England IRB ranking 1 The best-educated boot in rugby, Jonny Wilkinson fearlessly provides cast-iron defence and his aware- ness in attack knows no bounds. He can seal his place as the world's best No.10. Lawrence Dallaglio's unerring resolve drives England forward. The chains are off and he is bang in form. England will be upset with anything less than a final showing and are the best chance yet for the northern Hemisphere to break its World Cup duck. New Zealand IRB ranking 2 Carlos Spencer deals in pure rugby. His adaptability and vision light the touch paper for the blazing All Blacks rearguard. And what he starts Joe Rokocoko finishes. The winger's accession to Jonah Lomu's pedestal has been as effortless as his divine running style. New Zealand will accept nothing less than the trophy and are hot off their Tri-Nations success. Everything points to them taking the laurels. Ireland IRB ranking 3 The effervescent Brian O'Driscoll runs rings round convention. He cannot help but defy tacklers with god-given ability and athleticism. Keith Wood has inspiration coming out of his ears. His ball-carrying rampages are the stuff of Irish folklore. Ireland are a fantastic, expansive team who have won 15 of their last 17 games. They are out to prove their ranking, but the title may be beyond them. Australia IRB ranking 4 Mat Rogers screams talent and fluency. His rugby brain is finely tuned and he can turn honest defenders into criminals. If power- house winger Wendell Sailor can tap into his frequency, the pair can put Batman and Robin to shame. Australia have had an unimpressive build-up and will need to hit their stride quickly. The tough group will help them and the home advantage factor is huge. France IRB ranking 5 Every inch the captain, Fabien Galthie is in danger of drowning in his own tactical nous. He will unearth tunnels behind enemy lines until he's blue in the face. Back-row bully Serge Betsen combines power and poise and if he's not first to the ball it's out of play. France will surprise no one if they go all the way but they can run as cold as they can hot. They will look to that semi-final four years ago for inspiration. South Africa IRB ranking 6 Prop Richard Bands is harder than the rock-solid ground he'll be treading. He weighs in with pure brute force to counter-balance his inexperience. Winger Breyton Paulse's bursts of speed open seemingly watertight gaps and his intelligent off-loading leaves try lines begging. The battle cannot start soon enough for South Africa, and anyone writing them off does so at their peril. They won in 1995 and can win here, but they'll have to play out of their skins to do it. Argentina IRB ranking 7 The powerhouse pack brings new meaning to the word resilience and Frederico Mendez is its cornerstone. The hooker relishes ripping chunks out of opposition territory. From behind the wall, tireless scrum-half Agustin Pichot has a sniper's eye. Argentina are anxious to spring a surprise and are battle-hardened enough to do it. A semi-final showing is not out of the question. Samoa IRB ranking 8 Skipper Semo Sititi has the force of a Pacific Islands typhoon. The versatile back-rower has the power and pace to blow nations away. The flash on the wing will be from the tattooed legs of Lome Fa'atau, a physical phenomenon who's almost impossible to pin down. You can rest assured Samoa will leave their mark on this tournament, probably on the opposition. Their hard-hitting could get them to the quarter-finals. Scotland IRB ranking 9 Gregor Townsend never tires of waltzing past players with his dancing feet. His experience makes his decision-making second nature. Proven points-scorer Chris Paterson has a point to prove. The flying winger is sure to add to his try tally. Scotland's coach Ian McGeechan is used to performing miracles and he'll need to again but the bravehearts won't make it beyond the quarters. Wales IRB ranking 10 Stephen Jones brings flair to the flyhalf position and his passing ability is like a sixth sense. A lot rests in his hands. Wales will stand their best chance if captain Colin Charvis can carry the egg without breaking it. Wales are a pedigree rugby nation but tradition will count for nothing this time. A string of humbling defeats sees their confidence at a low point and they will be hard-pressed to progress even to the quarter-final stage, let alone beyond.