20 nations will participate in the World Cup of Rugby Union, which gets underway on Friday September 20, as host nation Japan tackle Russia in the opening game – all chasing the Webb Ellis Trophy (below) when the final is played in around 6 weeks time, on Saturday November 2nd at the Yokohama International Stadium, Yokohama City.
New Zealand defend their World Champion status, and will be looking for a third consecutive triumph – and what would be their fourth overall. They go into the tournament as favourites – but will face challenges from strong nations from both hemispheres in what looks a very open tournament.
The 20 teams are initially split into 4 groups (Pools) of 5 teams. They will play each other once, with the top two proceeding to the knockout phase. The remaining 8 teams will then play a single elimination Quarter and Semi Finals, before the final two teams will compete for the trophy and World Cup glory.
Here, we take a look at the four Pools and attempt to predict which eight teams will emerge from them :
POOL A : Ireland, Japan, Scotland, Samoa, Russia
Ireland looked to be world beaters a year ago, but suffered a poor Six Nations campaign since then and have been notorious in peaking too soon for past World Cups. Still, they are strongly fancied to progress from this Pool as winners – but the real question looks to be who will join them. Russia maybe apart, all other teams will see this as a real opportunity to progress. Scotland are the highest ranked nation of the three, but have struggled consistently to win away from Murrayfield – certainly against similar ranked nations. Japan recently won the Pacific Nations Cup and, buoyed on by a partisan crowd, will be a popular selection to progress. Samoa may not be the force of old, but are still capable on their day. The key game here could well be the one between Japan and Scotland on October 13 – we will stick with our hearts and take the Northern Hemisphere side to prevail and grab second spot behind Ireland
PREDICTION : Pool Winners : Ireland – Runners Up : Scotland
POOL B : New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Canada, Namibia
No prizes for predicting the two to progress here. This group will be decided by the outcome of the two principle nations clash on September 21st. No team has ever won a World Cup when losing a Group stage match – so both teams will be eager to avoid this and, more importantly, hold a huge edge over the other should they face off down the line. The other important factor to consider is that the runner up will face a Pool Winner in the Quarter Finals. The Springboks are a tough, unflinching outfit that claimed a draw with New Zealand in a recent game – but the Kiwis knows what it takes to win this tournament and have to be favourites, and our selection, to prevail. Considering the fearful pounding the Italians took in the recent Six Nations and that they are likely to see off both Canada and Namibia shows what a procession it will be for the two Rugby Union powerhouses.
PREDICTION : Pool Winners : New Zealand – Runners Up : South Africa.
POOL C : England, Argentina, France, Tonga, USA
Not a simple path here for England, who will be tested and pushed to the limits by the ferocious Pumas and enigmatic, though talented, French – whilst Tonga and the USA should be gimme matches. England had a frustrating Six Nations campaign – but have looked good in their warm up games for the World Cup – winning 1 and losing 1 to the Six Nations Champions Wales, but thrashing Ireland and Italy in the process. Coach Eddie Jones (above) knows how to manage the World Cup – and he can lead the English to Pool winner status. Argentina have reached the semi finals in two of the last three Rugby World Cups and can spring a minor surprise by pushing France into third spot and an early plane home for Les Bleus.
PREDICTION : Pool Winners : England – Runners Up : Argentina
POOL D : Wales, Australia, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay
Should be relatively straight forward for Wales and Australia – although all three of their other Pool rivals are capable of keeping games close and, in Fiji’s case, playing some sparkling rugby and putting points on the board. But this should pan out into a straight shoot out between Wales, still showing all the tenacity and form that carried them to a Six Nations Grand Slam, and Australia, who though in pretty poor form across the last few years, normally show up for the World Cup and beat New Zealand recently to boot – although they also got a 36-0 horsing by the Kiwis. If the draw pans out as it should, neither team may be too concerned by finishing second here, as it would mean not meeting New Zealand until the final. But that is a dangerous game to play – and both team will believe they can win the World Cup – if or when they play the Kiwis. Their clash on September 29th promises to be a huge one. We like Wales for this World Cup and tip them to win.
PREDICTION : Pool Winners : Wales – Runners Up : Australia
Overall, six teams will feel they have a real chance of lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in 2019 – England, Wales and Ireland from the Northern Hemisphere and New Zealand, Australia and South Africa from the Southern. Lively outsiders are Argentina – but this is all about standing up and being counted on the day. If this World Cup was a year ago, Ireland would be strongly fancied but are not that team anymore and their desperate Rugby World Cup record looks set to continue (never been past the Q/F stage). Australia will peak but be found wanting, and whilst Wales & England both a strong outfits, we wonder whether they have enough to muscle past the daunting Springboks and Kiwis – who we feel look set to have a rematch from their Pool game in the final. The head demands another Rugby World championship for New Zealand but the heart cries out SOUTH AFRICA (squad above) to make history in being the first team to lose a group game but win the World Cup, and repeating their successes of 1995 and 2007.
RUGBY WORLD CUP FINALS TO DATE
- 1987 – New Zealand 29 – 9 France
- 1991 – Australia 12 – 6 England
- 1995 – South Africa 15 – 12 New Zealand
- 1999 – Australia 35 – 12 France
- 2003 – England 20 – 17 Australia
- 2007 – South Africa 15 – 6 England
- 2011 – New Zealand 8 – 7 France
- 2015 – New Zealand 34 – 17 Australia