After the very first match of this excellent World Cup, the possibility was raised that the semi-finals would be a purely southern hemisphere affair. Now it’s extremely probable.

It’s even possible (but not probable) that only two northern teams will contest the quarter finals as England and Wales are not sure things against Tonga and Fiji on present form. Furthermore, Scotland might be lucky that Samoa wasn’t in their pool.

The irony is that the rise and rise of the southern hemisphere’s relative minnows has been paid for by the riches of northern hemisphere club rugby. The Times rugby correspondent neatly summarises the way Europe has become the new base for Pacific rugby.

England and France provide professional rugby for 14 of the Fijians, the same number of Samoans and 11 Tongans. And then there’s Argentina – only one Puma plays his club rugby at home.

Just as European soccer clubs have raided the world’s round-ball talent, the money behind British and French club rugby is doing the same in the heavenly game.

England will be fighting for the remnants of its rugby credibility against Tonga on Saturday morning after a dismal win against Samoa on Saturday night. The Samoans, with no lineout and not much of a scrum, still made an uncomfortably close thing of it for the rose petals. Tonga looked decidedly better as they gave South Africa a genuine fright. And all but the English will be cheering Tonga on.

The Wallabies play the winner of that match in our Marseille quarter final. Samoa’s retiring coach, Michael Jones, thinks England will be a little too strong for the islanders but rugby can be a most surprising game. Just ask the French and Irish.

Ireland was again dreadful as they went down to the refocused host nation. An indication of how astray Ireland has gone is that the marriage and gambling habits of Ronan O’Gara has become a major news story. The odds of Ireland scoring four tries against Argentina on 1 October to stay alive? Forget about it.

Which means France will play New Zealand in a quarter final, unfortunately in Cardiff. It’s unfortunate both because the French would have a greater chance of upsetting the favourites at home, but also because the French enthusiasm for this RWC deserves greater reward.

The French are showing the same great enthusiasm for the event that Australians managed four years ago with a peak of 16 million of them watching the game against Ireland. And they are doing it with class. As Philippe Saint-Andre reported:

On Friday, they sang Le Marseillaise with passion – they even outsang the Irish – but when Ronan O’Gara was lining up his first kick, the crowd went silent. It was as if he were kicking for goal in Notre-Dame cathedral.

Oh to be in France for RWC 2007.