England held their nerve to overcome Argentina’s determined fightback and finish the World Cup in third place with a tense 26-23 victory at the Stade de France.

Ben Earl and Theo Dan touched down but England will rue allowing a 13-0 lead to slip away, the Pumas clearly out to avenge their rout when the teams met in the pool stage seven weeks ago.

The remaining points for England in an arm-wrestle of a contest in which ‘Kamikaze Kids’ Tom Curry and Sam Underhill excelled were supplied by Owen Farrell’s flawless kicking, which ultimately proved the difference between the sides.

England have now finished in the World Cup’s top three on five occasions, with only Saturday’s finalists New Zealand and South Africa managing more podium appearances.

Argentina were roared on by the neutrals in a 77,674 crowd and with only pockets of Red Rose supporters present, it was the most partisan atmosphere Steve Borthwick’s side have faced at the World Cup.

Farrell was booed repeatedly and Ben Youngs drew the same reaction when he jogged off with half an hour left, even though the nation’s most capped player was making his 127th and final appearance.

The evening was not much fun for Henry Arundell, who ran in five tries against Chile yet was passed the ball only once here, reducing one of England’s most dangerous runners to the role of bystander until he was withdrawn with 15 minutes left.

Having produced among the worst semi-final appearances in World Cup history against New Zealand, Argentina were far hungrier as they looked to emulate their previous best tournament performance of third place in 2007.

It was the Pumas side who edged Wales in the last eight that ultimately turned up at the Stade de France, although it took them time to get going

England initially picked up where they had left off in Marseille by scoring freely, a short pass from Marcus Smith slipping Earl through a gap and there was no stopping the number eight from 15 metres out.

It was part of a bright start by England, who kicked intelligently and were accurate in everything they did, enabling them to build a 13-0 lead when Farrell added two penalties.

Argentina were already on the ropes but they took heart from making headway through the white defence until they were sent hurtling backwards at a scrum in front of the posts.

Emiliano Boffelli got the Pumas off the mark with a penalty but it was all they had to show for period of ascendency, their prospects not helped by two knock-ons at key times.

England’s own play had become more ragged and when Farrell kicked away possession and a penalty was conceded, Argentina went on the rampage with a sweeping attack that ended when Tomas Cubelli went over.

The officials declined to check for an obvious forward pass during the move but there was nothing controversial about the Pumas’ second try when Dan missed a tackle that allowed Santiago Carreras to glide into space and finish with class.

Dan’s redemption was instant as from the restart he changed down Carreras’ clearance, gathered the ball and scored.

As chants of “Argentina, Argentina” sounded around the Stade de France and the Pumas vigorously celebrated winning a penalty, there was a sense of occasion of the match even if play was stop-start and often ugly.

Farrell and Nicolas Sanchez traded penalties and with neither side able to seize control of the game, an edgy climax approached.

Sanchez missed what should have been a routine penalty and England were not troubled again, closing out the match in the right half of the pitch.

Andre Onana has defended Manchester United team-mate Alejandro Garnacho after the winger used gorilla emojis in a post about the goalkeeper.

The 19-year-old Argentina international posted a photo of United players congratulating Onana after the Cameroon goalkeeper had saved a stoppage-time penalty in Tuesday’s 1-0 Champions League win over Copenhagen.

Garnacho’s post on X, formerly known as Twitter, featured two gorilla emojis without any words, and was quickly deleted.

The social media post could land Garnacho in hot water with the Football Association but Onana wrote on the same platform: “People cannot choose what I should be offended by.

“I know exactly what @agarnacho7 meant: power & strength. This matter should go no further.”

However, the FA has punished players in the past for making racial slurs on social networking sites.

Former United striker Edinson Cavani was banned for three games and fined £100,000 in 2020 for using the Spanish phrase ‘Gracias negrito’ – which translates as ‘thanks little black’ – below a friend’s Instagram post.

Cavani also underwent a two-hour face-to-face training course for a comment said to be a term of endearment in his native Uruguay.

In 2019, Bernardo Silva was given a one-match ban and fined £50,000 by the FA for his tweet to Manchester City colleague Benjamin Mendy.

