New Zealand, Australia and South Africa may not have been at their destructive best but all three southern hemisphere giants have kept up their unbeaten World Cup records.
The All Blacks, the overwhelming favourites to end a 20-year wait for a second world title, ran in six tries in a 40-0 romp over a second-string Scotland side on Sunday.
They wrapped up Pool C and will meet the runner-up from Pool D — either Argentina, France or Ireland — for a semifinal spot.
Australia made sure of top spot in Pool B with a 55-12 win over Fiji and await either defending champions England or Tonga in the last eight.
Little Tonga pushed South Africa, and scored three tries, before they were edged out 30-25 in a pulsating clash in Lens on Saturday.
The Springboks, who opted to field their B-team, made sure of top spot in Pool A and they will face either Wales or Fiji for a place in the semifinals.
At Murrayfield, Doug Howlett became the leading try-scorer in All Blacks history as New Zealand strolled into the quarterfinals.
The 29-year-old wing claimed two of his team’s six tries, taking his personal tally for his country to 48, two more than the previous record he had briefly shared with Christian Cullen.
It was a far from vintage performance from New Zealand, whose finishing lacked the cut-throat edge they had displayed in their previous wins over Italy and Portugal.
Scotland will be back at full strength when they face Italy in their final group match on Saturday in St Etienne, a match that will decide which of them joins the All Blacks in the last eight.
”We’re pretty happy,” said All Blacks coach Graham Henry. ”We had a really big week on the set piece and we came through well.
”I think we scrummed the best we have in the tournament. Defensively we were good and offensively we scored six tries, although we blew a few through errors so that was a little disappointing.”
In Montpellier, Wallabies coach John Connolly was content for Australia to register a half century of points against Fiji and claim a quarterfinal place, but he was still questioning aspects of his team’s performance.
”We’re not overly happy with the way we played, but there’s a certain amount of satisfaction that we scored 50-odd points, we’re number one and we know where we’re headed now,” said Connolly.
George Gregan, who led his country for the 59th time to equal the international Test captaincy record held by England’s Will Carling, said credit was due to Fiji.
”We probably should pay some credit to Fiji, they came out very spirited and they are very proud nation, the Pacific island teams have shown that this week and that certainly what their game was today,” Gregan said.
Veteran South Africa full back Percy Montgomery believes his team’s dramatic close encounter with Tonga could prove the perfect launchpad for a second World Cup crown.
Tonga scored three tries to the Springboks’ four and finished the breathless encounter battering the South African line as they sensed a shock victory.
”It was a wake-up call. It was good to have a Test match like that. It brings you down a bit,” said the 33-year-old Montgomery who became his country’s record international caps holder with 90 appearances. – Sapa-AFP