Assessing The Top Five 2019 Rugby World Cup Favourites

Assessing The Top Five 2019 Rugby World Cup Favourites The World Cup begins in Japan next month and the world’s leading coaches are busy plotting a path to glory. Twenty […]

Assessing The Top Five 2019 Rugby World Cup Favourites

The World Cup begins in Japan next month and the world’s leading coaches are busy plotting a path to glory. Twenty different nations from six continents will be represented at the tournament, but only a handful of them have a realistic chance of lifting the Web Ellis Cup. These are the top five contenders to surge to victory:

New Zealand

The All-Blacks are bidding for their third consecutive World Cup triumph after they breezed to victory in 2011 and 2015. They have dominated world rugby for the past decade and they still boast the most formidable collection of superstars on the planet. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter have hung up their boots, but a new generation of superstars has taken up the mantle and New Zealand are the clear favourites to win the Rugby World Cup.
Fly-half Beauden Barrett is blessed with phenomenal pace, quick hands and a superb kicking ability, while he reads the game exceptionally well and inspires confidence in those around him. His form has tailed off a little this year, but he remains a force of nature. Brodie Retallick is the best lock in the world, and he should be fit for the tournament, while Sam Whitelock is outstanding at the heart of the New Zealand pack. Steve Hansen has created a well-oiled machine and it will be difficult for anyone to stop them winning this tournament.
However, a few chinks in the armour have started to appear. They lost 47-26 defeat to Australia earlier this month and key men Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith were dropped following an alarming slump in form. They could only draw with South Africa in their previous game, and defeat to Ireland in November 2018 is still fresh in the memory. New Zealand have also fallen to second in the world rankings, usurped by Wales. Yet they boast talent in abundance, bags of experience, outrageous competition for places and a strong team spirit, so they are certainly the team to beat at the World Cup.

South Africa

The Springboks are in great form and they should be surging with confidence as they head to Japan to take on the world’s finest teams. Rassie Erasmus’ team have overtaken Ireland and England to be installed as second favourites for the tournament after enjoying an unbeaten summer. They beat Australia in July and then battled to an eye-catching 16-16 draw courtesy of a late score from reserve halfback Herschel Jantjies.
It followed a 36-34 win over the All-Blacks in September, and Erasmus’ men appear to have New Zealand’s measure. They are in the same pool at the World Cup and it will be fascinating to see them lock horns. However, both should reach the knockout stages and they would then go into opposite sides of the draw, kept apart until a potential showdown in the World Cup final.
South Africa have recently recorded back-to-back victories over Argentina, and the 2007 world champions look formidable right now. Faf de Klerk, Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth, Willie Le Roux, Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit are world-class players, and Erasmus can build a brilliant team around them. Aphiwe Dyantyi will be missed, as will recently departed attack coach Swys de Bruin, but South Africa deserve their status as second favourites and they could be the team that New Zealand fear the most at this tournament.

England

England have the world’s largest player pool, a strong domestic league and a well-funded infrastructure, so they really should be the dominant force in world rugby. However, their sole triumph at the World Cup came courtesy of Johnny Wilkinson’s late drop goal in Sydney 16 years ago. Since then their campaigns have ended in disaster, but there is significant cause for optimism among England fans this year.
They boast a monstrous pack and it can bully any opponent, as evidenced by their crushing victories over Ireland and France at the Six Nations. Owen Farrell is a brilliant player, and Eddie Jones has plenty of quality to call upon. Yet England will need a bit of luck with injuries. They have been deprived of key men Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje at crucial times in recent years and they would struggle immensely without that trio in Japan.
They also need to improve their composure after the break. Nine of the 13 tries they conceded at this year’s Six Nations came in the second half and they have thrown away a number of healthy leads in big games during Jones’ tenure. Wales exposed their lack of a Plan B in Cardiff earlier this year when they negated England’s kicking game, but Jones has instructed his players to pass more since then.
The English may have plummeted down to fifth in the world rankings after a difficult year that saw their dreams of a Six Nations Grand Slam end in Cardiff. However, fans can take solace from those hugely impressive results against Ireland and France at Twickenham, and the narrow defeat to New Zealand last year. They should coast through Pool C, which sees them pitted against France, Argentina, USA and Tonga, and then they would be just three games from glory. England can beat anyone on their day, so it would be naive to write off their chances.

Ireland

Ireland rode into 2019 on the crest of a wave after securing a Six Nations Grand Slam, overwhelming Australia and toppling New Zealand in Dublin. They moved up to second in the world rankings and they were tipped to dethrone the All-Blacks, while they were installed as heavy favourites to win the Six Nations. However, they slumped to a disappointing home defeat at the hands of England and then lost 25-7 in Cardiff, dashing their hopes of a fourth Six Nations title in six years.
Suddenly the Irish look vulnerable and they really need to get back to the approach that served them so well in 2018. Injuries ravaged the team at the last World Cup, and they will also hope for the rub of the green in that department this time around. Ireland are already missing Sean O’Brien and Dan Leavy, and fans will hope that Joey Carbery returns to action in time for the World Cup.
Yet they boast arguably the world’s best player in Johnny Sexton, while Tadhg Furlong and Connor Murray are among the top 10. The likes of James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Rory Best, Jacob Stockdale and CJ Stander are also superb players. Joe Schmidt will aim to build up momentum in the World warm-up games, as the going will be tough in the tournament. Ireland should sail through Pool A, but that would pit them against a team from Pool B in the quarter-finals, meaning they are highly likely to face either South Africa or New Zealand at an early stage.

Wales

 

The Welsh have just soared to the top of the world rankings after winning 15 of their last 16 matches. They enjoyed a successful summer campaign last year before welcoming big guns back for an unbeaten November, with wins against Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa. The victory over the Wallabies was particularly symbolic, as it ended a 10-year losing streak against Australia.
Wales then secured a Six Nations Grand Slam earlier this year courtesy of thumping victories over England and Ireland in Cardiff. Their 14-man winning streak ended with a 33-19 defeat to England earlier this month, but they turned the tables by beating Jones’ men 13-6 last week to claim the number one spot.
Gareth Anscombe, Taulupe Faletau and Ellis Jenkins were both ruled out of the World Cup with serious injuries, but Warren Gatland still has a wealth of talent at his disposal. Alun Wyn Jones was recently named the world’s best player, while Jonathan Davies, Justin Tipuric, George North and Liam Williams are superstars. Wales are second seeds in their World Cup pool, but they should fancy their chances of vanquishing top seeds Australia and going deep into this tournament.