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One year to go: How do the Rugby World Cup contenders rank?

With exactly a year to go until the Rugby World Cup, how are the main contenders shaping up?

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With exactly a year to go until the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, let’s take a look at how the likely main contenders (taken from top eight in current IRB rankings) might fare in a year’s time.

NEW ZEALAND
Form: WWDWWWWW
World Cup Record: Best – Winners (1987, 2011), Worst – Quarter-finalists (2007)
WC Bogey Team: France. Les Blues knocked the All Blacks out in 2007 and so nearly spoiled the party in the final in 2011. They’re in the same side of the draw next year, too, so a quarter-final encounter is far from out of the equation.
Most likely tabloid fodder: Sonny Bill Williams. The code-hopping centre will find a way into the media spotlight, whether he’s part of the All Blacks squad this time next year or not. Perhaps he’ll announce a boxing match with Quade Cooper on the day New Zealand play Australia, or something similarly ridiculous.
Prediction: Winners. They’ve lost one test match since 2011. How can you pick anyone else right now?

SOUTH AFRICA
Form: LLWWWWWW
World Cup Record: Best – Winners (1995, 2007), Worst – Quarter-finalists (2003, 2011)
WC Bogey Team: Australia. Knocked out in the quarter-finals by the Wallabies in 2011 and the semi-finals back in 1999.
Most likely tabloid fodder: Eben Etzebeth. Baby-faced, good looking and absolutely massive – you can almost hear Kelly Brook sharpening her man-eating claws already. You have been warned, Eben.
Prediction: Semi-finalists. They’ll likely come up against Wales or Australia in the quarter finals – both of whom they can beat, but a semi-final against New Zealand will be their downfall.

AUSTRALIA
Form: WLDWWWWW
World Cup Record: Best – Winners (1991, 1999), Worst – Quarter-finalists (1995, 2007)
WC Bogey Team: England. How could it be anyone else after 2003? They were also knocked out by England in the quarter-finals in 2007, despite being ranked second in the world at the time.
Most likely tabloid fodder: James O’Connor. O’Connor will complete a remarkable comeback to the Wallaby squad in time for the World Cup, only to then be photographed in Clapham High Street McDonalds at 3am two nights before their first game. But he didn’t go to Infernos, honest.
Prediction: Pool stages. Incredibly tough call, but there are three genuine trophy contenders in their group – and at the moment they look the weakest.

ENGLAND
Form: LLLWWWWL
World Cup Record: Best – Winner (2003), Worst – Quarter-finalists (1987, 1999, 2011)
WC Bogey Team: South Africa. Lost twice to the Boks in 2007 and were knocked out by them in 1999.
Most likely tabloid fodder: Manu Tuilagi/Danny Cipriani. Keep the former away from the Thames and the latter away from Mayfair nightclubs. Simples.
Prediction: Runners-up. If they can win their pool (a big if) they should have a reasonably comfortable run to the final. If they meet NZ there, however, it might just be a bridge too far.

IRELAND
Form: WWWWLWWL
World Cup Record: Best – Quarter-finalists (1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2011), Worst – Pool stage (2007)
WC Bogey Team: France. Ireland have been knocked out by Les Bleus twice and lost a total of three times to them at the World Cup.
Most likely tabloid fodder: Rodney Ah You. Probably a completely lovely bloke, but think of the fun you could have with that name! Ah you just can’t make this stuff up.
Prediction: Semi-finalists. Unless France can work out their arse from their elbow in the space of a year (they won’t) Ireland should win their group, to set-up a quarter-final with whoever loses the least badly to New Zealand in Pool C.

WALES
Form: LLWWLWLW
World Cup Record: Best – Third place (1987), Worst – Pool stages (1991, 1995, 2007)
WC Bogey Team: Fiji. One of the biggest shocks in World Cup history was the Fijians knocking the Welsh out in 2007.
Most likely tabloid fodder: Mike Phillips. Back in Wales for an extended period after all that time in France, can he resist the Cardiff bar scene? Debatable.
Prediction: Quarter-finalists. If they progress from their group they’ll have done brilliantly, given who is in it – and the energy expended doing it will do for them if they come up against South Africa (which they will unless they win the group) in the QFs.

