2019 Rugby World Cup Preview and Predictions
The ninth edition of Rugby World Cup is moving to Japan for the first time in history, which will also mark the first year the tournament will be held in Asia and outside the traditional heartland of rugby union. The quadrennial tournament will kick off this Friday, September 20, with a fixture between Japan and Russia at Ajinomoto Stadium, and conclude on November 2, 2019, with the grand finals at International Stadium Yokohama.
Full schedule: LINK
Just don’t make eye contact and you should be fine.
Just like the previous instalment of the World Cup (2015), we will get to see 20 national teams from all over the globe battle it out in four groups of five, hoping to finish among the top two in their group and claim a ticket to the playoffs. The third-placed teams from each group will receive a direct invite to 2023 Rugby World Cup, which will be held in France (September 8 – October 21, 2023).
While there are 20 teams competing in Japan, there are only three that are by bookmakers considered to have a real shot at claiming the title, with the remaining 17 considered huge underdogs. That being said, there is always a room for an upset, and it will be the hosts, Japan, who will hope they can make a deep run and impress the home crowd.
GROUP A; Ireland, Japan, Scotland, Samoa, Russia
Group A will feature some interesting fixtures, mostly between Ireland, Japan and Scotland, who are the three strongest teams in the group. Out of the three, however, it’s Ireland who are the undisputed favourites to claim the first seed. The no.1 team in the world have got the quality and the experience to push deep into the tournament. That being said, they are known to be very inconsistent with their tournament results, which was clearly seen in their poor Six Nations campaign, where the Shamrocks finished third behind Wales and England. Will they wake up and perform up to the expectations in Japan is yet to be seen and while there is a justifiable fear among the Irish fans that their team will disappoint once more, the Shamrocks should have no issue entering the playoffs.
That leaves us with Scotland and Japan as the only real threat to claim the second and spot leading into the playoffs. There are also some arguments to be made Samoa can join the race, yet that is very unlikely. As far as Scotland versus Japan battle is concerned, there is very little to separate the two sides. To be precise, there are less than five points separating Japan and Scotland in the Rugby World Rankings. Last time they meet it was at the 2015 World Cup, where we saw Scotland emerging victorious. That being said, Scotland are known to not perform well in away games, which should work in Japan’s favour.
Who will end up claiming the second spot is yet to be seen, however, we can expect a very exciting battle for the final playoffs ticket here.
As far as the remaining teams are concerned, as mentioned before, Samoa could join in the race for the second place if they manage to produce an upset win or two, whereas there is little to no chance for Russia to get any closer to their first World Cup playoffs appearance this year.
GROUP B; New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Canada, Namibia
Group B is without a doubt the most exciting group out of all five, in terms of the sheer quality of the teams that have been seeded in it. That on its own should not come off as a surprise, considering both New Zealand and South Africa are present here. Seeing how two favourites have been seeded in the same group, the fixture between New Zealand and South Africa (September 21) could be the decisive match that will dictate the outcome of the whole World Cup.
Whoever wins this fixture is more or less guaranteed to finish top of the group, meaning they will most likely face England in semis. The loser, on the other side, will have to go through Ireland and Wales/Australia in the playoffs. It’s also worth noting no team has won the World Cup after losing a group stages game, so there is also that.
As far as the remaining three teams are concerned, Italy, Canada and Namibia will have hard time keeping up with the pace set by three-times World Champions New Zealand and 2019 Rugby Championship winners South Africa. There is, however, still the third spot up for grabs, that will be the main focus point for the three underdogs, and should there be no surprises, Italy will be the team to claim their ticket for 2023 World Cup here.
GROUP C; England, Argentina, France, USA, Tonga
We have talked about the quality of teams present in group B, yet it’s group C that is considered the “Group of Death”, which is a name perfectly suited for pool consisting of England, France, Argentina, Tonga and USA. Comparing the five sides, there is no denying Eddie Jones’ men are the favourites to finish at the top of the group. England, while not entering the 2019 World Cup as strong as they had planned, are still a class above both Argentina and France and it goes without saying, the same can be said when compared to Tonga and USA.
Would there be no big surprises, England should secure the no.1 seed without many issues, meaning the race for the second-place finish will come down to France versus Argentina, who will meet on Saturday, September 21. When it comes to comparing the two squads, there is very little to separate them. France did win their last meeting 28-13, however, it’s worth noting that was on their home soil. If we take the home ground advantage out of the equation, it would be safe to say anyone can triumph this Saturday. Looking even further back, France and Argentina met four times in the last three years, winning two fixtures apiece.