Silva tweeted an image of a young Mendy alongside an image of the cartoon brand mascot of Spanish confectionery brand Conguitos, with the caption “Guess who?”

Cavani and Silva were both punished by the FA after deleting their messages.

Ben Youngs will sign off his England career in Friday’s World Cup bronze final content that the time is right to step out of the Test arena.

The nation’s most capped men’s player with 126 appearances, a veteran of four World Cups, makes his first start of the tournament when England clash with Argentina at the Stade de France.

It brings down the curtain on an outstanding 13-year Test odyssey, the majority of which he has spent as first-choice scrum-half before his slide down the pecking order at France 2023.

“There’s not a part of me that thinks ‘what if’ – I’m absolutely making the right call,” said the Leicester and Lions half-back, who picked out the 2016 series whitewash of Australia as his career highlight.

“It just feels right. I feel so content. The fact I had this in my head for a long time and then I didn’t hesitate about it makes me realise that it’s absolutely the right decision.

“I’ve also got a young family and all the bits that come with that. So it’s just the right time. I will go back and play my club rugby and I look forward to doing that.

“I’ve got great memories, it’s been a great journey. The 13 years goes like that (clicks fingers). It will be nice to finish on a high on Friday.

“I will miss the adrenalin of running out in front of a full stadium. I’ll actually miss the pressure of big games, when everything is on the line. I’ll miss the build-up to the week, when it’s a big week with your team-mates.

“And I’ll also miss that camaraderie – the common goal of trying to achieve something special within an elite group.

“But, equally, I’ll look back very fondly and very content. One door closes and another one opens.”

When Youngs told Steve Borthwick that it was time to call it a day, he was thanked by the head coach.

In a neat piece of symmetry, Borthwick was also his captain when the 34-year-old made his debut as a replacement for injured wing Ugo Monye against Scotland in 2010.

“I remember (assistant coach) Mike Ford running up and the touchline telling me what to do. It was 15-15. Steve was my captain. It was at Murrayfield,” Youngs said.

“Ugo went off on a stretcher, he was absolutely fine and he played the next week. He was like that character from Jerry Maguire! The game has changed a lot.

“When I got that first one I didn’t think I would be sitting here 13 years later and having the opportunity to end it my way. It’s been a great ride and I’m proud of it.”

Ben Youngs will bring down the curtain on his England career in Friday’s World Cup bronze final against Argentina at Stade de France.

The nation’s most-capped men’s player with 126 Test appearances makes his first start of the tournament but also his final Red Rose outing, having launched his international odyssey against Scotland 13 years ago.

Steve Borthwick has saluted a scrum-half master who has been first choice for most of his career until slipping down the pecking order at this World Cup due to the emergence of Alex Mitchell.

“Ben has been a tremendous player for English rugby for such a long time. He’s a brilliant player and a fantastic team man,” Borthwick said.

“He’s our record cap holder, a player who has seen a lot in four World Cups and who has played an important role within this squad helping the team progress, particularly Alex Mitchell.”

Tom Curry locks horns with Argentina despite receiving online abuse in response to the allegation that he was the victim of a racist slur against South Africa.

Curry claimed that hooker Bongi Mbonambi called him a “white c***” in Saturday’s 16-15 semi-final defeat at the Stade de France, prompting World Rugby to launch an investigation that is ongoing.

The Sale flanker continues in the back row despite being in the eye of the storm, however, and will win his 50th cap in a rematch of the pool victory over the Pumas.

Owen Farrell leads a team showing eight changes in personnel and two positional switches, one of them Curry’s move to blindside flanker to accommodate Sam Underhill’s first appearance of the World Cup in the number seven jersey.

Marcus Smith is restored at full-back after passing the HIA that forced him to sit out the South Africa showdown and the knock-on effect is that Freddie Steward moves to the right wing.

Henry Arundell returns for the first time since running in five tries against Chile in the third Pool D match, providing firepower on the left wing, while the centre partnership of Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant remains intact.

Head coach Borthwick fields an entirely new front row made up of Ellis Genge, Theo Dan and Will Stuart, with tighthead prop Dan Cole poised to make potentially his final England appearance off the bench.

