Rugby World Cup 2011
Stage set for cut-throat climax
The Webb Ellis Cup (File)
Auckland -The stage is set for a weekend of cut-throat action at the Rugby World Cup as the pool stages reach a climax.
Italy's bonus point win over the United States on Tuesday set up a Pool C showdown with unbeaten Ireland in Wellington on Sunday with the winner going through to the quarter-finals.
A similar situation already exists for Pool B where Scotland take on England, Pool D where Wales meet Fiji, and in Pool A with France going up against Tonga.
The victorious Italians joined Ireland in Wellington on Wednesday morning with coach Nick Mallett warning that he was ready to unleash his ferocious pack once again to grab a first ever spot in the World Cup quarter-finals.
"If Italy's sitting with probably one of the best front rows in the world it would be really ridiculous not to use that strength," he said.
The Irish, who earlier defeated Australia 15-6 in the biggest upset of the tournament, are fully aware of the danger.
Forwards coach Gert Smal said of facing Italy this weekend: "It will be a much bigger scrum challenge than the Australia game.
"They're a heavier pack, (Martin) Castrogiovanni is a great scrummager. They've a very good front row and a heavy back five.
Ireland prop Tom Court added: "Italy would be regarded as one of the best scrums in the world, a very experienced front row.
"It's always tough against them. They are a very passionate bunch of guys and have a lot of pride about the scrum and base a lot of their play around it.
"But our boys should take a lot of confidence out of our last few games, the confidence is a high and we are on the right path."
Unlike Ireland, England can lose to Scotland and still go through if they are within seven points, but scrumhalf Ben Youngs has called for all thoughts to be on a fourth straight win for Martin Johnson's men.
"We need to be more hungry than what they'll be. We need to be more passionate than what they'll be. We need to match them physically and if we do that, we should be in a good place," he said.
"I expect the forwards will go hammer and tongs at each other and we'll see who comes out. But I'd always like to be behind our pack."
Over in the French camp players were saying they were treating their final pool match against Tonga in Wellington on Saturday like a straight knockout tie.
Marc Lievremont's men need just one point from the game, but they are wary of the Tongan challenge.
The Pacific islanders can still make it through to the last eight if they win by scoring four tries or more and deny France a defensive bonus point.
"We are looking at this match as if it were a last 16 round game," said lock Julien Pierre.
"We are still not sure of qualifying for the quarter finals and they are still in with a chance."
With the 2011 tournament nearing its knockout stages, there was already talk of the 2015 edition to be held in England and a dire warning that if things stay as they are there might not be an All Blacks team competing.
New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chief Steve Tew said that New Zealand would consider pulling out of the competition unless commercial restrictions imposed on teams were revamped.
Tew said such a drastic and unprecedented step would be "the very last port of call" but it could not be ruled out, as current arrangements meant his organisation posted a loss every time the quadrennial tournament was held.
"That's obviously a last resort and our style is to be consultative, collaborative and to try to work with everybody to find a solution," Tew told Radio New Zealand when asked if the All Blacks could boycott the 2015 World Cup.
* Click HERE for the latest RWC odds on BET.CO.ZA