The Rugby World Cup is nearly upon us with the 20 competing groups descending on France ahead of the begin of the tournament.
On the ultimate weekend of a busy month of warm-up motion, France and South Africa showcased their credentials as contenders with thrashings of Australia and New Zealand respectively, however England sunk additional into the mire with a first-ever defeat to Fiji.
A lopsided draw sees the world’s prime 5 nations in the males’s rankings multi functional half of the draw, opening up a path to the semi-finals for 2 sides from Pool C and Pool D.
And with a quantity of nations exterior of the conventional rugby powers creating shortly, it may but be the most unpredictable and thrilling tournament but.
Right here, The Unbiased assesses how every nation stacks up ahead of the World Cup.
Rugby World Cup power rankings
Tier one – true contenders:
There’s fairly little to decide on between the prime 4 sides in the world, however France, as hosts, nearly get the nod as favourites. The Stade de France was positively bouncing for the warm-up win in opposition to Australia and that kind of ambiance may carry Fabien Galthie’s facet by means of the tournament. Romain Ntamack’s harm is clearly a blow, however there isn’t a drop-off in expertise with Matthieu Jalibert put in as the beginning fly half, and there are few holes on this fabulous French facet’s recreation.
2. South Africa
The defending champions look to be in ominous kind. There’s actual stylistic readability evident in Jacques Nienaber’s facet, significantly with Siya Kolisi again match, whereas Manie Libbok is settling in properly at 10 so as to add further attacking potential to the backline. Fatigue may but be a problem – the Springboks’ gamers have been juggling northern hemisphere membership schedules with southern hemisphere worldwide involvements for the final couple of years – however Nienaber has a lot of depth in his 33.
High of the rankings and unbeaten for greater than a yr, Eire are real contenders for the first time. Consistency-wise, their structured assault and defence are in all probability the greatest in the world, and although Johnny Sexton must get again on top of things after his ban, ring rust doesn’t are inclined to hassle the fly half. Andy Farrell’s facet have answered just about every query posed to them in the final couple of years; can they change into the first Eire males’s facet to succeed in the World Cup ultimate 4?
4. New Zealand
The All Blacks have progressed considerably in the final 12 months, however the Twickenham defeat to South Africa confirmed some previous flaws up entrance with a pair of key personnel lacking. The air of invincibility that New Zealand used to hold is gone, although a multifarious backline has a lot in the toolbox and the tight 5 is vastly improved beneath Jason Ryan’s tutelage.
Tier two – greatest of the relaxation:
A barely sluggish displaying in opposition to Georgia however Scotland stay in good fettle. In the different half of the draw, they’d be near semi-final bankers, however escaping Pool B can be robust for Gregor Townsend’s males. Can they put a whole efficiency collectively in opposition to both Eire or South Africa?
Tier three – extra questions than solutions:
Argentina are chugging alongside beneath the radar, which can in all probability go well with Michael Cheika fantastic. A frankly brutish group of back-five forwards and tempo to burn out huge, although the Pumas’ scrum is extra wobbly than traditional. Santiago Carreras could also be the key – the frisky fly half continues to be a piece in progress however wants to seek out consistency.
5 defeats from 5 to begin Eddie Jones’s second stint in cost, however there have been indicators of promise in opposition to New Zealand and France. A creating power recreation constructed round Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Will Skelton and Samu Kerevi, amongst others, may take the Wallabies deep – although inexperience at fly half and elsewhere is a serious concern.
Rugby’s nice entertainers enter this tournament higher ready than ever earlier than. The Fijian Drua contingent provides Simon Raiwalui’s facet a spine and cohesion, and the growth of a pair of props has shored up the scrum. Caleb Muntz produced a composed displaying with the boot in the Twickenham win – if he can facilitate the unleashing of Fiji’s strike runners, then a deep tournament run is a chance.
A disastrous month of warm-up motion for Steve Borthwick as points with harm and self-discipline add to a normal air of malaise round English rugby. It’s a lengthy whereas since the 2019 runners-up performed to potential, however there may be certainly an excessive amount of expertise and expertise inside Borthwick’s squad to make a pool stage exit. That mentioned, a subsequent assembly with one of the world’s prime 5 nations is unquestionably the restrict of their ambitions.
