Rugby Union World Cup Preview
2023 Rugby World Cup preview and predictions
A bone-crunching, knuckle-gnawing, stud-scraping fiesta of scrumming, mauling, kicking and sprinting takes centre stage on Friday September 8 as the Rugby World Cup gets underway in France.
Holders South Africa are pledging to defend their crown and win their fourth title to become the most successful international team in World Cup history, edging ahead of New Zealand by one.
Hosts France will also fancy their chances to break their Rugby World Cup duck. The three-time runners-up have a lot of pain to put right and will hope to use a passionate home support and World Cup final anguish fuel for their fight for glory.
England have been stuttering in the build-up to the tournament but it would be foolish to write them off while Wales, Scotland and Ireland will fancy getting their hands on a debut title.
Pre-tournament favourites New Zealand are always likely to be in the mix, while a win for Australia would bring them level alongside the All Blacks and the Springboks as the most successful side in the tournament's history.
Here, BetMGM analyses the leading runners and riders in our comprehensive Rugby World Cup tournament preview.
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Head Coach: Ian Foster; Captain: Sam Cane; Key Player: Scott Barrett; World Ranking: 4th; Odds: 3/1.
The All Blacks are not the force of old, but a chastening series defeat to Ireland in 2022 seems to have jolted them back into some rhythm, and they come into this Rugby World Cup as justifiable favourites.
Before a heavy 37-5 defeat to South Africa at Twickenham in August, they had won 10 and drawn one of their previous 11 matches, scoring more than 35 points in seven of those 11 matches.
Head coach Ian Foster, whose card was marked for a resignation for what seemed like an eternity by those in New Zealand, has ridden out the intense pressure but will step aside come the end of the tournament. He will be highly motivated to tick off his tenure in triumph.
They will be there or thereabouts come the end of the tournament and it would take a brave bettor to back against them. But Rugby Union is a brave game and, in the spirit of this bravery, we are going with a bold shout: this All Blacks side will not be in the final.
Head Coach: Fabien Galthié; Captain: Antoine Dupont; Key Player: Antoine Dupont; World Ranking: 3rd; Odds: 3/1.
Born entertainers, the French have the flair, the va-va-voom and the creativity to spark a victorious showing on home soil. In fact, it would be a massive disappointment for the country's renowned vociferous fan base to fall short of anything other than a final appearance.
Coach Fabien Galthié was a former scrum-half and knows a thing or two about attractive rugby – he played a crucial role in helping his side defeat New Zealand in the 1999 Rugby World Cup semi-final after all. He has also led his country to a first Grand Slam since taking the reigns while leading them to a perfect season in 2022, with Les Bleus winning all 13 matches in which they participated.
They have the tools and, in Antoine Dupont, a genuine generational talent that transcends the sport and is renowned the world over as the best player on the planet at the moment.
If France win the entire competition it’s fair to assume Dupont will be in the running for the tournament’s best player, an award he has won three times at the Six Nations since 2020. At odds of 7/1 with BetMGM he is the favourite – and justifiably so.
They will finally get their hands on the trophy on home turf.
Head Coach: Jacques Nienaber; Captain: Siya Kolisi; Key Player: Manie Libbok; World Ranking: 2nd; Odds: 3/1.
It has not been plain sailing for the Springboks since winning the World Cup four years ago but a mauling of the All Blacks earlier this year capped some impressive form rolling into the tournament.
Some context: in 2022 they won 50% of their international matches whereas so far in 2023 they have won five of their six contests while averaging 32 points per match.
Under the guidance of former defence coach Jacques Nienaber, who was promoted ahead of outspoken firecracker Rassie Erasmus to the top job in 2020, there appears to be more focus within the group. Still, whether he can coax a defence of their crown out of his fairly experimental squad remains to be seen.
Keep an eye out for fly-half Manie Libbok who is explosive, a consistent passer and a dangerous kicker. He scored 34 points in just three internationals in August and could well be in the mix for finishing the Rugby World Cup as top point scorer.
You can back him at odds of 13/2 with BetMGM to score more points than anyone else. He may have the ingenuity required to lead this side deep into the tournament.
Head Coach: Andy Farrell; Captain: Johnny Sexton; Key Player: Joe McCarthy; World Ranking: 1st; Odds: 5/1.
The team ranked number one in the world faces the invidious prospect of a group stage exit after being drafted in one of the most challenging pools in World Cup history.
They must overcome defending champions South Africa and one of the most complete Scotland outfits of recent times while navigating dangerous-looking outsiders Tonga. Their reward should they manage this? Likely one of France or New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
Put it this way: if Andy Farrell's men make it past the quarter-finals for the first time, they will be in a powerful position to win the entire tournament.
They have won their previous 14 matches, last losing to France in a closely-fought Six Nations tie back in February 2022, while in 38-year-old Johnny Sexton they have a vastly-experienced skipper to guide them through the group of death.
Add 22-year-old, 6ft 6in, 18st 8lb second-row Joe McCarthy into the mix and they also possess a forceful tighthead lock ready to wreak havoc.
In short – Ireland have the form, the coach and the experience to make a real impact at this World Cup.
Head Coach: Eddie Jones; Co-captains: Will Skelton & Tate McDermott; Key Player: Mark Nawaqanitawase; World Ranking: 9th; Odds: 14/1.
There was tension in the air when former England head coach Eddie Jones revealed the Australian squad. He was dismayed at the apparent lack of enthusiasm for his selections by the national media and said as much himself.
