by Warren Gatchell

The final round of the pool stage had its fair share of drama with France beaten by Tonga, Scotland nearly sending England into a quarter final against New Zealand, and Italian dreams of their first taste of World Cup knock-out rugby dashed by a clinical Irish team.

Looking at the SANZAR nations, it wasn't nearly as rosy or momentum-building as they would have wanted at this stage of the tournament.

South Africa - Good shape despite Steyn loss

South Africa went into the Samoa match knowing that the same fixture at the 2007 RWC was the most physical and attritional encounter of their pool. The 2011 version proved to be more of the same.

Injuries sustained in the second half to Bryan Habana and Francois Hougaard were of great concern. What wasn't apparent towards the end of the match was that the long-range artillery boot of Francois Steyn featured for the final time at this World Cup.

Steyn will now watch the rest of the Boks' matches in front of a TV after sustaining a shoulder injury while playing the full 80 minutes.

The loss of such a special player completely changes the entire balance of the side. There can no longer be an expectation by the team that points will be accumulated from within their own half, and consequently the tactics used by the Boks to maintain pressure on the opposition will have to undergo radical change.

Steyn's defensive and territorial kicking had the ability to relieve pressure on the Boks; this capability will now rest solely in the hands of Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn.

Outside of the injury to Steyn the Boks are in good shape: the pre-tournament conditioning knowledge gained from winning four years ago is working its magic with 29 out of their 30-man squad fully fit and ready to go.

Australia - Paying the price of fatigue

As expected Australia secured a comfortable victory over Russia. What the Wallabies didn't need was further injuries. Unfortunately for them winger Drew Mitchell's hamstring injury ends his participation in the World Cup.

The Wallabies' back-line was already severely depleted with four players recovering on the sidelines. This resulted in 35-year-old flank forward Radiki Samo appearing on the wing!

The good news was that David Pocock made a welcome return with his immense physical presence getting over the advantage line every time.

The bad news is that the success of the Queensland Reds in the extended Super 15 - which started in February - along with Australia's victory in the Tri Nations - which ended in late August - is now starting to take its toll.

Unlike South Africa or New Zealand, the Wallabies have largely been fielding their full-strength team match after match leading up to the RWC and are starting to pay the price of fatigue.

But it's not all doom and gloom for the green and gold. They still have the experience of winning at crucial pressurised moments this year and their knowledge of opponents South Africa and potentially New Zealand put them in a favourable position to progress.

All Blacks - Carter loss is massive

The All Blacks have been dealt a massive setback with Dan Carter's exit from the RWC. This is huge. Carter has the ability to fundamentally change a game with a single stroke of genius and his absence in the past has coincided with average performances by the world's no1 ranked team.

It's not comparable to Ireland, South Africa or Australia losing their starting outhalf; it's more like losing your first-choice number 10 and number 9 - at the same time.

New Zealand don't have a world-class scrum-half in Jimmy Cown. Carter is their playmaker, he marshals the team, kicks the goals and gains the territory. Without him the All Blacks lack a critical decision-maker that leaves a void that cannot be filled.

The out-half in waiting, Collin Slade, is so poor that coach Graham Henry opted to once again send on substitute scrum-half Piri Weepu on the 50-minute mark against Canada.

The winner of the Australia v Springboks game will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing a Carter-less New Zealand in the fortress of Eden Park where France were the last team to beat the All Blacks way back in 1994.

Argentina - Poor record against NZ and Springboks

You might have noticed I haven't gone into any detail about the prospect of Argentina getting one over the hosts. While Argentina have enjoyed great success against Six Nations opposition, they have never defeated the All Blacks or the Springboks, with their last victory against Australia being way back in 1997.

I could be wrong and that is the beauty of knock-out rugby, but I just can't see Argentina winning this game.

We've all enjoyed dining on the pool stage starter that has been served over the past three weeks and can now look forward to the main course.

Twenty teams have been whittled down to eight, only four of which remain undefeated.

Who do you think is going be left standing?