Indicators of life for Wales with a pair of shiny younger issues coming by means of to enhance the remaining acquainted faces, however Warren Gatland should be fearful about the composition of a squad brief on top-class expertise. Gatland has backed youth in key areas in the hope of a 2011-style blossoming – the opening pool fixture in opposition to Fiji actually is essential.
Tier 4 – may trigger a shock:
Maybe no facet has been extra improved by the adjustments to World Rugby’s eligibility guidelines than Samoa, with Steven Luatua and Lima Sopoaga, amongst others, including class and calm. The Pacific Islanders are effectively coached by Seilala Mapusua and quietly have assembled one of the extra full squads in the tournament – if they will gel absolutely and keep away from accidents to some key people, don’t rule out Samoa incomes a last-eight place.
This Italian workforce is undoubtedly heading in the proper route however this tournament might come too quickly for an announcement efficiency from the Azzurri with each France and New Zealand of their pool. The majority of the squad can be of their prime in 4 years’ time when Italy will hope to have extra Six Nations success behind them.
A facet historically constructed round a power-packed group of forwards has extra to it than previous iterations. Davit Niniashvili is a moustachioed menace from full-back whereas Vasil Lobzhanidze, Gela Aprasidze, Tedo Abzhandadze and Luka Matvaka – all 26 or youthful – guarantee a lot of creativity in the halves. The win in Cardiff and besting of Italy final yr have raised Georgian hopes of progressing out of their World Cup pool for the first time, however you concern that Australia, Fiji and Wales all have slightly bit an excessive amount of for Los Lelos when at full power.
Japan seem a workforce in transition as the finish of Jamie Joseph’s extremely profitable time in cost nears. A squad that so impressed 4 years in the past on residence soil has struggled to regenerate after stalling throughout Covid, and health points in the again 5 of the pack are a priority. Nonetheless succesful on their day with their attacking invention, but it surely’s robust to see the 2019 quarter-finalists repeating that achievement.
Questions at fly half and in the entrance row will concern coach Toutai Kefu in such a troublesome pool. George Moala’s ban is a disgrace, too, although Pita Ahki, Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau nonetheless present backline high quality. With a lot give attention to South Africa, Scotland and Eire’s battles with each other, Tonga may catch one of the trio off guard – however the prolonged time between fixtures means they’re unlikely to have closely rotated opposition to get after.
Tier 5 – growth the key:
The return of star scrum half Santiago Arata is welcome information for Uruguay, who shocked Fiji in a single of the video games of the World Cup 4 years in the past. A lot of the squad that travelled to Japan are again for extra and have loved a productive interval of warm-ups through which Esteban Meneses’s workforce went unbeaten. You fancy that the process will simply be barely too giant in opposition to Italy, although. The 27 September assembly with Namibia in Lyon needs to be lots of enjoyable.
Portugal look like constructing properly in direction of their first World Cup in 16 years, impressing in opposition to the USA and significantly Australia A. There’s expertise aplenty in the squad of Os Lobos, with a younger group of exterior backs that would mild up a fixture or two, although a win will in all probability be past them in Pool C.
There wasn’t an excessive amount of to decide on between Namibia and Uruguay of their warm-up encounter, with the South People taking an eight-point victory however their opponents impressing. Namibia’s Pool A foes must look out for Tiaan Swanepoel’s huge proper boot and the teak-tough Richard Hardwick, however a first-ever World Cup win might need to attend.
This yr’s solely World Cup debutants arrive hoping to indicate their stuff on the greatest stage. Fly half Rodrigo Fernandez’s fancy ft will trigger issues for opposing defences, and a squad primarily drawn from the Selknam membership ought to have a lot of cohesion. A tournament expertise needs to be an enormous constructive for a squad with room to develop.
Romanian rugby is at one thing of a low ebb as their males’s nationwide facet arrive at a ninth World Cup. Former England and Scotland coach Andy Robinson’s resignation got here all of the sudden final December and three defeats from three, together with in opposition to the USA, represents a poor return from their warm-up fixtures. It might be a case of harm limitation for Romania.