FRANCE
Form: LLLLWLWW
World Cup Record: Best – Runners-up (1987, 1999, 2011), Worst – Quarter-finalists (1991)
WC Bogey Team: England. 1991, 2003 and 2007 all saw France knocked out by arch-rivals England.
Most likely tabloid fodder: Matheiu Bastareaud. Will he cause another diplomatic incident by claiming to have been beaten up by England’s youths? Too early to say.
Prediction: Quarter-finalists. They’ve been handed a relatively easy pool so won’t have to be that good to get out of it (which is lucky), but they’ll probably lose to Ireland which means they’ll play new Zealand in the QFs – against whom they will not win.

SCOTLAND
Form: LWWWLLWL
World Cup Record: Best – Fourth place (1991), Worst – Pool stages (2011)
WC Bogey Team: Argentina. The Pumas have essentially ended Scotland’s last two World Cups, beating them in the quarter-finals in 2007 and in the pool stages in 2011.
Most likely tabloid fodder: Max Evans. Famous cousin (Chris), brother forced to retire only to become more famous for dating Kelly Brook (how has she snuck into this article twice?). Maybe he’ll do something to top them both.
Prediction: Quarter-finalists. It all comes down to whether they can beat Samoa in the pool stages. It should be incredibly tight, but they’ve got the experience to do it.

Let us know your thoughts on the above predictions in the comments section below!

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

21 replies on “One year to go: How do the Rugby World Cup contenders rank?”

fair analysis, though I’d have said New Zealand were Scotland’s bogey team, purely for seeming to always meet them! Lost to them in the knockout stages in 87, 91, 95 and 99!

Yes all fair enough. Australia to knock wales out though as game isnt in Wales. If it had been in Cardiff it would have potentially been a different story.

I’d be surprised if Wales beat Australia. Especially if Genia and Cooper get fit. I’m relatively confident that England will win the group, I really think we have a fantastic chance at this WC. Still centres and wing are an issue, they need to be nailed down during the 6 nations.

I’d like to see this side walk out during the AIs, I think it is somewhere close to our best team:
1. Corbs 2. Hartley 3. Wilson 4. Launchbury 5. Lawes 6. Wood 7. Robshaw 8. Vunipola 9. Care 10. Farrell 11. Yarde 12. Twelvetrees 13. Tuilagi 14. Wade 15. Brown
16. Youngs 17. Marler 18. Brookes 19. Parling 20. Haskell 21. Youngs 22. Cipriani 23. Nowell

I do like Attwood but I just think those 3 locks are our best options. He is certainly next in line if any are injured.

I like that team Jacob. I think that 22 is Cipriani’s best position – and I don’t mean that sarcastically, as I wouldn’t necessarily promote him if Farrell were to be unavailable.

Would be intersting to see the thoughts on the other teams as in who are the likely giant slayers etc.

A little unfair on Italy if Scotland are considered contenders and they are not.

Sounds reasonable, but why do people still underestimate Oz up here? They did just beat the Saffas didn’t they & they are No 3 ranked? The WC will likely throw up unexpected result/s & if Wales can just get their mental conditioning (what else can it be?) right they ought to, in theory, be contenders? England? Need to sort out their backplay. NZ got better in June, E’land got worse. 4 on the bounce now! Fr also got tipped out of 2 WC finals… by… guess?

