The 2019 Rugby World Cup heads to Japan with 20 teams pushing to be crowned champions in what is predicted to be the most open tournament to date.
The Rugby World Cup begins on September 20. This year’s edition sees a potential of around six different nations who are theoretically contenders for the Webb Ellis trophy.
These hopeful sides are New Zealand, South Africa, England, Wales, Ireland and Australia. However, after 18 months of preparations for the competition, they have all exposed their vulnerabilities. Whether they fixed their flaws or not, New Zealand could have an easy task to claim their third consecutive World Cup title.
Let’s take a look at what our team at OnlineSportsBlog thinks about the Rugby World Cup contenders in each pool:
Rugby World Cup Pool A
The Scots come into the World Cup still sitting in the top ten in the world, but haven’t had the best of years.
With just a single win from their dire fifth-placed Six Nations campaign to kick off the year, the Scots have bounced back leading into the World Cup, winning three of their four warm-up Tests to bring a hint of form into the tournament.
They may be expected to get out of the group, but a horrid draw, with either the All Blacks or Springboks awaiting in the quarters, will be a bridge too far.
The Brave Blossoms have been one of World Rugby’s big improvers in the last four years. After their monumental victory over South Africa in 2015, they have continued an upward trajectory.
Russia, who have been consistently ranked around the top 20 teams in the world for the last 12 months, qualified for the World Cup after Spain, Belgium and Romania were all found to be in violation of World Rugby rules by using ineligible players.
It’ll be just the second World Cup for the Bears, who failed to make it in 2015 and lost all their matches during their maiden appearance in 2011.
In the 2019 European Rugby Championship, played back in February, Russia only managed to win two of their five games, however, they weren’t blown out in any of their games.
Only eight players in Samoa’s squad have played in a World Cup before, and there are two without a single Test cap to their name. However, there’s still some quality there, with Crusaders Super Rugby-winning prop – and brother of Wallabies prop Allan – Michael Alaalatoa one of the uncapped duo.
The side mixed results at the recent Pacific Nations Cup, beating Tonga in their opening game but falling to the USA by three points and Fiji by seven in hard-fought contests.
Ireland haven’t gone beyond the quarter-finals in Rugby World Cup history and in a lot of ways are the tournament’s perennial underachievers.
This year presents them with a chance to do something special, though.
They are coming off a big loss at the hands of England in their warm-up game, but have otherwise been solid recently.
2018 was a stellar year for the Irish, who also beat the All Blacks, however, the men in green have just fallen away a little this year, only winning three of their five Six Nations matches.
Rugby World Cup – Pool A Prediction
Ireland are the clear group favourites and should comfortably progress to the quarter-finals in first place.
Japan making it to the knockout stage would be a wonderful feelgood moment, and could well pull it off on the back of some raucous home support. But Scotland have too much class and experience for the Brave Blossoms, so it will be a Six Nations double at the top of Pool A.
Rugby World Cup Pool B
🇳🇿 New Zealand
New Zealand return to the World Cup as outright favourites. The All Blacks will once again be led by Kieran Read as they aim for a third consecutive title.
Despite having some minor fitness issues in their squad, they are still considered rich in talent. In fact, they have left out Laumape and Franks, both of whom would be walk-up starters in most other sides.
🇿🇦 South Africa
It was a successful Rugby Championship for the Springboks, who also beat Argentina and Australia to claim their first-ever title since the competition shifted to the four-team format. They then beat the Pumas again in their most recent match.
Italy, who had a top-12 finish in 2015, didn’t need to qualify for this year’s editions, but the perennial bottom team in the Six Nations will struggle to do anything of note in this pool.
They come into the tournament without much experience at the Rugby World Cup, although legendary skipper Sergio Parisse goes into his fifth tournament.
Namibia hold the unwanted record for the largest losing margin in the history of the World Cup. They had an embarrassing fall to Australia 142-0 back in 2003.
Their most recent matches against South African club sides have seen positive results. However, a loss to Russia in the World Nations Cup is a major concern given the opposition in their group.