Ollie Chessum returns in the second row, but there is no place in the 23 for George Martin, one of the heroes of the defeat by the Springboks.

“After the disappointment of last weekend’s game against South Africa, it is important that this Friday we once again play with the determination and dedication that so nearly earned the team the result we wanted,” Borthwick said.

“The bronze final gives us a great opportunity to finish the tournament on a positive note, continue to build for the future, and to give our supporters one last chance to get behind the squad out here in Paris.”

Owen Farrell has condemned the online vilification of Tom Curry after the England flanker alleged he was racially abused in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final defeat by South Africa.

England are furious that Curry has been targeted online for claiming to referee Ben O’Keeffe that he had been called a “white c***” by Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi.

World Rugby is examining audio and video footage from the Stade de France clash as part of its investigation into the incident which is still ongoing, but in the meantime Curry has been the victim of a social media pile-on described by his club Sale as “disgusting”.

A visibly angry Farrell on Wednesday defended his team-mate, who wins his 50th cap in Friday’s bronze final against Argentina.

“Tom has been first class this week, like he always is. He’s one of the most honest, most hard working blokes I’ve ever played with,” England captain Farrell said.

“What isn’t understandable is the amount of abuse he’s got. The effect that has on him is the bit that I, and we, really don’t understand.

“And I know it seems to be going more and more like this, but it shouldn’t be, it shouldn’t be.

“You are dealing with people, with human beings. Just because you’re saying stuff on your phone or behind a computer screen doesn’t make it acceptable. I don’t think it’s acceptable.

“This doesn’t make me look fondly at engaging with people outside of the people that are close to you.”

Head coach Steve Borthwick has made it clear that Curry has been unjustly thrust into the eye of the storm in a doubling down of England’s claim that the Sale forward was racially abused by Mbonambi.

“This is not a Tom Curry incident. Somebody said something in a game that he has reported,” Borthwick said.

“Now this is a World Rugby and SA Rugby matter to deal with, not an England rugby nor a Tom Curry matter.”

Curry continues in the back row, although he shifts from openside to blindside flanker as one of 10 changes – eight in personnel – made to the side to face Argentina.

Borthwick insists he had no hesitation in standing Curry down for the rematch of the Pool D opener which England won despite having the 25-year-old sent off in the third minute for a dangerous tackle.

“The way Tom play means he has more involvements than any other player on the pitch. And they are physically powerful involvements,” Borthwick said.

“When he came off the pitch against South Africa he was cut and bloodied and that’s exactly how Tom Curry plays.

“I chatted to him early in the week about how he was physically with another six-day turnaround and he looked straight at me and point blank said: ‘I am desperate to play on Friday night’.

“This guy wants to play. There is no doubt in my mind he wants to be out there and the way he has prepared through the week has been incredible.

“But that’s Tom Curry. It’s the way he does it every single week so I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

With no indication of when World Rugby’s inquiry will conclude, Mbonambi will take part in Saturday’s World Cup final against New Zealand with a cloud hanging over him.

He has completed the last two matches – fierce battles against France and England – and given the lack of front line hooker cover, is set to play another 80 minutes against the All Blacks.

South Africa assistant coach Felix Jones said: “Bongi has come through both of those games fine. Any player who is getting ready to play in a World Cup final won’t moan about how many minutes they’ve had. They’ll be ready to go.”

Tom Curry starts England’s World Cup bronze final against Argentina despite receiving online abuse in response to the allegation that he was the victim of a racist slur against South Africa.

Curry claimed that hooker Bongi Mbonambi called him a “white c***” in Saturday’s 16-15 semi-final defeat at the Stade de France, prompting World Rugby to launch an investigation that is ongoing.

The Sale flanker continues in the back row despite being in the eye of the storm, however, and will win his 50th cap in a rematch of the pool victory over the Pumas.

Owen Farrell leads a team showing eight changes in personnel and two positional switches, one of them Curry’s move to blindside flanker to accommodate Sam Underhill’s first appearance of the World Cup in the number seven jersey.

