It’s been a long four years but the Rugby World Cup is back on Friday the 20th of September, and for the first time Japan will play host to world Rugby’s biggest tournament. New Zealand will once again go into the tournament as favourites to wrap up their third World Cup in a row, but the All Blacks haven’t looked this vulnerable in over a decade. To preview the ninth Rugby World Cup, we’ll take a look at the title contenders and attempt to predict the outcomes of every group, all the way to the final!
New Zealand (All Blacks) 2.22
For the first time since November 2009, the All Blacks lost their No.1 ranking in World Rugby after a shock loss to Australia in August. The once feared outfit have endured a couple of lean years recently with losses to most of the heavyweights of world Rugby, more recently Australia and a draw with South Africa. Steve Hansen’s men still go into the tournament as deserved favourites but provide little value at their current price. Out of all the teams, New Zealand have the deepest squad, but it is providing some selection headaches for Hansen, especially in the front row, mid-field and where to play arguably the world’s best in Beauden Barrett.
Key to victory: Forwards - If the Blacks can win the up-front battle they’ll win the World Cup. In comparison to other teams, the All Blacks have quite a small forward pack and have been exploited in recent times. The likes of Brodie Retalick and captain Kieran Read need to get back to their best and their star-studded backline will do the rest.
England have been on quite the journey since the last World Cup! After failing to make it out of the group stage in 2015, coach Eddie Jones managed an impressive rebuild which saw them go on that amazing run through 2016-2017, before capitulating again in 2018. But after some soul searching, they’ve regained some momentum again, coming 2nd in the Six Nations this year, along with wins over Ireland and Wales more recently. If their last four years is anything to go by, they could win the cup or get knocked out in the group stage, it’s anyone’s guess!
Key to victory: Physicality and mentality - When England have been successful in recent times, it’s been because their big men have dominated oppositions with their physicality. Along with physicality, they need to stay mentally strong, as they’ll be quickly branded as chokers once again, if they get off to a slow start.
South Africa (Springboks) 5.68
The Boks’ stunning Rugby Championship performance has made this World Cup a lot more exciting! South African rugby hit a low point in 2017 when they went down to the All Blacks 57-0, but since then it’s been all uphill. Their young and vibrant squad has brought a fresh air to the big stage, led brilliantly by skipper Siya Kolisi. We saw that they can compete with New Zealand only a month ago, but can they back it up when it matters in their rematch on the second day of the World Cup.
Key to victory: Mentality - As with any young team, the key for the Springboks will be staying as mentally strong as possible. Everything is going their way at the moment, but the real test will come when it doesn’t. If they can handle whatever adversity comes their way, they can lift the trophy.
Shockingly, Ireland come into the World Cup as the fourth favourites on the betting line. Not only are they currently ranked No.1 in the world, but they’ve beaten New Zealand two out of the last three times they’ve played. Although they endured a poor 2019 Six Nations campaign by their standard, you have to take ‘World Cup year’ results with a grain of salt. At their current odds, they present some serious value for bettors, especially after their recent two wins over Wales.
Key to victory: Not showing their hand early - Out of all of the competition favourites, Ireland have the easiest pool to get through. If they can get through Group A with no injuries and without showing their hand, they’ve got a strong chance against either New Zealand or South Africa in the quarters.
The Welsh also present some value to bettors after a stellar start to the 2019 season. They went through the Six Nations undefeated, but in the last month they’ve been nothing short of shaky, losing to Ireland twice and England. They’ll get through the group stage easily, with their only stiff test coming from the Aussies. It seems like their Six Nations grand slam and 14-game win streak has been long forgotten, especially after the loss of Gareth Anscombe to injury.
Key to victory: Remember how to win - It sounds bizarre, but the Welsh need to remember what it was like to win at the beginning of the year. Their run took them to No.1 in the world very briefly and they need to regain that confidence pronto!
Australia (Wallabies) 9.81
Finally, the Aussies have a chance, albeit very slim! This is only based around their stunning victory over the All Blacks last month, which was unfortunately backed up with 36-0 loss a week later. Historically they perform well at World Cups, but it’s going to be extremely difficult without Israel Folau. Their back-row of Michael Hooper and David Pocock will dominate as always, with the question marks laying over the rest of their team.
Key to victory: Nic White - he was the star in that victory over New Zealand, providing the Wallabies with something we hadn’t seen in a long time. It sounds weird saying this as he only just made his return to the test arena, but if he doesn’t perform at his peak, the Wallabies are no chance.
Ireland, 2. Scotland, 3. Japan, 4. Samoa, 5. Russia
New Zealand, 2. South Africa, 3. Italy, 4. Canada, 5. Namibia
England, 2. Argentina, 3. France, 4. USA, 5. Tonga
Australia, 2. Wales, 3. Fiji, 4. Georgia, 5. Uruguay
Game 1: England vs Wales
Game 2: New Zealand vs Scotland
Game 3: Australia vs Argentina
Game 4: Ireland vs South Africa
Game 1: England vs New Zealand
Game 2: Australia vs Ireland
New Zealand vs Ireland
If you’re also into American Football, check out our preview of the 2019 NFL season here.
Or, if you’re more of a Soccer fan, check out our previews of the Big 5 European leagues and UEFA competitions here.