Now that the warmup matches are complete and the original Rugby World Cup 2023 squads have been announced, the build up to RWC 2023 has finally begun in earnest.
When you look at the groupings, I think that Group A is the most straightforward, Group B will be two from three, Group D more than likely the top two seeds should progress. It is Group C that is the most intriguing, with three, potentially four of the teams challenging for the quarter-final places.
After Fiji’s shock victory at Twickenham, the performance of Georgia at Murrayfield in the first half, they have thrown a curveball into the conundrum. Tied in with the poor form in the warmup matches of the top seeds (Australia and Wales). The RWC starts with Fiji being the highest in the world rankings, and the top four teams within five places in the rankings.
The fact that three of the top five in the world rankings, will not make the semi-finals, shows the problem with doing the seedings and draw so far out. It is understandable to a point, due to COViD, but the RWC seedings should not be based on the results from the previous RWC. Qualification for the tournaments based on the previous competition is a good method to assist with the crowded international calendar but using them for the seedings so far out is detrimental to the tournaments appeal. But that is another article all together.
New Zealand (World Ranking 4), France (3), Italy (13), Namibia (21), Uruguay (17)
This is the most straightforward of the groups to call. With the third and fourth placed teams in the group, the victors in the opening game will decide who will win the group. It is unfortunate for Italy, who have been making good progress in this RWC cycle. Italy will win their other pool matches, so will qualify for Australia in 2027. So, the qualifiers will be New Zealand and France, with New Zealand topping the pool, as I think that the French loss of Ntamack is a major blow. Though France are just as likely to turn on the style in the tournament opener. I genuinely can’t call the winner on the NZ v France.
South Africa (2), Ireland (1), Scotland (5), Tonga (15), Romania (19)
This is the pool that is the most competitive, and I feel that the group will come down to bonus points (BP), with the top three seeds all losing one game. Unfortunately, it will be Scotland that will finish third. My prediction is that SA will beat Scotland and deny them any BPs. I think that Ireland will squeeze past SA, with only a losing BP being won. And to finish it off Scotland will defeat Ireland, but Ireland will get a LBP, so knocking Scotland out. But then again, I can see SA beating both Scotland and Ireland, Scotland beating Ireland, but having lost to Tonga earlier in the tournament, go out on BPs.
Australia (9), Wales (10), Fiji (7), Georgia (11), Portugal (16)
A few months ago, this would have been seen as a relatively straightforward group with a very outside chance that Fiji may cause an upset, similar to what they did to Wales in XXXX. However, with Eddie Jones not doing the hoped magic, and Wales not getting the development from the reinstatement of Warren Gatland. I found the Australian decision very strange, as they have traditionally peaked for the RWC. Especially considering Jones, didn’t select many stalwarts of Australian Rugby. With Fiji winning at Twickenham, and Georgia matching Scotland for 40 minutes in the last round of fixtures, the poor form of Wales and Australia opens the group up. This is seen in the WR, where only five places cover the top four positions and the there is also the highest ranked 5th seed. I do think Wales are the most vulnerable, but I think that the crucial game will be Fiji v Georgia. I expect Georgia and Fiji to cause shock, but not sure against who, but it may come down to BPs.
Similar to Group A, it is very hard to call. I’ll put my head on the line and say Fiji to win the group, with Australia second. Then again after the first round of fixtures, that may be completely blown out of the water.
England (8), Argentina (6), Japan (14), Samoa (12), Chile (22)
This I think is a straight fight between Argentina and England, though Samoa, with their antipodean returners bolstering their squad in combination with their performance in Bayonne against the world’s number one side, may have a say. Along with the other pacific islands (PI), having an extended time together, will have improved their cohesion and chances. Combined with the two PI sides now in Super Rugby, Samoa has the potential to make the QFs alongside Fiji, but I don’t think they will. England, despite their difficulties won’t lose to another PI soon, and I think Argentina have too much nous to be caught of guard. The group winner will be decided in the opening round of fixtures, and I think that Argentina will sneak it and progress to the QFs as group winners alongside England.
As for the overall winner……
It is going to be one from three.
South Africa, New Zealand and France. Whoever wins the Group A v Group B quarter finals, will contest the final! If France get there, they will win the final, but we will know for sure in just over seven weeks time!