Marcus Smith is restored at full-back after passing the HIA that forced him to sit out the South Africa showdown and the knock-on effect is that Freddie Steward moves to the right wing.

Head coach Ian Foster has warned New Zealand the past counts for nothing as they head into their World Cup semi-final against Argentina as overwhelming favourites.

The three-time champions have lost just two of 36 matches against Los Pumas and are widely expected to prevail again in Friday’s crunch clash at the Stade de France in Paris.

“There are two teams in the semi-final – anyone can win,” said the All Blacks boss. “That’s the first mindset both teams have.

“We are massively respectful of Argentina. We know that they have had a great tournament.

“We don’t live in the past in terms of results. Rugby World Cup tournaments are really about the present. It’s about the best team on the night.

“If you go into a World Cup semi-final with any expectation that the past is going to happen again, you have got problems.”

Foster has made two changes to his side following the hard-fought 28-24 quarter-final win over Ireland, with Samuel Whitelock coming into the second row and Mark Telea starting on the left wing.

Foster said: “We’ve been really impressed with Argentina. We’re playing a team that we know scrap and fight for every little bit of possession. We are going to have to be at our best.”

Argentina overcame a 10-point deficit to beat Wales last weekend and reach the semi-finals for a third time.

Coach Michael Cheika has recalled Gonzalo Bertranou at scrum-half in his one change to the line-up.

“The history is not in our favour, but it is up to us to change that,” said Cheika, who oversaw a famous win over the All Blacks in Christchurch last year.

“We have a chance to on Friday and we will be ready. When we arrive on the field we will do what we do best.”

Head coach Ian Foster has warned New Zealand the past counts for nothing as they head into their World Cup semi-final against Argentina as overwhelming favourites.

The three-time champions have lost just two of 36 matches against Los Pumas and are widely expected to prevail again in Friday’s crunch clash at the Stade de France in Paris.

“There are two teams in the semi-final – anyone can win,” said the All Blacks boss. “That’s the first mindset both teams have.

“We are massively respectful of Argentina. We know that they have had a great tournament.

“We don’t live in the past in terms of results. Rugby World Cup tournaments are really about the present. It’s about the best team on the night.

“If you go into a World Cup semi-final with any expectation that the past is going to happen again, you have got problems.”

Foster has made two changes to his side following the hard-fought 28-24 quarter-final win over Ireland, with Samuel Whitelock coming into the second row and Mark Telea starting on the left wing.

Foster said: “We’ve been really impressed with Argentina. We’re playing a team that we know scrap and fight for every little bit of possession. We are going to have to be at our best.”

Argentina overcame a 10-point deficit to beat Wales last weekend and reach the semi-finals for a third time.

Coach Michael Cheika has recalled Gonzalo Bertranou at scrum-half in his one change to the line-up.

“The history is not in our favour, but it is up to us to change that,” said Cheika, who oversaw a famous win over the All Blacks in Christchurch last year.

“We have a chance to on Friday and we will be ready. When we arrive on the field we will do what we do best.”

New Zealand boss Ian Foster has warned his players “not to get softened” by the acclaim which followed their thrilling World Cup win over Ireland ahead of a semi-final showdown with Argentina.

The All Blacks booked a last-four spot by upsetting Andy Farrell’s men with a pulsating 28-24 victory in Paris.

New Zealand return to Stade de France on Friday evening and are red-hot favourites to progress to a final against either England or reigning champions South Africa.

Head coach Foster feels “being patted on the back” following a statement last-eight victory over the Irish derailed the Kiwis in the 2019 tournament and is eager to avoid history repeating itself.

“The best way to recover is to refocus really quickly on what the next challenge is and not to listen too much to any praise you’re given as a group for a performance,” said Foster, who was assistant to Steve Hansen four years ago when New Zealand lost to England in the semi-finals.

“Not to go down that path, not to get softened because everyone’s patting you on the back saying you played well.

“That’s not a good place to be as a team.

“I love the way the team has buckled down, we’ve redefined the challenge for us as a group, we’re not satisfied with where we are now and when you’re clear about your goal for the week the recovery comes along pretty quickly.