After failing to get the job done in their opening qualification rounds, Canada had to rely on a repechage tournament to make the World Cup. There they cam away with commanding wins over Germany, Hong Kong and Kenya to qualify for the showpiece tournament.
Still, their form is poor, having lost to the USA, Tonga and Fiji at the Pacific Nations Cup. However, a settled squad leaves them in the running to take perhaps third place in their pool.
Rugby World Cup – Pool B Predictions
New Zealand and South Africa are going to advance, unless there’s a major shock. Meanwhile, being a Six Nations side, Italy should come away with third ahead of minnows Canada and Namibia.
Rugby World Cup Pool C
After falling just short in the Six Nations earlier in the year, some impressive warm-up wins over Wales and Ireland have England in a strong position heading to Japan.
Eddie Jones’ side were impressive in blowing Ireland 57-15 in their warm-up game. If they can maintain that attacking potency, they are going to be a dangerous proposition all World Cup.
France’s squad for the Rugby World Cup doesn’t include former skipper Mathieu Bastareaud, however, they are otherwise quite settled.
What the side doesn’t have is top form. They won just two matches in the Six Nations and have been up and down in the lead-up to Japan 2019.
Argentina come into the tournament on the back of a semi-final appearance in 2015, but out of winning form.
There’s lots of experience in the squad, the bulk of which is made up of players who were part of the Jaguares’ memorable run to the Super Rugby final this year.
The USA’s most recent outings were in the Pacific Nations Cup, and provided mixed fortunes for the side. Most notably, the Americans couldn’t get past Japan’s Brave Blossoms.
The Eagles did, however, qualify with relative ease as the first American team through for the showpiece tournament.
The Tongans have talked openly about their dream to make the final eight at the Rugby World Cup, and while that seems a bit of a fantasy at the moment, they will be competitive.
As is the case with all of the Pacific Island nations, they will bring a big pack of forwards and some exceptional talent out wide.
Rugby World Cup – Pool C Predictions
Pool C could go a couple of different ways. England, France and Argentina are all capable of making it out of the group.
England should be the first side to book their quarter-final ticket. They shall be seeking redemption following their disappointing run in 2015.
Argentina’s recent win-loss record is poor, but that’s due to them facing the best three nations in the southern hemisphere. So we shall have to wait and see what they can do against other teams.
Rugby World Cup Pool D
The difference between a quarter-final against likely Group C winners England and likely runners-up France (or Argentina) is probably the biggest one at the tournament, so it’s crucial the Wallabies get the group stage right.
The fitness of David Pocock could be the difference between a first or second-place finish. His only Test of the year came against Samoa this past weekend.
The Uruguayans surprised in the qualification phase after upsetting Canada in their two-match playoff.
It’s been a mostly superb 2019 for Los Teros, going undefeated throughout the Americas Rugby Championship, although they did go down to Namibia at home in June. Anything but four straight losses in Japan would be a massive surprise, though.
Fiji are still riding a massive high after finishing 2018 with one of the biggest upsets in international rugby history. A 21-14 victory over France on foreign soil.
Despite a first-up loss to Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup, the Flying Fijians have enjoyed hard-fought wins. They emerged victorious over Canada, Samoa and Tonga and will enter the World Cup full of confidence.
They’ll be hoping to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2007.
Georgia are yet to progress from the group stage at the World Cup. Their performances have been steadily better over the journey, improving from no wins in 2003 to one each in 2007 and 2011 and two in 2015.
Sensationally, former captain Mamuka Gorgodze has been named in the squad despite not playing a Test since March 2017.
An undefeated Six Nations campaign saw Wales briefly propelled to the top of the World Rugby rankings. Despite this, they did fall down to fourth after a recent 22-17 loss to Ireland.
In any case, Gatland’s side enter this tournament perhaps best placed to reach the final. If successful, they would achieve this incredible feat for the first time in their history. They will be hoping to at least reach the semi-finals after a heartbreaking loss to France in 2011.
Rugby World Cup – Pool D Predictions
Wales’ rich run of form in 2019 makes them the deserved warm favourites to top Pool D. Australia should have no issues qualifying in second place. Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay could ned up rounding out the group in that order.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 18, 2019