Leading up to the Rugby World Cup 2019 – Final say on the finals… before the tournament starts

The Rugby World Cup kicks off on Friday, and this year promises to be one of the most competitive and exciting tournaments ever. Realistically, any one of four top teams could win it, with other dark horses also capable of pulling off a few big wins. As difficult as it is to predict the World Cup in Japan, let’s take a look at it anyway…

Before heading straight into who should win the World Cup, let’s start with the pool stages. Each tournament has had its fair share of upsets during the pool stages, including the infamous Brighton match between South Africa and Japan in 2015. With this year having such strong teams in each pool, some major upsets can derail a team’s campaigns before they even get started.

Pool A

A fairly predictable pool, Pool A consists of World No. 1 ranked Ireland, Scotland, hosts Japan, Russia and Samoa. As they are currently the top ranked team on the Official World Rankings, Ireland are heavy favourites to top this pool, and looking at the form of the others in the group, this should be a reality. There is potential for a few big upsets in this pool, however, as Scotland are currently experiencing a mediocre run of form, while Japan have improved greatly since their Brighton upset in 2015.

History would suggest that Scotland should go through as second in the pool, however Japan is capable of earning an upset victory over the Scots, which could potentially see the hosts getting out of the group stages for the first time. Japan should easily outplay Russia, and will be pushed by a powerful Samoa side. However, Scotland will be expected to beat all but Ireland in their pool matches, meaning that both European nations should earn a quarter-final spot against either New Zealand or South Africa.

Prediction: Ireland (1st) and Scotland (2nd).

Pool B

Speaking of South Africa and New Zealand, their pool is arguably a forgone conclusion. With Canada, Italy and Namibia in their pool, the only real question raised in this pool should be which of the rivals tops the pool.

Italy, Namibia and Canada will leave all they have on the field in their matches, however with the current form of the Rugby Championship rivals, if any of the other teams in their pool manage to beat the Springboks or All Blacks, it will go down in history as one of, if not the greatest upsets in sporting history. Italy should beat out Namibia in their clash, however Canada are arguably in better form and should therefore finish in third on the log.

In what could be part one of an exciting final, South Africa and New Zealand will meet in the very first round of the tournament. The winner of their clash will most likely top their pool, and should have the easier run to the final from there.The last time these two met was in Wellington in July; a match that ended in a 16-all draw. Since then, South Africa seem to have continued to improve, and have been buoyed by the return of their captain, Siya Kolisi. On the other hand, New Zealand will also be back to full strength in their World Cup opener, making this clash almost impossible to call. With all that said, on neutral ground, and given that the Springboks have had more time to get used to the conditions in Japan, they should narrowly take the opener, and the pool, by roughly two points.

Prediction: South Africa (1st), New Zealand (2nd).

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Springbok captain Siya Kolisi on a break from his own 22m line against Australia in the 2018 Rugby Championship, with Willie le Roux, Andre Esterhuizen and Faf de Klerk running in support. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

Pool C

Known as this year’s “Pool of death”, Pool C consists of England, France, Argentina, the USA and Tonga. Realistically, there are three teams that could claw their way out of Pool C and make a quarter-final. However, the reason this is such a competitive pool is not because all three of the expected top teams are equally matched, but rather that there will be a battle for second place.

England should take the top spot of pool C quite easily, making up for their embarrassment from 2015 where they were the first host nation not to make it out of their pool in their home tournament. This means that France and Argentina will be clashing for second place in the pool.

France have been inconsistent in their performances in 2019, as they often are in World Cup years, but have shown enough promise and glimpses of brilliance in their performances that they can beat any team on the right day. By contrast, Argentina have been much more consistent, however their consistency has been in their issues rather than their successes. With their issues with discipline, and particularly their scrum difficulties of late, Argentina would be hard pressed to beat the new France team to second place in the pool.

Prediction: England (1st), France (2nd)

Pool D

Another fairly simple pool to predict is the final pool in the tournament. Australia, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay and Wales will compete for the right to play England, France or potentially Argentina in the quarter-finals. As Wales were World No. 1 for a full week in August, they should easily manage victories over Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay. Similarly, Australia are in good enough form to be confident in their ability to beat the same three teams in their pool encounters.

This means that Pool D will likely be a competition between Wales and Australia for first and second. Wales look the more well-balanced squad heading into the World Cup, and have been much more consistent in their final matches before the tournament. Australia, on the other hand, have looked much more impressive in their victories, which included their biggest ever victory over New Zealand in Sydney in July. However, a week later they looked a shadow of themselves in their 36-0 loss to the same New Zealand side.

When Australia are playing well, they look fantastic and can beat the best teams in the world, however, when they aren’t at their best, Australia struggle to even score points. For this reason, Wales are more likely to beat Australia in their pool match, as they have been much more consistent, and therefore should leave the pool as number 1.

Prediction: Wales (1st), Australia (2nd).