“You know that if we’re not right on Friday night at Stade de France, it’s going to be a sad old night and we don’t want it to be like that.

“You get people talking to you about tomorrow and trying to take your eyes off today.

“In 2019 we probably didn’t stop being patted on the back after the quarter-final, hence some of my language today and we’re just trying to dial this back, keep things simple and let’s just worry about Friday.”

New Zealand’s starting XV shows two changes, with wing Mark Telea and lock Sam Whitelock in for Leicester Fainga’anuku and Brodie Retallick.

Telea was dropped for last weekend’s clash with Ireland due to a breach of team protocols.

Foster says the 26-year-old, who has scored three tries in the tournament, has served his punishment.

“That’s the team we think is best for this week,” he said.

“Mark’s done his time. He made a mistake, he accepted what was happening.

“But you don’t linger in that space. He’s been our form winger through this tournament and we really have a lot of faith in him and believe he’s in a good place to play this game.

“It’s a chance for us to get Mark back on the park and I know he’s excited.”

Underdogs Argentina have won two of the past seven meetings between the nations, including a landmark first success on New Zealand soil – 25-18 in Christchurch – in last year’s Rugby Championship.

Foster is braced for a “heck of a game”.

“You’ve never heard us say we’re favourites,” he said. “We know that these games are do-or-die.

“It’s the best team on the night that wins it. We know Argentina has done that to us. We’re not buying into anything about favouritism or underdogs.

“They are perhaps an underrated team worldwide that has got a really rich history of perhaps overachieving at World Cups.

“They have done a fantastic job to get here at the same level as we are. It’s going to be a heck of a game.”

Warren Gatland felt the change in referee knocked Wales off their stride as they crashed out of the World Cup with a 29-17 quarter-final defeat to Argentina in Marseille.

South African official Jaco Peyper hobbled off with a calf injury after Wales had scored their first try in the 15th minute, taking a 7-0 lead in a match they had dominated.

But with Karl Dickson replacing Peyper their ascendency slipped away and Argentina came on strong in the second half with tries from Joel Sclavi and Nicolas Sanchez sweeping them into the last four.

Head coach Gatland was full of praise for the Pumas’ performance but also felt events had conspired against Wales.

“It probably didn’t help with the referee getting injured. That was a little bit disruptive in terms of the game,” said Gatland, who confirmed his commitment to remaining in charge of Wales until the 2027 World Cup.

“We were 10-0 up and were thinking that if we take a few of the opportunities that were presented to us. Unfortunately we gave away a couple of soft penalties.

“It does throw you off. We were comfortable with Jaco Peyper and the relationship we have with him in terms of his control of the game.

“It’s nothing against Karl but you do a lot of analysis through what referees tend to be tough on and what they are looking for.

“We hadn’t prepared for the change. Sometimes that happens in a game and you just have to deal with it. That is the way Test match rugby goes sometimes.”

A controversial refereeing decision saw Guido Petti hit Nick Tompkins in the head with his shoulder in the third quarter but Dickson and TMO Marius Jonker ruled there was no foul play.

It was explained that because the tackle had been called, Tompkins was falling and Petti entered legally while bent at the waist, there was no offence. Argentina went over from the same period of play to stretch their lead.

“It would be interesting to see what happens in terms of the feedback from the panel,” Gatland said.

“He (Dickson) felt that Nick has dropped his height and he said it wasn’t foul play. I would need to go back and look at it, but it was probably at least a penalty situation.

“Sometimes those things happen in a game in big moments and can swing things. That is just the way it is.”

Dan Biggar’s final match for Wales ended in disappointment with the fly-half eventually departing in the second half having taken a bang to the chest early on, possibly exacerbating a pectoral muscle injury he had been carrying.

“Dan has been a great servant for Welsh rugby. He has been through some incredible highs and some lows as well. To see him come into the side and mature and develop as a player, that has been pretty special,” Gatland said.

Argentina were transformed from the team routed 27-10 by 14-man England in their group opener and head coach Michael Cheika insisted the lessons of that defeat had been learned.

“We knew that first game would be rough for us and we learned a lot from it because we had a lot of World Cup first timers,” Cheika said.