I agree with a lot of what you’ve said, but I just have a few things I’d like to ask/add. Please bear in mind New Zealand has only ever won the World Cup when it was on home turf. They always seem to struggle playing in the tournament elsewhere. Australia are going to be genuine contenders and I believe they have a reasonable chance to top their group. The depth they are adding to their squad at the moment is vital while England only seems to be losing confidence in players as time progresses. I also expect both Japan and Argentina to be surprise packages, the latter potentially reaching the semi-finals. Argentina’s world ranking is greatly deflated due to their June series tryouts (which have built an amazing squad). They are a young team who are quickly getting better. Japan has the potential to break hearts, let us not forget when the played the all blacks last year and led them 6-0 for an extended period before breaking under the pressure and allowing a try fest. And lastly my bias about South Africa. We are having great problems now but are dealing with them. Our squad will be perfectly marshalled by Du Preez (if fit) and Etzebeth (who will have beaten his rust). South Africa have a great chance and I predict a semi-final win against the All blacks and a repeat of 2007’s final (which a large quotient of the team took part in). To end: wales are hopeless, they are yet to beat a southern top 3 team and a World Cup won’t change that (if they can manage to do so this autumn that changes things greatly). Ireland were sensational in the tour last year and the six nations, after June they lost some momentum but I believe they will regain it. Italy will do well to defeat any team (perhaps even Namibia) at the moment. England with Home advantage is terrifying but their players may succumb to the expectations and high hopes of their nation at the final. My placings: 1st South Africa 2nd England 3rd France 4th New Zealand. I forgot to mention them, but I am expecting magic from France (the kind they always seem to conjure for the WC).

Interresting point you make on Australia (and England). Will wait for the AI’s before commenting on how much they have improved. However they do seem to be developing options positively with players stepping up, where as England seem to be eliminating options that do not work and struggling to find a “system/style” for the backs. As you say instead of players standing out for positive reasons they seem to be highlighting their weaknesses thus the lack of confidence. My biggest concern in the NZ tour was the narrowness of the defence. We generally managed to score which is a positive, but the ease with which NZ went through/round our defence in the final game was appalling.

Not convinced by SA at the moment. Clearly they will always be a tough side to beat, but they do not look nearly as good as they did a year ago. Possibly down to the number of injuries… SA cannot rely on DuPreez. At his age he is liable to get injured at some point during the tournament.

France has the potential. With Kockott, Armitage and co. possibly playing for them I feel they could be very dangerous.

It’s funny, i agree that that’s probably our best side but, correct me if i’m wrong, it hasn’t ever played together?

Alexander Not sure whom you are addressing, but anyway… as ever, as a Saffa, you’re an optimist… or a fan of supergroup, ‘Blind Faith’. Predicting NZ 4th is a wind up right? I mean didn’t you guys just lose to Oz & scrape it x2 v Arg? Then did better in NZ! More like unpredictable for me. A precursor to a replay of the scenario prior to Ellis Pk last yr?! In a WC’s later stages games tend to get tighter as pressure builds & there’s always that element of luck (or likely food poisioning to you), like a ref’s desicion e.g. Those looking at the RC or AI’s will glean some insight for nxt yr, but a yr is a long time in rugby. Whilst past form (& consistancy) can, to some extent, predict future results, but it can also depend on who puts up on the day. Likewise with past history. A pointer maybe, but a pretty dubious one, esp if you’re gonna bet yr life savings on yr predictions. Like Joe Schmidt said of Clermont Auvergne after winning the H Cup 1st up following their prev yrs of being bridesmaids; (paraphrasing), ‘Forget history’, just execute the game plan on the field’. That’s likely to be more important than predictions methinks.

Max Evans tweets a lot and has a great affinity for his gopro cam but I’m not sure he’s tabloid fodder. Maitland, grant and Wilson (and Hughes) are all more likely candidates I reckon

Objectively, it’s not hard to see Argentina in the Semi-Finals (they end up 2nd in their group, and play the winner of Ireland/France).

There, they have a high likelihood of meeting the Boks: who they would have played 2 times already in 2015 prior to the World Cup (and who knows, they may have beaten by then)..

It’s improbable that the Pumas will get to the Finals, but after this year’s Pretoria and Salta match (and the last two Mendoza ones), would any REALLY be surprised if the Pumas beat the Boks to get to the Finals?

Ok, that doesn’t look right.

This is how that should have read:

Objectively, it’s not hard to see Argentina in the Semi-Finals (assuing that they end up 2nd in their group, and then play and beat the winner of Ireland/France’s group).

In the Semis, the Pumas would have a high likelihood of meeting the Boks: who they would have played 2 times already in 2015 prior to the World Cup (and who knows, the Pumas may have beaten the Boks by then)………

It’s improbable that the Pumas will get to the Finals, but after this year’s Pretoria and Salta Test matches (and the last two Mendoza Test Matches), would anyone REALLY be surprised if the Pumas beat the Boks and get to the Finals?

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