their status as hot favourites to retain the Webb Ellis Cup, winning four out of four to top the pool.

The All Blacks were rarely troubled by any of their opponents, conceding just three tries. Having secured dominant wins over Namibia, Georgia and Tonga, it was Rugby Championship rivals Argentina who posed the biggest test to the Kiwis' dominance, only for the world champions to ease to a 26-16 win at Wembley.

A particular highlight will have been Ma'a Nonu's try against Tonga, which saw him mark his 100th cap for the All Blacks in style and further solidify his status as one of the modern game's greats.

Speaking of greats, footballing legend Diego Maradona was on hand to celebrate with his beloved Argentina, as they secured their spot in the quarter finals.

Pool D

Many had tipped Six Nations champions Ireland to shine at this tournament and they have not disappointed so far. A convincing 24-9 win over second-placed France will be seen as a particular highlight, and will have certainly made other contenders sit up and take notice.

A disappointing campaign saw Italy fail to make the quarter finals, although wins over Romania and Canada did salvage some respectability, while France booked their place in the quarter finals having already secured three wins from three before that bruising encounter with the Irish.

The French will hope to up their game and prove themselves to be a force to be reckoned with in this competition as they aim to reach their second consecutive final.

Looking ahead to the Quarter Finals

Wales will be hoping to secure only their third win over South Africa, whom they beat 12-6 in last year's Autumn internationals. Victory on Saturday would undoubtedly be even sweeter.  Prediction: Despite a spirited performance from Wales, we think South Africa will edge this one (but only just).

Saturday's other game is a repeat of the 2011 final, with France taking on New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium in what promises to be a hard-hitting encounter. Prediction: New Zealand are the best in the world, and although France gave them a scare four years ago, we think they will despatch Les Bleus with ease.

Scotland's reward for edging out of their pool is a tough test against Rugby Championship winners Australia on Sunday- a team they have beaten just twice since 1982. Having already dispatched England and Wales in arguably the hardest pool of the tournament, the Wallabies will be in confident mood. Prediction: Scotland have played some great rugby this tournament, but Australia's performance against Wales at the weekend has made the rugby world stand up and notice.

Finally, Ireland face Argentina, looking to avenge a disappointing 30-15 defeat in 2007's competition. The Irish are likely to be in confident mood having secured five straight wins over Los Pumas. Another one here would be one of the most memorable yet. Prediction: Argentina have shown they a force to be reckoned with since joining the Rugby Championship but they may come unstuck against the Irish who don't let the ball stay still for very long!



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