“There hasn’t been a radical turnaround, we’ve just built from what we’ve learned. The progress hasn’t been lineal, but all that work we put in as a foundation has paid off.

“We’re starting to get a bit of flow and one thing this team has always had is lots of flow. We just didn’t handle the occasion against England well.”

Wales fly-half Dan Biggar will banish any thoughts of Test rugby retirement when he lines up in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.

The 33-year-old wins his 112th cap at Stade Velodrome – and it will be a final Wales appearance if Argentina triumph.

Biggar announced in August that he will step away from the international arena he has graced for the past 15 years, post-World Cup.

But Wales have their sights set on going deep into the tournament and he has no intention of reaching journey’s end just yet.

“For me, I am not thinking about anything, I don’t want this to be my last day as a rugby player for Wales. Hopefully, it will be the case I have another two weeks,” Biggar said.

“For those of us who will be finishing after the World Cup there will be a bit of extra pressure, but it is also a huge motivation.

“I definitely don’t want my last day as a Welsh rugby player to be losing a quarter-final.

“We have worked as hard as we possibly can all week, doing everything we possibly can as a team and individuals to make sure we go out on a high rather than a disappointing end.”

Wales have reached a fourth successive World Cup quarter-final, with Biggar returning to action after recovering from a pectoral muscle strain suffered early in the record 40-6 victory over Australia three weeks ago.

Biggar went off after just 12 minutes, and he added: “Initially, I thought it was going to be really difficult, but we have managed to heal up okay.

“Basically, I have just been with the physios pretty much every day for the last two-and-a-half weeks and getting myself back for this. It was one which I really didn’t want to miss.

“I am just really lucky, I suppose, lucky and grateful to be preparing for a game tomorrow. It was one of those where I thought it would have been such a shame to have ended it that way.

“It is important to say it’s not about myself or anybody else leaving the team tomorrow, it is about making sure that we stay on because the belief and the confidence we’ve got in the group now is really high.”

Biggar’s game management and goalkicking will see him have a key role to play against the Pumas when Wales target a third semi-final in the last four World Cups.

“We have spoken all week about not being ready to go home yet,” he said.

“It is funny how time changes because probably three, four or five months ago if somebody had said we were going to win our pool and be in a really strong position to get to a semi-final, people would have thought you were talking absolute madness.

“So it just shows how much confidence and belief we have had as a group as the weeks have gone by and spent more time together.

“We noticed as the weeks have gone on that the support for us from back home has grown and grown, and the belief has grown.

“We are hoping to have a load of Welsh fans in here (Stade Velodrome) tomorrow. Loads of families and friends are coming to the game – I’ve got 13 people staying in my house in Toulon!

“We know we are playing a very, very tough team tomorrow.

“They have probably got a little bit more to come than what they’ve shown in the pool stages, we probably know that they are going to be right up for this tomorrow and we know how difficult it is going to be.

“I think a lot of people in Wales just think we’ve got to turn up tomorrow to get the job done. We have spoken all week about how that is the absolute opposite of what our mindset is.

“We are going to have to play a lot better than probably what we have done in the pool stages to win. Hopefully we can deliver a really good performance and make this World Cup even more special than it already has been.”

Warren Gatland says it would be “a huge achievement” if Wales reach their third Rugby World Cup semi-final in the last four tournaments by beating Argentina on Saturday.

Gatland’s team face the Pumas in Marseille after dominating a pool that some thought they might not qualify from following a dismal Six Nations campaign last season.

Four successive wins and 19 points collected saw them leave sides like Fiji and Australia in their slipstream to set up the Pumas clash at Stade Velodrome.

“It would be our third semi-final, and then in 2015 we were leading South Africa for 75 minutes (in the quarter-finals) and conceded at the end,” Gatland said. “Reflecting on that, we would be pretty proud.

“I have always spoken about how much I have enjoyed the World Cup preparations.

“It is the only time you get to feel like you are a club side in getting that detail done. You feel like you have made a huge amount of progress.

