Another four years have passed by and the tenth edition of the Rugby World Cup is about to kick off in France!
Taking place from 8th September to 28th October across nine venues, the opening fixtures sees hosts France face up against three-time winners New Zealand at the Stade de France, just north of Paris.
With 20 teams fighting for the William Webb Ellis trophy, it doesn’t get any bigger than this. Whether you’re rugby mad or just want to cheer on your nation, here’s everything you need to know ahead of the tournament.
The nations are split into four pools of five, with the top two from each pool advancing to the knockout stages later in the competition.
Coming under criticism for picking the pools three years before the tournament starts has resulted in Pool A featuring France (ranked 3rd in the world) and New Zealand (4th), while Pool B has Ireland (1st), South Africa (2nd) and Scotland (5th) battling it out for the two quarterfinal spots.
In Pool C the highest ranked side is now Fiji (7th), who’ll be facing up against the likes of Australia (9th) and Wales (10th). Pool D features Argentina (6th) and England (8th).
As fortunes have changed drastically since the last tournament, there’s very little separating the top four ranked sides.
Ireland’s win streak now stretches 13 games, winning a series in New Zealand for the first time ever and being crowned this year’s Six Nations Triple Crown champs in the process. Playing a tempo of rugby that’s rarely been seen before under Andy Farrell, can they break their World Cup curse and get past the quarterfinals?
South Africa are the current holders of the trophy, beating England 32-12 in Japan back in 2019. With players slowly returning from injury to fit into the squad, they’ve hit their peak just at the right time after a record-breaking win over rivals New Zealand. If you’ve not seen their forward pack before, they’ll be hard to miss. Nicknamed ‘The Bomb Squad’ at scrum time, the front three replacements are the Boks’ not-so-secret weapon.
Another side that are yet to add the Webb Ellis trophy to the national cabinet are France. Last hosting the tournament in 2007, France have formed arguably their greatest ever squad under Fabien Gaulthié. However, their preparations for the highly anticipated clash with New Zealand on the opening night has been dampened by injuries to Romain Ntamack, Cyril Baille, Paul Willemse and Jonathan Danty.
New Zealand bring an aura with them to every major tournament. Following a turbulent run of form in 2022 that saw calls for head coach Ian Foster to go, the All Blacks looked back to their best up until the loss to South Africa. Laced with experienced winners and fresh faces, look out for brothers Beauden, Jordie and Scott Barrett and key player Ardie Savea at the spine of their XV.
England come to the tournament off the back of a poor summer. Plagued by injuries to star players like Anthony Watson and disciplinary issues to no.8 Billy Vunipola and captain Owen Farrell, new coach Steve Borthwick is already under the pressure to deliver in a Pool the Red Rose were expected to top six months ago.
A year ago, Welsh rugby hit a new low losing to Georgia at the Principality. Now under the stewardship of former boss Warren Gatland, they’re slowly turning a corner with recently installed co-captains Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake running a young team.
Australia, like England and Wales, have appointed a new boss for this World Cup. Ex-England head coach Eddie Jones is back at the helm, hoping to emulate Jones’ 2003 side that made it to the final. Opting for the next generation of players over experienced campaigners like Quade Cooper, time will only tell if it’s a masterstroke from Jones.
Ones to Watch
With millions watching around the globe, the biggest stage can bring the best out of some and see the hype fade from others. Packed with established stars and rising talent, here are the names we’ve got our eyes on (and you should too!).
Josh van der Flier (Back Row – Ireland)
It’s hard to stand out in the current world no.1 ranked side, but in van der Flier Ireland have consistent excellency from the back of the pack.
Operating mainly at seven, the flanker’s agility, mobility and speed has seen him earn over 50 caps for the national side, scoring 10 tries in that time. This return ensures he’s a threat both in defence when turning balls over at the ruck, and when hitting pockets of space in Ireland’s brilliant offloading game.
Antoine Dupont (Scrum-Half – France)
While size isn’t on Antoine Dupont’s side, the 2021 Player of the Year and three-time Player of the Six Nations winner makes up for his 5’9” frame with herculean strength.
Playing in the position where tackling is the last focus of his game, Dupont never shies away from a collision. Add to that his unimaginable vision, slick passing and clever kicking game off either foot, there’s no wonder why the home nation pin all their hopes on him.
Will Jordan (Wing/Full Back – New Zealand)
Earning the Breakthrough Player of the Year award in 2021, Will Jordan now has the experience to match his attacking ability that originally got him into the All Blacks side.
Fearless under the high ball, crafty with his boot and lightning with his feet, the 25-year-old makes try scoring look the easiest thing in the world. If you’re looking for a worldie try this tournament, don’t look far past this man.
Finn Russell (Fly-Half – Scotland)
If you haven’t seen Finn Russell play before, it won’t take you long to realise why he’s been given the nickname ‘The Magician’. Pulling the strings at the heart of Scotland’s attack, his effectiveness to create chances from nothing has seen the Scots rise to fifth in the world.
Full of tricks and sleight of hand skills, Scotland will need him at his dazzling best if they’re to escape their pool.
Semi Radradra (Centre – Fiji)
If you know your rugby, you’ll know the power this man possesses. If you don’t, you’ll be hearing plenty of him in the next couple of months. Blessed as possibly the greatest athlete in the game, his ball skillset and all-round attributes combine for talent that’s rare to find.
Having plied his trade across both union and league codes internationally, England fans will have already seen the flying Fijian run the backline when they downed England at Twickenham in the last warm-up game.
Behind Your Nation
World Cup fever is officially kicking in! Ready to show your support every time they play? Back your boys out in France with our full range of international rugby kits and apparel, including the latest Rugby World Cup shirts!
More Articles Like This
JD Sports | December 14, 2023