PARIS (AP) — Top-ranked Ireland's game with No. 2 South Africa on Saturday has the feel of a Rugby World Cup final even though it's only their third match of the pool stage.
Neither team will be knocked out by defeat at Stade de France, but it will have still have a significant bearing on the rest of the tournament. The winner will likely top Pool B and avoid host France in the quarterfinals, yet face an equally massive contest against three-time champion New Zealand.
The stuff of dreams, for fans at least.
Ireland is on a 15-game winning streak but faces a Springboks side chasing a record fourth world title.
SOUTH AFRICA vs. IRELAND (South Africa leads 18-1-8 overall, 0-0 at RWC)
Aside from a 38-3 win for Ireland six years ago, seven of the last 10 meetings have seen a winning margin of six points or less.
So it’s realistic not to expect a feast of attacking rugby. Only once in the 117-year history of the fixture has a match between them produced more than 50 points overall — South Africa’s 32-26 win at Ellis Park in June 2016.
The rivalry dates to 1906 yet they’ve never faced each other at the Rugby World Cup, which sounds remarkable enough but says more about Ireland’s failure to get past the quarterfinals.
South Africa won 15 of the first 16 matches between them. Ireland has won three of their past five meetings, including the previous two in 2017 and 2022, both in Dublin.
South Africa has gone with a 7-1 forwards-backs split in its reserves for only the second time ever to force a fresh pack on Ireland in the second half.
Ireland is playing arguably the most clinical-yet-attractive rugby of the tournament, and it will have 30,000 fans at Stade de France.
“It’s absolutely incredible. These are the games you want to be playing, at an unbelievable stadium," Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier said. "It’s every kid’s dream to get to play in front of that many Irish fans at a World Cup in a stadium like this, against a team like South Africa.”
ENGLAND vs. CHILE (First meeting)
Winning ugly? So what.
That could well be England's motto at this Rugby World Cup under the hard-nosed leadership of coach Steve Borthwick.
Winning fans over isn't his priority.
Attacking rugby? Flowing passing moves? Spectacular tries?
England has scored the 10th-fewest tries (four) from the sixth-most entries into the opposition 22 and have made the most kicks of any team so far, 93.
But it's effective, and debutant Chile is unlikely to stop another quarterfinal appearance for the 2003 champion.
Chile's World Cup debut has already proved a success, whatever the scoreline. Los Cóndores have won hearts and minds with the willingness and skill on show against Japan and Samoa.
They brought 12,000 fans with them to the last game in southwestern Bordeaux, a penalty-ridden defeat to Samoa, so expect another huge traveling army in northern Lille.
Borthwick made 13 changes from the Japan win and has given six players their World Cup debuts.
Owen Farrell returns at flyhalf, having served the final part of his four-match ban for a dangerous tackle in the warmup games, and captains England for the 44th time.
“He has been an incredible leader for this team despite being unable to play in the first two games," Borthwick said. "He has been a role model on the training field and off the training field.”
Fullback Francisco Urroz makes his World Cup debut for Chile eight years after his test debut against Brazil.
GEORGIA vs. PORTUGAL (Georgia leads 18-4-3 overall, 0-0 at RWC).
Georgia has had two weeks to stew over a slew of missed chances in the 35-15 loss to Australia, and will look to make Portugal pay in Toulouse.
The Lelos have form on their side, too.
Georgia beat Portugal 38-11 in March when they contested the final of the Rugby Europe Championship, a competition for second-tier countries below the Six Nations.
Coach Patrick Lagisquet's Portugal started decently against Wales and trailed only 14-3 at the break. But Os Lobos will need to tame Georgia's formidable pack.
“Among the forwards we have talked a lot about set-pieces, but also the fight at the breakdown," Portugal flanker João Granate said. "We are ready to fight them to keep the ball, and give the best opportunities to our backs.”
This is realistically Portugal's best chance of victory as it meets Australia and Fiji next in Pool C.
AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby
Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press