AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Tempered in the fires of a gruelling month of pool matches, eight rugby teams have emerged, some buoyed up, some battered, for four heavyweight encounters this weekend to decide who stays on for the World Cup semi-finals and who goes home. By every conceivable measure, hosts New Zealand should have the beating of Argentina and claim their place in the last four but the other three quarter-finals are too close to call for all but the most confident, or partial. Ireland open the weekend of spectacular rugby with a match-up against their Celtic cousins Wales in Wellington on Saturday evening before England take on the French in what is expected to be a titanic tussle in Auckland. The southern hemisphere takes centre stage Sunday with Australia tackling defending champions South Africa at Wellington regional stadium before the All Blacks take on the Pumas at Eden Park. "I think it's going to be a spectacular weekend of rugby," New Zealand's avuncular coach Graham Henry said Friday. "You never know what's going to happen with France, they could come out of the blocks and be very difficult. There's a lot of passion between them and the English, which is great. "The Irish-Welsh game will be a beauty," the former Wales coach added. "The Australia-Springboks game -- I hope they knock seven bells out of each other and come off buggered. They're two pretty even sides." Needless to say, New Zealand will face one of their Tri-Nations rivals in the semi-finals if they get past Argentina, who finished third at the 2007 World Cup but have looked a shadow of that exciting team in New Zealand so far. Fullback Mils Muliaina will become the second All Black to win 100 caps but many a nervous local eye will be trained on the man who beat him to the milestone two weeks ago, Richie McCaw. A week after losing one of their totems when playmaker Dan Carter's tournament ended with a groin injury, the All Blacks will be keen to see their captain playing at full tilt despite the foot injury that has dogged him all year. Even without McCaw, regarded as the world's best openside flanker, the All Blacks should still have more than enough in their armoury to see off the limited Pumas and extend their 17-year-old unbeaten record at Eden Park for another week at least. While Ireland's World Cup campaign is likely to be the last for captain Brian O'Driscoll and his golden generation, Wales are looking to youth to get them into the last four for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 1987. Winger George North has probably been the find of the tournament but flyhalf Rhys Priestland and openside flanker Sam Warburton have also impressed. "The game is exciting because it's 50-50," said Warburton, who celebrated his 23rd birthday Wednesday. "Both teams believe they can beat each other." Ronan O'Gara, the Irish flyhalf, will be expected to use his boot to keep the Welsh pinned in their own half and much will be expected of a back-row featuring outstanding flanker Sean O'Brien as the Irish strive to reach a first semi-final. "It will be absolutely massive," said prop Mike Ross. "We've got a real opportunity to do what no Irish team has done and we need to grasp it with both hands." Few are expecting much flowing rugby when England and France meet Saturday with redemption on the line for both teams after off-field activities overshadowed their pool games. England, the 2003 champions, have knocked the French out in the semi-finals for the last two tournaments but are expecting anything but an easy ride from a team of whom the cliche about wounded animals being most dangerous could have been written. France have much to prove after losing to Tonga in their final pool game and both teams have spoken about the importance of getting off to a good start. "That's the battle and they will be trying to do the same to us," said England coach Martin Johnson. South Africa would probably welcome a tight contest against an Australia team studded with quality backs that beat them twice on their way to the Tri-Nations earlier this year.