Former All Blacks captain Buck Shelford expects the Boks to beat Japan and Wales to be knocked out at the quarter-final stage for the second World Cup running.
Shelford – a member of the New Zealand team that lifted the inaugural World Cup in 1987 – believes that of the four quarter-finals set for this weekend, the Wales-France match is ‘probably the hardest to call’.
In his column for the New Zealand Herald, Shelford writes that despite Wales coach Warren Gatland being a ‘good mate’ of his, he would not be shocked if France suddenly found form and eliminated the Welsh.
‘They seem to be at their best when there’s in-fighting and turmoil in the camp and, if reports are to be believed, there has been plenty of that over the past weeks,’ notes Shelford.
‘One thing Kiwis know by now is that you never write off the French at a World Cup. I reckon an upset is on the cards in Oita.’
Shelford sees no other surprises from the other quarter-finals and expects the Boks to prove too much for Japan on Sunday.
‘The Japanese had the element of surprise in Brighton in 2015 but this time everyone is aware of the threat they pose,’ continued Shelford.
‘What they’ve achieved over the past four weeks has been nothing short of a sporting fairytale but as much as I would love for them to beat the Boks again, I believe that fairytale is about to end.
‘I expect the All Blacks to face England in the semi-final, as I can’t see the Wallabies getting close to Eddie Jones’ men. Of the remaining teams, the English worry me most – they’ve been uncharacteristically quiet this tournament. The fact that they’ve kept their mouths shut, tells me the English are more focused than ever before. They want to win this World Cup badly.’
According to Shelford, Ireland will be caught out if they rely solely on a physical approach in their clash with the All Blacks.
‘Joe Schmidt’s Irish team will be physical as always but if that’s what they will rely on – beating up the All Blacks – they’ll be found wanting.
‘Very few teams in world rugby – if any – can outmuscle us up front and we saw that in the first pool match against South Africa. We outfoxed the Springboks strategically by playing a lot of rugby behind the gainline in an attempt to draw them out of their defensive shape and strike on the counter-attack.’