"The experts have written us off,” he said. “No one believes we can do it, but we believe. The coaches and players believe and that's all that matters."
Believe they might but the uncertainty surrounding his squad appears rooted in their relative inexperience; the Wallabies have an average squad age of 25.8 with only five players older than 30 on the books.
What’s more, only six of 33 players have competed in more than 30 Tests while there will be 15 players with five caps or fewer – that’s one more than the combined total of six squads from 2003 to 2019.
A lot will rest on the shoulders of 31-year-old winger Marika Koroibete and 30-year-old inside centre Samu Kerevi – both can provide quality but they will also need to lead by example.
All hopeful eyes Down Under will rest on the talents of prop Angus Bell, fly-half Carter Gordon and winger Mark Nawaqanitawase, the latter of whom we are earmarking to have a show-stopping tournament.
Tricky, quick and skilful, the 22-year-old enters the contest in good form with four tries in his previous seven outings in Australian colours. You can back him at odds of 33/1 to finish the tournament’s top try scorer with BetMGM if you fancy the Wallabies to make a deep run.
However, we feel more than youthful vitality will be needed for the Australians at this one.
Head Coach: Steve Borthwick; Captain: Owen Farrell; Key Player: George Ford; World Ranking: 8th; Odds: 14/1.
The fact that England are narrow underdogs against Argentina coming into the opening tie suggests that progression under Steve Borthwick is stalling – and that's if you are being kind.
A warm-up defeat to Fiji was an eye-opener for all England rugby supporters, who have endured a horrific run of form over the past 12 months. They have lost five of their last six matches while scoring an average of just 14.3 points per match and conceding 29.6.
They will also be without captain Owen Farrell for the first two games of the tournament after a nasty high tackle in the warm-up match against Wales saw a four-game ban imposed on the fly-half.
At the same time, number eight Billy Vunipola was handed a three-game ban for a high tackle in the warm-up defeat to Ireland. An injury to Anthony Watson means he won't play any part in the tournament while Tom Curry, Elliot Daly and Courtney Lawes – the vice-captain ready to step in for Farrell – are also nursing knocks.
The one chink of light for England is the pool they have been handed. Despite their woes, they should still be able to navigate Argentina, Japan, Chile and Samoa. They won’t get much further than that, though.
Head Coach: Gregor Townsend; Captain: Jamie Ritchie; Key Player: Rory Darge; World Ranking: 5th; Odds: 33/1.
There is no team more enigmatic coming into this tournament than the Scots.
Brimming with dynamism and strategic execution, Gregor Townsend has got his team performing well in the lead-up to the World Cup with four wins from five, including a surprise 25-21 victory over hosts and joint-favourites France.
Across all five matches, they scored 25 points or more, highlighting that their attack will pack a punch.
With their exceptional ball-handling skills and elite athleticism, key players such as captain Jamie Ritchie and fly-half Finn Russell have the potential to make a significant impact. Russell, especially, brings a world-class tinge to a squad teeming with talent and potential.
The incredibly competitive nature of their group is where they may struggle and likely fall. They must overcome holders South Africa and the world's number one ranked team in Ireland just to make it to the quarters.
As such, we reckon they will come up just short.
Prediction: Pool stage
Head Coach: Warren Gatland; Co-captains: Jac Morgan & Dewi Lake; Key Player: Louis Rees-Zammit; World Ranking: 10th; Odds: 33/1.
It's hard to build a case for a team beset by off-field drama and less-than-convincing warm-up displays. Their latest – a 52-16 defeat to South Africa back in August – will still be ringing in the ears of the squad and fans alike.
They finished fifth in the 2023 Six Nations when it looked like they may not even be able to field a team at one point, and there are new faces galore at the World Cup in a rejigged squad.
With all that being said, it remains hard to write off Wales completely. They have a group from which it is feasible they can qualify – though they must beat one of Fiji or Australia. Achieve that, and they are likely to advance.
In Louis Rees-Zammit, they have a dazzling winger capable of incredible speed; he was recorded completing a 100-metre sprint in 10.44 seconds at an unofficial indoor run earlier in the summer, a time that would have placed him eighth at the UK Athletics Championships.
Perhaps a quarter-final berth could be considered a success for this group, and we're backing them to make it.
Rugby World Cup Schedule and Where to Watch
The pool stage runs for a month, from Friday 8 September to Sunday 8 October. The groups are:
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C||Pool D|
|New Zealand||South Africa||Wales||England|
The teams who qualify from their sections then have at least a six-day break before the start of the knockout stages. Those are scheduled as follows:
Saturday 14 October: Winner Pool C vs Runner-up Pool D [QF 1]; Winner Pool B vs Runner-up Pool A [QF 2]. Sunday 15 October: Winner Pool D vs Runner-up Pool C [QF 3]; Winner Pool A vs Runner-up Pool B [QF 4].
Friday 20 October: Winner QF 1 vs Winner QF 2 [SF 1]. Saturday 21 October: Winner QF 3 vs Winner QF 4 [SF 2].
Bronze Final (third-place play-off)
Friday 27 October: Runner-up SF 1 vs Runner-up SF 2.
Rugby World Cup Final
Saturday 28 October: Winner SF 1 vs Winner SF 2.
All matches are live in the UK on ITV, ITV4 and S4C.
Odds correct at time of publication but subject to fluctuation
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