“After all the challenges during the Six Nations, with the potential (player) strike and the contracts and the money with the Union (Welsh Rugby Union) and regions, as coaches we would joke about what would happen next, what would be the next thing thrown at us?.

“I definitely think there has been a line in the sand drawn under that. If we can make the semi-final it would be a huge achievement for this group of players and coaches, who have done a great job, and the back-room staff have been outstanding.

“I know there are some people and some teams out there who won’t want to face a Wales team when they start playing with confidence and when we start having momentum.

“That is when we are at our most dangerous. We are starting to look that way at the moment.”

Wales have not met Argentina in the World Cup for 24 years, but their recent form against them is impressive, having lost just two of the last 11 Tests.

And while Wales sailed through their group, Argentina lost to 14-man England, unconvincingly beat Samoa and then defeated Japan in what was a quarter-final eliminator.

Gatland added: “We are expecting them to come really hard at us. I don’t think anything changes, and the players are well aware of that.

“We talk about being on the edge mentally and you can’t be there at the top of that every single week, so it is how close you can get to it.

“We’ve had a couple of games already where we feel we have been really on the edge in a positive way, and a couple of games where we have been off two or three per cent, so it is how close you can get to that 100 per cent mental peak.

“I am expecting that will be right up there from that physical challenge that will come at us.”

Wales show one change from the side that beat Fiji and Australia, with Tommy Reffell called up to the back-row and Aaron Wainwright switching from blindside flanker to number eight instead of broken arm victim Taulupe Faletau.

Centre George North, meanwhile, will become the first Wales player to feature in four World Cup quarter-finals.

“It is an unbelievable achievement, especially when you realise it after how much hard work all of the boys in every team have to do for a World Cup – it is years in the undertaking,” North’s midfield partner, Nick Tompkins, said.

“So, for him to do it four times is pretty impressive. I am not sure I would be able to do that.

“It speaks volumes for the determination and kind of bloke he is. He is on the best form he has been on for a long, long time.”

Wales will target a third Rugby World Cup semi-final appearance in the last four tournaments when they tackle Argentina on Saturday.

The quarter-final clash in Marseille comes after Wales collected 19 points from a possible 20 to dominate the pool.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the talking points heading into the game.

Wales in the driving seat

It would have been fanciful seven months ago to identify Wales as possible World Cup semi-finalists, given a miserable Six Nations campaign that saw them win one game.

Head coach Warren Gatland has turned things around, though, masterminding an unbeaten group phase that produced key victories over Fiji and Australia.

In contrast, Argentina found it tough going, losing to 14-man England before posting an unimpressive win against Samoa and then qualifying as Pool D runners-up.

It is a first World Cup meeting between Wales and the Pumas since 1999, with Gatland’s team firm favourites.

Faletau loss a huge blow

Wales’ victory over Georgia last weekend was clouded by number eight Taulupe Faletau suffering a broken arm that ruled him out of the tournament.

With 104 caps to his name and a consistent ability to hit world-class standards, his absence cannot be sugar-coated, even if Wales have enviable back-row strength.

Big players produce big performances in big games, and few Wales players have delivered such quality so regularly than Faletau during his 12-year Test career.

The shows goes on, but one of its star performers has left the stage.

Form and history favours Wales

Former Wales flanker Richard Webster once said that rugby is a sport played on grass, not paper, but form and history strongly supports a Wales victory on Saturday.

Four successive wins since losing their final World Cup warm-up match to South Africa represents a longest unbeaten run for more than two years, while Gatland has a 100 per cent record as Wales boss against the Pumas of played six, won six.

Argentina have beaten Wales only twice in the last 11 meetings, and their World Cup performances so far do not suggest an immediate turnaround in fortunes.

Biggar to boss the show?

Biggar is back at fly-half after recovering from a pectoral muscle injury suffered against Australia almost three weeks ago, with his leadership and game-management vital to Wales successfully negotiating their quarter-final hurdle.

The 33-year-old, who has won 111 caps, will retire from international rugby after the World Cup, and he is likely to be front and centre in Marseille as Wales target a triumph that would take them on the road to Paris for the tournament’s final fortnight.

His influence cannot be understated.

