Rugby World Cup power rankings
Tier one – true contenders:
France celebrate during their recent win over Scotland
There’s reasonably little to choose between the top four sides in the world, but France, as hosts, just about get the nod as favourites. The Stade de France was positively bouncing for the warm-up win against Australia and that sort of atmosphere could carry Fabien Galthie’s side through the tournament. Romain Ntamack’s injury is obviously a blow, but there is no drop-off in talent with Matthieu Jalibert installed as the starting fly half, and there are few holes in this fabulous French side’s game.
2. South Africa
The defending champions look to be in ominous form. There’s real stylistic clarity evident in Jacques Nienaber’s side, particularly with Siya Kolisi back fit, while Manie Libbok is settling in nicely at 10 to add extra attacking potential to the backline. Fatigue could yet be an issue – the Springboks’ players have been juggling northern hemisphere club schedules with southern hemisphere international involvements for the last couple of years – but Nienaber has plenty of depth in his 33.
Top of the rankings and unbeaten for more than a year, Ireland are genuine contenders for the first time. Consistency-wise, their structured attack and defence are probably the best in the world, and though Johnny Sexton will have to get back up to speed after his ban, ring rust doesn’t tend to bother the fly half. Andy Farrell’s side have answered pretty much every question posed to them in the last couple of years; can they become the first Ireland men’s side to reach the World Cup final four?
4. New Zealand
The All Blacks won the Rugby Championship earlier this year
The All Blacks have progressed significantly in the last 12 months, but the Twickenham defeat to South Africa showed some old flaws up front with a couple of key personnel missing. The air of invincibility that New Zealand used to carry is gone, though a multifarious backline has plenty in the toolbox and the tight five is vastly improved under Jason Ryan’s tutelage.
Tier two – best of the rest:
A slightly sluggish showing against Georgia but Scotland remain in good fettle. In the other half of the draw, they’d be close to semi-final bankers, but escaping Pool B will be tough for Gregor Townsend’s men. Can they put a complete performance together against either Ireland or South Africa?
Tier three – more questions than answers:
Argentina are chugging along under the radar, which will probably suit Michael Cheika fine. A frankly brutish group of back-five forwards and pace to burn out wide, though the Pumas’ scrum is more wobbly than usual. Santiago Carreras may be the key – the frisky fly half is still a work in progress but needs to find consistency.
Five defeats from five to start Eddie Jones’s second stint in charge, but there were signs of promise against New Zealand and France. A developing power game built around Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Will Skelton and Samu Kerevi, among others, could take the Wallabies deep – though inexperience at fly half and elsewhere is a major concern.
Rugby’s great entertainers enter this tournament better prepared than ever before. The Fijian Drua contingent gives Simon Raiwalui’s side a backbone and cohesion, and the development of a couple of props has shored up the scrum. Caleb Muntz produced a composed showing with the boot in the Twickenham win – if he can facilitate the unleashing of Fiji’s strike runners, then a deep tournament run is a possibility.
England are in disarray ahead of the tournament
A disastrous month of warm-up action for Steve Borthwick as issues with injury and discipline add to a general air of malaise around English rugby. It is a long while since the 2019 runners-up played to potential, but there is surely too much talent and experience within Borthwick’s squad to make a pool stage exit. That said, a subsequent meeting with one of the world’s top five nations is surely the limit of their ambitions.
Signs of life for Wales with a couple of bright young things coming through to complement the remaining familiar faces, but Warren Gatland may still be fearful about the composition of a squad short on top-class talent. Gatland has backed youth in key areas in the hope of a 2011-style blossoming – the opening pool fixture against Fiji really is crucial.
Tier four – could cause a shock:
Perhaps no side has been more improved by the changes to World Rugby’s eligibility rules than Samoa, with Steven Luatua and Lima Sopoaga, among others, adding class and calm. The Pacific Islanders are well coached by Seilala Mapusua and quietly have assembled one of the more complete squads in the tournament – if they can gel fully and avoid injuries to a few key individuals, don’t rule out Samoa earning a last-eight place.
This Italian team is undoubtedly heading in the right direction but this tournament may come too soon for a statement performance from the Azzurri with both France and New Zealand in their pool. The bulk of the squad will be in their prime in four years’ time when Italy will hope to have more Six Nations success behind them.
Georgia beat Wales in Cardiff last year
A side traditionally built around a power-packed group of forwards has more to it than past iterations. Davit Niniashvili is a moustachioed menace from full-back while Vasil Lobzhanidze, Gela Aprasidze, Tedo Abzhandadze and Luka Matvaka – all 26 or younger – ensure plenty of creativity in the halves. The win in Cardiff and besting of Italy last year have raised Georgian hopes of progressing out of their World Cup pool for the first time, but you fear that Australia, Fiji and Wales all have a little bit too much for Los Lelos when at full strength.
Japan appear a team in transition as the end of Jamie Joseph’s highly successful time in charge nears. A squad that so impressed four years ago on home soil has struggled to regenerate after stalling during Covid, and fitness issues in the back five of the pack are a concern. Still capable on their day with their attacking invention, but it’s tough to see the 2019 quarter-finalists repeating that achievement.
Questions at fly half and in the front row will concern coach Toutai Kefu in such a tough pool. George Moala’s ban is a shame, too, though Pita Ahki, Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau still provide backline quality. With so much focus on South Africa, Scotland and Ireland’s battles with one another, Tonga could catch one of the trio off guard – but the extended time between fixtures means they are unlikely to have heavily rotated opposition to get after.
Tier five – development the key:
The return of star scrum half Santiago Arata is welcome news for Uruguay, who stunned Fiji in one of the games of the World Cup four years ago. Much of the squad that travelled to Japan are back for more and have enjoyed a productive period of warm-ups in which Esteban Meneses’s team went unbeaten. You fancy that the task will just be slightly too large against Italy, though. The 27 September meeting with Namibia in Lyon should be a lot of fun.
Portugal appear to be building nicely towards their first World Cup in 16 years, impressing against the USA and particularly Australia A. There’s talent aplenty in the squad of Os Lobos, with a young group of outside backs that could light up a fixture or two, though a win will probably be beyond them in Pool C.
There wasn’t too much to choose between Namibia and Uruguay in their warm-up encounter, with the South Americans taking an eight-point victory but their opponents impressing. Namibia’s Pool A foes will have to look out for Tiaan Swanepoel’s massive right boot and the teak-tough Richard Hardwick, but a first-ever World Cup win might have to wait.
This year’s only World Cup debutants arrive hoping to show their stuff on the biggest stage. Fly half Rodrigo Fernandez’s fancy feet will cause problems for opposing defences, and a squad primarily drawn from the Selknam club should have plenty of cohesion. A tournament experience should be a huge positive for a squad with room to grow.
Romanian rugby is at something of a low ebb as their men’s national side arrive at a ninth World Cup. Former England and Scotland coach Andy Robinson’s resignation came suddenly last December and three defeats from three, including against the USA, represents a poor return from their warm-up fixtures. It may be a case of damage limitation for Romania.
Source: Read Full Article