This year’s edition of the Rugby World Cup looks set to be one of the most tightly-contested tournaments in history. While sides from the northern hemisphere have traditionally performed poorly at the tournament (only England have claimed glory), both France and Ireland are among the favourites this time around.
Likewise, the resurgent Springboks will fancy their chances of going-back-to-back and emerging once more as champions, while New Zealand cannot be counted out from claiming their fourth Webb Ellis Cup.
So, which of these sides is most likely to leave their mark on the tournament in France and how likely is it that the Springboks will retain their title? We’ve analysed all the latest RWC23 news, views and statistics to deliver the answer.
What are South Africa’s chances?
The latest odds suggest that South Africa are fourth favourites for the tournament. However, the Springboks love being the underdogs.
Their squad for this year’s Rugby World Cup will likely be packed with previous winners from the 2019 edition, including Faf de Klerk, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit. Added to this, many pundits argue that South Africa’s depth is much greater than some of the other elite sides. So, if the tournament proves to be physical and injuries rack up, this could give them the edge.
Likewise, South Africa will be buoyed by the fact that their coaching side has been there and done the job before. So, while other sides may be concerned about living up to their potential, South Africa’s task is more about choosing the right players at the right time and correctly leveraging their big game experience.
Who could spoil the party?
Home favourites France will certainly be looking to spoil the party. Fresh from humiliating England in round four of the Six Nations Championship, Les Bleus will have the crowd at their back and four years of momentum behind them. Plus, they’ll also be able to call on generational talents such as Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont.
But, France aren’t used to this type of attention and some have suggested they may buckle under the pressure of the home crowd and the ‘favourites’ tagline. Similarly, their lack of depth means a key injury may derail their chances.
After comprehensively winning the Six Nations Championship (and impressively beating the French), Ireland will also go into the Rugby World Cup as the number one side in the world, according to the world rankings. In the past few years, Ireland have been incredibly consistent and have barely lost a game. As a result, they have a settled side and a core group of influential players such as Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.
However, the pool-stage draw has been particularly unkind to Ireland, who must face both South Africa and Scotland and then potentially encounter either France or New Zealand at the quarter-final stage. As a result, if they’re going to win the Rugby World Cup, they’ll have to do it the hard way.
And finally, we couldn’t conclude this list without mentioning the All Blacks. It feels odd that New Zealand won’t enter this year’s tournament as the outright favourite, but this is the case in 2023.
However, few would bet against stars like Beauden Barrett and Sam Whitelock. Although the All Blacks have lost some of their trophy-laden stalwarts since the last Rugby World Cup, this new generation of players still has plenty of experience and they may benefit from the lack of attention they’re receiving. Finally, they also play France in the opening game, so they have the opportunity to lay down a marker.
While South Africa are by no means the favourites with the pundits, they certainly have a strong chance of retaining the Webb Ellis Cup. Although France, Ireland and New Zealand remain well fancied, anyone coming up against Jacques Nienaber’s men faces a tough test and it remains to be seen whether any side can match the Springboks’ physicality or prevent them from scoring counter-attacking tries.
A knock-out stage spot at least beckons for the Springboks. From there, it’s anyone’s tournament.