The Rugby World Cup has reached a very interesting point in proceedings.
This weekend sees the final round of group stage matches with the quarter finalists being the teams which finish in the top two positions of each Pool.
And for the 12 teams that have not and will not progress further -- their World Cup dreams come to an end.
There are several scenarios currently in play.
There are teams which have definitely qualified to go through to the knock-out stage and those that are on the cusp of doing so.
Within that, some of the teams which have finished in the top two spots have still to determine whether they finish first or second in their pool based on the outcomes of this weekend -- and those final positions will determine which opponent will be faced in the next round of the tournament.
Australia and Wales are through to the next stage out of Pool A, but the result of their match on Sunday (Australian time) at Twickenham will determine which one will take on the full force of South Africa, which dominated the USA in its final group game on Wednesday night.
The Springboks, having bounced back convincingly from the initial and now historic loss to Japan in the opening match, has secured the top spot in Pool B. It will take on whichever of Wales or the Wallabies lose in their clash.
As for which team will join the Boks from that Pool is of mouth-watering interest in this weekend’s contests.
Scotland and Japan will battle it out to secure that second position: with the Scots to take on an underwhelming but physical Samoa and the USA pitching itself against the determination of the Brave Blossoms, with only a four day turnaround from its thumping at the hands of South Africa.
The emotional favorite, it is safe to say, will be the Blossoms, as progress to the next round will be viewed as the continuation of the fairy story that has been Japan’s journey in this World Cup.
Both Australia and Wales will be striving for a win with Wales working against history and with Australia wanting to continue an unbeaten run in the tournament as well as securing the option of taking on Japan or Scotland in preference to the Springboks. One thing is certain, neither the Wallabies nor the Dragons -- with immense national pride on the line -- are considering this a 'dead rubber'.
New Zealand is, as expected, through to the quarter finals round undefeated, with one game still to play in Pool C. But with little expectation of a defeat at the hands of Tonga, the All Blacks' path in this competition should continue relatively untroubled.
Argentina look to have second spot in that Pool in hand, although it is not mathematically secured with several unlikely but possible scenarios that would involve variations of a Tonga win over the Kiwis and a loss by Argentina to Namibia – results which would surpass Japan’s win over South Africa for historic status if either occurred.
In the final Pool, Ireland and France are in a similar situation to the Wallabies and the Welsh. With both undefeated, the meeting between the two teams -- which is the final game of their group on Sunday afternoon in Cardiff -- will decide top position.
It is not just the quarter finalists that hold the interest here. The so-called ‘minnows’ or Tier Two teams, which have featured so enticingly in this tournament, have demonstrated the degrees to which World Rugby has developed in the smaller member nations.
While a number of them arrived in the UK with little expectation of passing the group competition, the honour of representing their country on the world stage, for most of these players, has been the big prize.
The names which have caught the eye are of both veterans and young stars alike: Jacques Burger, Leone Nakarawa, Levan Datunashvili and Davit Zirakashvili, Mihai Macovei, Felipe Berchesi, DTH Van Der Merwe and Agustin Ormaechea among them.
The icing on the cake is the opportunity to secure third place in the pools at the end of the group stage as this will secure automatic qualification into the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
So as the business end of this tournament looms closer, the lasting effect of the first three weeks on both teams, organisers and supporters alike is that this will be remembered as the most competitive World Cup since the expansion to 20 teams and the sport of Rugby will reap the benefits into the future.Suggest a correction