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Australian captain, Michael Hooper (left), and head coach Michael Cheika address the media after their Rugby Championship encounter with the Springboks in Port Elizabeth in 2018. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

Quarter-Finals

The four quarter-finals of the World Cup are arguably where the real tournament begins, as it is when the best teams in the competition go head to head and crush one another’s World Cup dreams. If all goes as suggested above, the four quarters should be as follows: England vs Australia, South Africa vs Scotland, Wales vs France and Ireland vs New Zealand.

The first quarter-final will likely be an intense contest that goes down to a margin of no more than five points. Regardless of their inconsistencies and their problems off the field, Australia have proven that, when they get into the knockout stages of any tournament, they are a serious threat to anyone’s campaign. With that said, the expertise of Eddie Jones combined with the talented group of players in the England squad should combine to outlast the Wallabies and end their hopes of going as far as they did in 2015.

The second knockout match would see South Africa take on Scotland, and at present it is only possible to see that match going one way. South Africa are in scintillating form in 2019, while Scotland have been languishing in mediocrity for the past twelve months. Barring a severe number of injures for the Springboks, they should easily overpower, outpace and outplay the Scots to go through to the semi finals.

Wales and France should go head to head in the third quarter-final; a match that would promise to bring out the best of each team. As mentioned earlier, France are capable of beating any team on their day, but it is always difficult to know which French side will turn up on the day (Apologies for the over-used cliche). Wales, on the other hand, should have enjoyed a much better World Cup up to this point, and if they can keep their injuries to a minimum (a problem that has plagued them for a number of World Cups), Wales should be able to outsmart the French and proceed to the semis for the first time since 2011.

The final quarter-final of the World Cup should be the most exciting out of the four, as it should be between Ireland and New Zealand. Ireland have had the Kiwis’ number in the past couple of years, beating the defending World Champions twice in their last three matches since the last World Cup. However, Ireland’s problems in quarter-finals of World Cups are well-documented, in that they have never made it past one. It will take an immense performance from the Irish in order to knock out the All Blacks in the quarters. This match will be an intense, close battle, however the defending champs should live to make it through to the semis.

Prediction: QF winners: England, South Africa, Wales and New Zealand.

Semi-Finals

The following semi-finals are what should happen if the above predictions come true, and should see England take on South Africa and Wales take on New Zealand.

England versus South Africa will be another massive encounter, equal to the South Africa versus New Zealand semi-final of 2015. As that semi-final went down to two points and a number of fifty-fifty calls, the semi-final between England and South Africa should equally be a close and controversial encounter. Jones would be confident in his ability to beat the Springboks in a World Cup, as he could be seen as the reason Japan beat South Africa in Brighton in 2015. However, South Africa’s individual brilliance, combined with the coaching of Rassie Erasmus could add up to South Africa being too much for England to handle in the semi-final.

The second semi-final should be a lot easier to predict, regardless of whether New Zealand or Ireland make it through to this stage. As New Zealand are the ones likely to make it out of their quarter, they should be the one to make it through to the grand final. The last time Wales beat the All Blacks was back in 1953, and they have not looked close to beating them in the professional era. New Zealand will likely be too strong for Wales yet again, and should make the final for their rematch against South Africa.

Prediction: Semi-final winners: South Africa and New Zealand.

Third Place

While many would say that the third place final is really an irrelevant match, it would mean a lot for the teams participating in it. While neither Wales nor England would want to end up in the third-place match, they would both want to end their tournament in the best way possible. England versus Wales is always an intense battle, and with their recent history being so close, this match would be very difficult to call. With that said, England, who would have had a much tougher and more closely contested run to this match, will likely be in better form than their Welsh counterparts by this stage. Perhaps a very close contest, ultimately England are most likely to finish third in Japan.

Prediction: England finish third.

The Final

As many have been saying for the past week, this analysis comes down to one of the greatest rivalries in rugby: South Africa versus New Zealand for the second time in the Rugby World Cup 2019. Few could argue that, should this final come to pass, that it will be a the biggest and most competitive match in the World Cup.

The last time these two teams met at a World Cup final it was in 1995, when the Springboks won their first ever World Cup in Johannesburg. The current record before the start of the World Cup between these two giants of the game in World Cups stands at two wins each and zero draws. However, the one telling statistic from previous World Cups is the fact that South Africa is the only team in the world that has an unbeaten record at World Cup finals.

However, history means nothing on the day, while form means everything. As stated all the way back at the start, this match will be a titanic battle if it works out to be true. While it is tempting to say that one team should beat the other, and everyone will have their opinions as to whom should take the final, this match can go either way. In the end, this final would be the best outcome, and while it is too close to call who will lift the Webb Ellis Cup, one thing is certain: a final between South Africa and New Zealand will see Rugby be the true winner.

Prediction: Too close to call!

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Springbok head coach, Rassie Erasmus, leads the Springboks through their warm-up routine before their Rugby Championship match against Australia in 2018. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

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