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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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