PARIS, 20 October - There was no waiting for the first major talking point of the tournament, Argentina's shock defeat of hosts France providing an instant spark on the opening night.

It set the tone for a series of exciting matches that shaped the path to Saturday's final between England and South Africa.

France's 17-12 defeat by the Pumas was their first in the pool stages of a world cup, sending coach Bernard Laporte back to the drawing board.

Pool A heavyweights England and South Africa were pitted against each other in match 13, the Springboks sweeping to 36-0 victory and leaving Brian Ashton's side under huge pressure from the media and fans.

England, missing injured fly half Jonny Wilkinson, looked all at sea against the powerful Springboks and doubts were raised they would make the quarter-finals.

Australia also had injury concerns in the lead-up to their match against Wales in Cardiff.

Fly half Stephen Larkham aggravated a knee injury in training and was to miss the rest of the tournament after needing two operations.

However, Larkham's replacement - Berrick Barnes - played well on his starting debut against Wales, the Wallabies winning 32-20 in Cardiff to help secure top spot in Pool B.

French hopes soar

French hopes for a top-two finish in Pool D were reignited by Ireland's failure to collect a bonus point in their tense 14-10 defeat of Georgia.

In Pool A, Tonga recorded their first win over Samoa in seven years, serving notice they shouldn't be taken lightly.

Six days later they nearly pulled off the upset of the tournament, pushing South Africa all the way before losing by only five points.

England's cup campaign was back on the rails with a 44-22 defeat of an injury-depleted Samoa. Wilkinson, playing for the first time at this tournament, scored 24 points from three conversions, four penalties and two drop goals and had a hand in England's two first-half tries.

Japan's and Canada's match had no bearing on the final rounds but the 12-12 result was only the second draw in RWC history and ended Japan's 13-match losing streak in the world cup.

England step up a gear

After cruising to three easy wins, the All Blacks preparations hit a snag with a calf injury to Dan Carter in the lead-up to their final Pool C match against Romania.

New Zealand ran out 85-8 winners but Carter still faced an uphill battle to be fit for the quarter-finals a week later.

England confirmed their return to form with a 36-20 defeat of Tonga, while South Africa finished with a 64-15 win over USA to top Pool A.

In arguably the match of the pool rounds, Fiji defeated Wales 38-34 to secure their first quarter-final berth in 20 years.

The Pacific islanders scored three tries in a frenetic 10-minute spell before withstanding a second-half comeback.

France scored nine tries to one in their 64-7 victory over Georgia to clinch a quarter-final berth against New Zealand in Cardiff.

Scotland's 18-16 win over Italy rounded out the final eight and set them up against tournament giantkillers Argentina, who held Ireland at bay with a 30-15 victory in Paris to finish top of Pool D and send Brian O'Driscoll's side home.

Shock losses

The first two quarter-finals turned the tournament on its head, England defeating Australia 12-10 and France stunning tournament favourites New Zealand by two points in Cardiff.

South Africa nearly followed suit the next day before proving too strong for Fiji, while Argentina booked their spot in the semi-finals with a six-point win over Scotland.

In the first semi-final England trailed France 9-8 with minutes to play before Wilkinson played match-winner again with a penalty and drop goal to edge out Les Bleus 14-9.

South Africa, however, produced a near faultless display to end the Pumas' dream run.

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