Rugby World Cup 2019: who will win and why it’s good for New Zealand and South Africa to be in the same pool
Being drawn in the same group is the best thing for the All Blacks and Springboks, and bad news for everyone else
The Rugby Championship is over and yet another title is in the hands of New Zealand. With a year until the Rugby World Cupkicks off what are everyone’s chances of upsetting the All Blacks in Japan?
Pool A: Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Russia, Samoa
Ireland have a grand slam Six Nations and a series win in Australia but traditionally have faired poorly at the World Cup and have never passed the quarter-finals.
In the past, they have suffered from the World Cup’s length stretching their squad thin. But they now have unprecedented depth, illustrated by their best club, Leinster, who put out a “B team” most weeks in club rugby and usually win.
But while this may be their best chance in years, it might also be their worst. Whoever wins this pool or comes second will have to play New Zealand or South Africa in the quarter-finals.
Ireland are ranked second in the world at the moment and are a match for either side, so there will be a big team casualty before the quarter-finals are over.
Prediction: win the pool, exit in the quarter-finals to South Africa.
Scotland are the second best team in the world at home but barely make the top ten away from home. Last year, they lost at home to New Zealand by five points. That is their only loss at home since November 2016: since then, the Scots put 50 points on Australia, and have comprehensively beaten England, Wales, France twice and a number of other teams in that time. Ireland are the only losing team to finish within a score.
But in the midst of this rich home run, they were pummelled away to England (61-21), Wales (34-7), lost to Fiji and become the first tier-one team to lose to the USA. There is little to mitigate the bizarre difference in their home and away form.
A neutral venue may help. But they do face Japan, who are not to be underestimated.
Either way, they will play South Africa or New Zealand at some point.
Prediction: runners-up in the pool, exit in the quarter-finals to New Zealand.
Japan are at home and their last game in the pool is against Scotland so it could be all to play for. The tickets for that final match are in high demand, even compared to the ‘big game’ of Scotland vs Ireland, according to the ticketing website.
With the fans behind them and Scotland’s poor away form, there may be an upset.
Prediction: Japan, Samoa and Russia to exit in the pool stages with the first two putting up admirable fights.
Pool B: New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Namibia, TBC (possibly Hong Kong!)
New Zealand will be the favourites for every World Cup from now until the sun explodes and engulfs us all. But South Africa highlighted weaknesses in their decision making by winning in New Zealand.
Beauden Barrett, 2017 player of the year, failed to even attempt a crucial drop goal to beat South Africa.
Under the cosh, he is not so good, the critics said. One bad decision does not make a bad player and he has learned his lesson – do not expect a repeat in the knockout stages.
They have star quality in abundance, experience in their first and second choice players and their coach knows how to win a World Cup.
Prediction: World Cup winners.
South Africa were in dire straights a year ago, but have refound their swagger.
They now look like the only team capable of beating New Zealand regularly. So, the best thing for both teams is that they are in the pool together. Whoever loses will still progress. It is bad news for everyone else because one of the two heavyweights will not be knocked out the tournament.
Everyone else will have to go through one or the other to reach the final.
Prediction: second in the pool, losers in the World Cup final.
Italy, Namibia and TBC all to be royally whipped in the pool stages.
Pool C: England, France, Argentina, USA, Tonga
It should be the pool of death. It is the hardest to predict but only because the top teams have each been horribly inconsistent (and very poor at times) over the last year.
England are not in a good place and have only won one game since beating Wales at home in February. But England have so much depth that they can rotate their players to survive the long tournament. Plus, they are carrying the hurt of their 2015 pool stage exit as extra motivation.
With all their resources and experience expect a strong England by this time next year.
Prediction: win the pool, exit in the semi-final to New Zealand.
France and Argentina have had a mixed bag for years. France can show up on their day but their domestic tournament has so much sway over their national team they rarely have proper preparation. Many of their stars struggle for game time over imports in club games.
But with the long build up to the World Cup, they have time to pull themselves together (or they will be the first high profile exit).
Argentina have had a better Rugby Championship with an away win over Australia and close games with the others, but it came after a poor summer where they were thrashed by Welsh and Scottish “B teams”. They perform well at World Cups.
If they can keep their form and not fall back into their pre-Championship ways, they will do well.
Prediction: France to exit in the pool stages. Argentina to lose to Wales in the quarter-final
USA and Tonga to scuffle for fourth.
Pool D: Australia, Wales, Georgia, Fiji, Uruguay
Australia have been hit or miss for sometime. They lost a series to Ireland at home, they beat South Africa and lost to Argentina at home and then they had an epic comeback to beat Argentina away. Their team is full of quality players from Israel Folau to David Pocock, so if they click they can beat anyone. It’s a big if for more than one game at a time.
Prediction: second in the pool, exit in quarter-finals with a loss to England.
We have not learned much about Wales in a while, and I don’t expect to learn much soon. They took a second string team on their summer tour and Warren Gatland and former captain Sam Warburton suggested they will continue to rotate the squad in the autumn.
At the last World Cup their squad was stretched very thin due to injury, so the rotation policy is both to protect their starters from the long season and develop their second choice players. It could pay dividends.
Gatland is very experienced and seems to revel in the long build-up to World Cups, giving him a chance to shape his team.
What’s more, it’s his last tournament before retiring from Wales after 11 years – his team will be fired up to do him proud. With an out of sorts Australia, it could be the best chance they have had in years. But they will need to improve their poor record against the southern hemisphere teams – in 39 games against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa under Gatland, they have only won five.
Prediction: win the pool, exit in the semi-finals with a loss to South Africa.
Fiji and Georgia to battle it out for third. Uruguay to be winless.