South Africa lost 'enforcer' Bakkies Botha from the World Cup on Thursday as the reigning champions, England and Wales all announced their teams for this weekend's quarter-finals.
Elsewhere, England manager Martin Johnson selected fly-halves Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood in the same team, with Flood outside his former Newcastle team-mate at inside-centre in the absence of the injured Mike Tindall.
With France and Ireland having shown their hand earlier in the week, it left just hosts New Zealand, Argentina and Australia to reveal their line-ups, which are due to be made public on Friday.
In an all northern hemisphere Saturday, Ireland face Wales in Wellington before England play France in Auckland.
But in the other half of the draw, Sunday's matches are all an southern affair, with South Africa up against Australia in Wellington and New Zealand taking on Argentina in Auckland.
Botha, a member of the South Africa team that won the World Cup in France four years ago, saw his involvement at this tournament ended by an Achilles injury and the 32-year-old lock admitted saying farewell to his team-mates was tough.
"I am a person who normally keeps my emotions out of sight but it was emotional to talk to the team this morning and tell them I would be going home," said Botha.
But in Danie Rossouw the Springboks have a fine replacement, in the opinion of Australia prop Ben Alexander.
"Danie's a great player, an excellent ball carrier, he's just as big and just as physical (as Botha) and he's almost got as many Tests (62 to Botha's 76), so they won't miss him too much."
New Zealand were already without star fly-half Dan Carter (groin) and they are trying to nurse inspirational captain Richie McCaw through the knockout phase as he deals with a longstanding foot problem.
It all led New Zealand assistant coach Steve Hansen to revive the debate about the need for a single 'global' season.
"People have got to be prepared to say their players are worth looking after and this is what we need to do in the next step in the game," Hansen said.
"We need a global season and the only people who can do that are the IRB (International Rugby Board)," the former Wales boss added.
Whether Johnson would have paired Wilkinson, whose extra-time drop-goal won England the 2003 final, with Flood if Tindall was fit, remains an open question.
But with ace goalkicker Wilkinson struggling with the boot, Johnson was enthused by his 10-12 duo.
"It's an exciting combination for us, it gives us Toby's kicking and passing game and he's a pretty experienced player now with 40-odd Test caps, so he's been playing well," Johnson said.
Wales record try-scorer Shane Williams said Saturday's match could mark the end of his international career if Ireland won the all Celtic clash.
"If we don't do well on Saturday, it could be my last game," said the 34-year-old wing as Ireland confirmed first-choice hooker Rory Best was fit to start despite a shoulder problem.
Meanwhile a day at this World Cup would be incomplete without a Twitter post from Samoa's Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu.
On Wednesday the centre saw his ban from all rugby upheld until a reconvened hearing meets on October 15 after he labelled Welsh referee Nigel Owens "racist" following Samoa's tournament-ending loss to South Africa.
Thursday saw him accuse the IRB, already slammed by Sapolu for their 'unfair' World Cup scheduling, of failing to acknowledge the 2009 tsunami that killed 143 people in Samoa alone when the Pacific Islanders played the Springboks on the anniversary of the disaster.
"Our dead not good enough" he posted, noting there was a minute's silence before the United States' World Cup game against Ireland on the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks.
However, an IRB spokesman told AFP on Thursday: "As agreed with the Samoa Rugby Union, the date was respectfully commemorated with a public address immediately prior to kick-off and also the wearing of black armbands to remember those who tragically lost their lives."© ANP/AFP