Jac Morgan – captain marvel

While Wales’ cap centurions like Biggar, Faletau and George North – who makes a Welsh record fourth World Cup quarter-final appearance – have all made their presence felt in France, the relatively inexperienced Morgan has also operated at an impressive level on a consistent basis.

Squad co-captain with hooker Dewi Lake, 23-year-old Morgan led Wales superbly in key pool-stage victories over Fiji and Australia, while his performances warranted the rave reviews they received.

There is a calm, quiet authority about the Ospreys flanker, who revels in Test rugby’s unforgiving and unrelenting environment.

Marseille and Paris take centre stage when the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals unfold on Saturday and Sunday.

Four intriguing contests see Ireland meeting New Zealand and France tackling reigning world champions South Africa at Stade de France, while Marseille plays host to Wales against Argentina and England taking on Fiji.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the key quarter-final talking points.

Warren Gatland has worked his magic

After Wales won a solitary game during last season’s Six Nations, any prospect of them becoming World Cup semi-finalists seven months later could have been described as fanciful in the extreme. But head coach Warren Gatland has come up trumps once again in his second stint at the helm, transforming Wales through an unbeaten four-match run in their pool, collecting 19 points out of a possible 20 and going into Saturday’s clash against the Pumas as firm favourites. It would be Wales’ third semi-final appearance in the last four World Cup campaigns under Gatland if they get there, and Argentina have their work cut out to stop them, especially given patchy form during the group phase when they qualified as Pool D runners-up behind England.

In-form Ireland to banish last-eight curse?

Ireland have topped the world rankings for 15 months and are favourites for Saturday’s mouthwatering Paris showdown with three-time world champions New Zealand. Yet the Irish have never won a World Cup knockout match. Seven times previously they have reached the last eight of the tournament and seven times they have been sent home. The last of those early exits came at the hands of the formidable All Blacks four years ago. Head coach Andy Farrell has masterminded three wins from four meetings since that 46-14 hammering in Tokyo, including a historic tour triumph on New Zealand soil last summer, and instilled great mental resolve in his players. His team will equal the record for consecutive Test wins by a tier one nation (18) by banishing Ireland’s quarter-final curse. However, standing in their way is one of the toughest challenges in world rugby and an All Blacks side intent on revenge.

Pantomime villains England

It will be akin to shooting Bambi if England are to reach the semi-finals due to Fiji’s status as darlings of the World Cup, willed on by neutrals who desire the fairy-tale scenario of a Pacific Islands team progressing into the latter stages of the tournament. Number eight Billy Vunipola has acknowledged his side are “public enemy number one”, but points out that historical anti-English sentiment means they are well versed in fighting against popular opinion. On the favourites’ side is that the vast numbers of red rose fans who have followed their team in France will turn the Stade Velodrome into a home ground. Fiji, after pushing Wales to the limit in their opening match, have struggled to regain such fluency and it could prove a game too far for them.

French flair or Springboks power?

The second of the weekend’s two box-office Paris quarter-finals pits the expectant hosts against the defending champions. Whoever prevails on Sunday will view it as a huge obstacle overcome in their quest to win the tournament. France will have the backing of a frenzied home support sensing an opportunity for their team to claim the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time. Les Bleus have not lost on home soil since Scotland defeated them in Paris behind closed doors in a Six Nations match two-and-a-half years ago. The Springboks – chasing World Cup glory for a fourth time – entered the tournament in scintillating form and began with an impressively comfortable win over Scotland before their momentum was halted slightly by a narrow loss to Ireland in their penultimate pool match. The contrast of French flair and the ferocious physicality of South Africa promises to deliver an epic contest to conclude the weekend spectacular.

Dan Biggar and Liam Williams have been passed fit to start Wales’ World Cup quarter-final against Argentina on Saturday.

Biggar has been struggling with a chest injury and Williams was a doubt because of a knee problem, but they have been given the all-clear for the Stade Velodrome showdown and start at fly-half and full-back respectively.

There is no place in the 23 for Gareth Anscombe, however, after he was forced to withdraw 45 minutes before kick-off against Georgia last Saturday because of a groin issue.

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