It’s also worth noting both teams are more than capable of finishing deep in Japan, considering their impressive World Cup runs in recent years. France reached finals in 2011 for the third time, whereas Argentina impressed by appearing in semi-finals in 2015, which is their second-best result in World Cup, following third-place finish in 2007. That being said, the loser of Saturday’s fixture will most likely lose their opportunity to impress once more, meaning it will be a must-win fixture for both sides.
Tonga and USA sit at a 15th and 13th place in Rugby World Rankings respectively, meaning they are both very solid teams. Yet, we do not believe they have what it takes to compete with the top dogs, meaning they will fight a battle of their own for the fourth-place finish.
GROUP D; Wales, Australia, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay
In all the groups we have talked about to this point, we had two favourites who will most likely finish top two. When it comes to Group D, however, Wales and Argentina are guaranteed to do so. Talking about something being “guaranteed” is something we like to avoid. But, there is such an immense gap in terms of quality between Wales and Australia compared to the remaining three, we will make an exception, as something will have to go terribly wrong for both Australia and Wales to lose their playoffs tickets here. That being said, there is no telling which of the two will claim the no.1 spot.
We can expect that to be answered based on which team from group B will win this Saturday (New Zealand v South Africa). We have to keep in mind that the winner of Group D will have to face against the winner of group B in the semi-finals, and quite frankly, no one wants to meet with the All Blacks until it’s necessary, i.e. until the grand finals. That being said, Wales enter the World Cup in a much better shape compared to Australia, who have not been too impressive in the last year. But, when it comes to Australia, they are known as a very strong team in World Cup tournaments, no matter how weak they look in the months leading to it. And with that in mind, we believe Australia will be able to stand up against Wales and compete for the top finish.
Looking at Uruguay, Fiji and Georgia, it’s the South American outfit, who are without a doubt the weakest out of the three. Ranked 19th in the Rugby World Rankings, Uruguay are expected to struggle to win a single match here. Georgia, while an underdog are a team that can stand their ground and should they be underestimated. Talking teams that can impress, Fiji is in our eyes the team to watch out for, as they are known to be more than capable of producing an upset win even against some of the strongest teams. That being said, we still don’t see them as a real threat to claim a top-two finish.
Now that the group preview is out of the way, let’s check out who our favourites to win 2019 Rugby World Cup are and which team is our dark horse pick, capable of upsetting the top dogs.
When we talk about the most dominant teams in any sport, New Zealand and their rugby team will not fail to find its way into the conversation. All Blacks are entering the World Cup as heavy favourites and there is little that would suggest otherwise. The three-time World Champions will look to claim their third title in a row and considering their immense quality and experience in competing in World Cups, any team that will face them will be considered underdogs. Overall, New Zealand’s rugby team is terrifying and not only because of their “Haka dance” but the sheer power, size and overall quality they possess.
This might come off as a shock to some that we are placing Wales ahead of South Africa, but hear us out. Wales have performed admirably well in their Six Nations campaign, where they performed admirably well and if they compete in the same spirit in the World Cup, they will have a successful run. By beating England in August, Wales also became the number one team in the world, which meant they became the first team in 12 years to pass New Zealand on World Rugby Rankings. Overall, Wales has a very solid team that is more than capable of competing against the world elite, being they are one of the elites themselves. While there is some concern regarding the lack of experience of competing in the final stages of the World Cup, Wales have proven that on their best day, they can defeat anyone.
Odds suggest South Africa are the second favourite to win in Japan, yet we have decided to put the two-time World Champions as our third pick. Despite that, they are a team that should not be ignored. South Africa has a fearsome squad, which prides itself with strong depth in their forward pack. The Springboks have proven numerous times before they are one of the elite teams in Rugby world, yet it’s their tough fixture against New Zealand in the group stage that made us reconsider putting them as our second favourites. If, however, South Africa can derail New Zealand, they will set themselves nicely for a possible third World Cup title.
Australia are entering the Rugby World Cup as only the sixth favourite to win. In one way we can agree with that assessment, then again, Wallabies could be severely underestimated here. While there are some concerns whether the Australian squad has the needed quality and depth to go all the way, we have to remember what happened in 2015 Rugby World Cup, where Australia reached the finals and even put up a very solid (17-34) fight against New Zealand. With two titles (1991 and 1999), two runners-up finish (2003 and 2015) and a third-place finish in 2011, Australia are in our eyes a team everyone should keep an eye on.
New Zealand to win
Wales to reach the finals
Japan to reach quarter-finals
Australia to reach semi-finals