Today sees the start of the eighth Rugby World Cup Preview with 20 teams battling it out over the next 6 weeks as they compete to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy.
Defending champions New Zealand are the current favourites as they look to retain their title and also aim to become the first ever nation to successfully defend the trophy. Drawn in Pool C, they should have little problem navigating their way out of the group before the serious work begins in the knock-out stages. A number of All Blacks including captain Richie McCaw and Dan Carter will be making their final international appearances at this World Cup and they will be keen to go out on a winning note. With experience throughout the squad, coupled with young and exciting players such as winger Nehe Milner-Skudder, New Zealand will take all the beating.
Hosts England have been drawn in the so-called ‘Group of Death’ in Pool A with Wales and Australia. With only 2 teams qualifying for the knockout stages, one of these international heavyweights will be making an early exit. England coach Stuart Lancaster has named a strong squad but many feel they lack the experience to take on the strength of the southern hemispheres teams and that they will come unstuck against a more ‘street-wise’ team.
Australia come into the tournament in fine form having won this year’s Rugby Championship, defeating Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa. Coach Michael Cheika wants the Australian squad to embrace its tag as the World Cup enemy, insisting that they won’t be distracted from their targets by the hype of their clash with hosts England in what could be a winner-takes all match in the race to make it out of the group. Cheika has drafted in 1999 World Cup-winners Stephen Larkham and Nathan Grey as part of his coaching staff as he looks to replicate the winning formula.
Six Nations champions Ireland go into the tournament in mixed form following their warm-up matches. Like England, they have named a strong squad but it remains to be seen if they have the capability to grind out results against the southern hemisphere giants when the chips are down. Ireland will look to fly-half Jonathan Sexton for inspiration and any injury to him could well see Ireland’s chances of World Cup glory disappear.
Rugby World Cup Pools
Pool A – Australia, England, Wales, Fiji, Uruguay
Pool B – South Africa, Samoa, Japan, Scotland, USA
Pool C – New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Georgia, Namibia
Pool D – France, Ireland, Italy, Canada, Romania
New Zealand are the 2.25 (5/4) favourites to retain their World Cup title, with hosts England at 5.5 (9/2). Australia are 9 (8/1), South Africa 8 (7/1) and Ireland 11 (10/1). The rugby tip are New Zealand to win this year’s Rugby World Cup at 2.25 (5/4) and become the first ever nation to retain the trophy.