The following is my preview to the Rugby World Cup coming up in September of 2015. I was asked to write about this for my school’s Newspaper ‘Clarion’. Initially the piece involved a great deal of reasearch due to my sheer unfamilairity of the world of Rugby! But here it is…hope you enjoy.
What, where and who?
Every four years since 1987 20 nations have come together to celebrate the game of Rugby via the Rugby Union’s World Cup.
The last World Cup was held in New Zealand in 2011 with the hosts defeating a strong French side 8-7 in the final to take the crown of World Champions. Four years later in 2015, England will be hoping for a similar fate as they host the tournament for the first time since 1991.
Known more officially as the quadrennial rugby union world championship, the 2015 organisers will be hoping their sharper focus upon foul play ahead of the autumn event will not take away from the fight, spirit and sheer ecstasy associated with the sport we all know and love.
But who should be fancying their chances ahead of the opening ceremony on September 18th? Who may prove to be a dark horse? And who should recognise qualification as an achievement in itself? Here’s the Pool-by-Pool lowdown.
Pool A features three of the top-six ranked teams, in England (4th), Wales (5th) and Australia (6th). The hosts England will have reason to be confident, if history is anything to go by, as the previous seven Rugby World Cup hosts went on to reach the final on five occasions. The newly founded strength in depth of Lancaster’s side gives England fans yet more reason for optimism thanks partly to immergence of Tom Youngs and Jonathan Joseph during the Six Nations.
In stark contrast, the loss of Jonathan Davis for Wales and constant question marks over the young George North means ‘strength in depth’ is exactly what Warren Gatland’s side are lacking. The betting odds don’t bode well for Wales either with both England and Australia forming stronger contenders for the crown.
Australia’s lowest ever ranking of 6th place after only a 43% win rate in 2014 is a clear indication of how they will struggle to overthrow the hosts in Pool A. As a result, despite the excitement felt by added foreign-based players such as Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell, the likely second place finish for Australia will on paper put them up against South Africa in the next round – a side the Wallabies have lost to in four of their last five meetings. Although some comfort must come from the fact that, alongside England and Wales, a win is surely assured against the remaining Pool A members Fiji and Uruguay who many feel are simply along for the ride.
Pool B features another potential semi-finalist in South Africa whose 27-25 win against World Champions New Zealand sent shock waves across the rugby world. Whilst November loses to Wales and Ireland hinted at certain cracks within the Springboks side, it’s widely regarded that Pool B will prove an easy ride for the third favourites as far as the World rankings are concerned.
The most familiar of South Africa’s opponents come in the form of Scotland with their New Zealand head coach Vern Cotter at the helm. Unfortunately the Scot’s Six Nations performance showed very little sign of improvement, with the bookies expecting them to not get any further than the last 8 in 2015.
The remainder of Pool B features the best of the Pacific Island sides in Samoa, the 2019 World Cup hosts Japan and a side who endured a very poor Pacific Nations Cup – USA. South Africa will be over the moon with their Pool this year.
The penultimate Pool features the current World Champions and overwhelming favourites to reclaim their title. In 2014, the New Zealand retained their Rugby Championship crown in style, but will have been disappointed at the loss of their winning and unbeaten records at different points during the same event. But such disappointments prove very minimal in comparison to their uncanny spacial awareness and the fact they have more pace and power than the rest of their Pool combined. The All Blacks have only lost two of their last 42 tests since their last World Cup victory – do we need to say anymore?
The nations of who form the unfortunate opponents to the 11/8 favourites are Argentina, Tonga, Georgia and Namibia.
Following a strong third place finish at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Argentina were rewarded with a place in the 2012 Rugby Championship. However the tournament three years ago did nothing but highlight Argentina’s clear regression since the World Cup in France, with the Pumas only recording a win in their final game. Fortunately this World Cup success is exactly what sets Argentina apart from the remaining three in the race for second place in Pool B.
The ageing Tonga team will take heart from their progressive improvements in recent World Cups; their shock win over eventual finalists France in 2011 proving testament to such a fact. However they prove to be wildly inconsistent meaning their potential status as a dark horse in the race for the second place in Pool B may be under threat. Georgia are also very unpredictable meaning the game between these two sides on September 19th may prove interestingly tight.
Lastly are Namibia who have played 15 World Cup matches; losing them all! Not only that, their aggregate scored at the World Cup results in an astonishing 974-144! With overwhelming favourites New Zealand in their group, the accolade of the biggest win is most certainly on the cards. Australia currently hold the record with a 142-0 win over Namibia in 2003.
Pool D casts a far more even array of quality in comparison to the previous pools. Back-to-back winners of the Six Nations Ireland are likely to battle it out with an enthralling and enchanting French side, who finished runners-up in 2011. Italy prove to be continuously reliant on their now ageing superstar Sergio Parisse. Their lack of notable talent elsewhere will most probably mean they struggle to get out the group. This seems to be the case for both Romania and Canada who complete Pool D; both of whom are considered rather anti-climactic when it comes down to performances at the World Cup.
The Final Predictions
There’s no arguing as to what team will be arriving to England and Wales in the autumn with the most confidence. South Africa seem unstoppable on all fronts at the moment and their sensational run of success shows no signs of stuttering. However after some very painful exits to previous World Cups, alongside the painful, ever looming, 4 year wait for Six Nations success, England may fancy themselves in front of the passionate English crowds in September. Many feel the time has come for Stuart Lancaster and England…and I tend to agree.