We are now less than 100 days away from the Rugby World Cup and the full focus of the rugby world is now on the tournament with the domestic season coming to an end. So, it seems like the perfect time to have a look at the favourites, as well as some of the dark horses who could cause an upset.
It would be pretty shocking if at the end of the RWC 2023, one of the top four teams in the world do not lift the trophy. There currently is a bit of a gap in quality between those top four and the rest of the world.
The thing that makes these four favourites so interesting is that because of the way the draw has worked, only two of them can make it to the semi-final stage. We are likely going to see the four best teams in the tournament play against each other in the Quarterfinals. This means it is a very difficult road for any of these four favourites.
Out of those four favourites, Ireland are the highest ranked. The number one team in the world come into the game in brilliant form. Andy Farrell’s team have two major successes over the past 18 months. They had a phenomenal tour of New Zealand, becoming the first touring side since France in 1994 to defeat the All Blacks in a series in New Zealand.
The team managed to follow that up with the perfect Six Nations campaign, winning the Grand Slam without any major scares. This Irish team has massive wins over pretty much everyone recently, including beat all three of the other favourites in the previous 12 months.
They beat South Africa in the Autumn internationals last year, with the Springboks being in Irelands group. There is superstar quality all over this team. In the forward pack, you would say the leader of this team Is World Rugby Player of the Year Josh Van der Flier. They have a well set, powerful front pack with Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong able to take on anyone at this tournament.
Their backs group is just as talented. It is headlined by Johnny Sexton, who will be playing his final game in an Ireland shirt during this tournament. Outside of Sexton, James Lowe, Robbie Henshaw, Mack Hansen and Hugo Keenan are all brilliant attacking options who can find the spaces easily.
However, there are a few cracks starting to show with this Ireland team. Sexton’s health is a massive concern for Ireland as he has not played since the end of the Six Nations due to a groin injury. The drop off without Sexton is substantial. Ireland have also seen the majority of their players underperform in domestic competitions.
So, there is a lot of pressure on this Irish side to perform, especially when Ireland have never progressed past the Quarter-Final stage before. If you want to show your support for the Irish side, why not check out some of the Ireland clothing on our site.
The host country must feel like they have never had a better opportunity to lift the Webb Ellis Cup. They are the second highest ranked team in the world and have a star-studded squad.
France might have lost to Ireland earlier this year, but that is the only game they have lost in the last two years prior to this tournament. They were Six Nations Grand Slam champions in 2022, claiming wins over Australia, South Africa and Japan in the Autumn of last year. The loss to Ireland was still a close affair and France will have home advantage the entire tournament.
That is a huge factor, with French fans falling back in love with rugby over the last few years. Part of that is due to having arguably the best and most exciting player in the world, Antoine Dupont. There is a lot of pressure on Dupont to perform, as there have been games in the past where he was dragged his side to victory.
There is still a lot of talent outside of Dupont. France have an incredibly physical pack, led by Charles Ollivon, Gregory Aldritt and Uini Atonio. One of the big advantages this team will have is incredible depth, particularly in the forward lines, having world class players who can be rotated into the starting team throughout the tournament.
France do still have a lot of talent in the backs, even if their forward pack is the stronger side. Romain Ntamack often gets overlooked because of the talent of the Scrum Half alongside him. He is one of the most creative players in the world, able to easily unlock any defence. Gael Fickou is the leader of this team in defence, with Damian Penaud and Jonathan Danty players to look out for in attack.
They have four games in the run up to the tournament to prepare, but the French team seems pretty set. If Paul Willemse and Cameron Woki come back healthy, this French team have a huge number of options to pick from. They might end up being the most difficult team to beat in the tournament.
You might think that being the reigning champions makes you the odds-on favourite for the tournament. But the Springboks are certainly the third best rugby team in the world at the moment, so they will have a difficult time reaching the final. Particularly as they will need to beat two of Ireland, France and New Zealand to get a chance at retaining their final.
Since lifting the trophy in 2019, it has been a mixed bag for South Africa. They haven’t been able to get their hands on The Rugby Championship trophy since 2019, with losses to New Zealand and Australia in the competition last year. There have been worse losses in that time, including to England in November 2021 and Wales in July 2022.
While the result have not always been perfect, this Springboks team is still stacked with talent, including Handre Pollard, Eben Etzebeth, Lukanyho Am, Cheslin Kolbe and Malcolm Marx. This team can still beat anyone on their day, mainly due to having the physicality to match up against any team. Don’t count out South Africa in this tournament.
It has been a long time since the All Blacks have not been one of the top three teams going into a Rugby World Cup. But this is certainly not the All-Blacks team of old. They lost a tour at home last year, the first time that has happened since professional rugby was introduced. So there have been a lot of concerns about this New Zealand team.
Mainly due to the high expectations of New Zealand, some of their struggles have been overplayed. For example, the All Blacks have still won The Rugby Championship in 2021 and 2022. They have still had close games against Ireland and France recently. There is also a huge amount of talent still in this squad.
It is certainly a mixed squad, still containing some of the World Cup winning experience through Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Beauden Barrett. But there is also a lot of new young stars coming through, with guys like Samisoni Taukei’aho, Will Jordan and Dalton Papalii all looking to make their World Cup debut.
This may be a different looking New Zealand team, but there is still a huge amount of talent and experience. The All Blacks are still going to be a very dangerous team to play against.
Outside of the four favourites are a few different teams hoping to cause an upset. England, Wales and Argentina are on the easier side of the draw and so will hope to progress far in the tournament. However, there does seem to be one team better set up to be a dark horse than any other.
The Wallabies will head into this tournament with a brand-new head coach in place, the same man who led them to the Rugby World Cup Final in 2003. Eddie Jones returns to Australia after being sacked by England was a surprise to pretty much no on.
Eddie Jones is one of the most experienced coaches in the world, having taken Australia and England to the World Cup Final. He was also part of the coaching staff of the South Africa team which won the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Australia have been struggling recently, but I still believe the sacking of Dave Rennie was harsh. This team is set up in a good position to reach at least the World Cup Semi-Final. They have an immense amount of talent, but selection is important. Mark Nawaqanitawase, Harry Wilson and Rob Valentini could all show their world class talent this autumn.
If Jones is smart enough to bring in overseas players like Will Skelton, Samu Kerevi and Quade Cooper, this will be a very difficult Australian squad to beat. They have a pretty easy road to the Semi-finals, so watch out for Australia to be the surprise team of this World Cup.
If Scotland were in Pool C or Pool D, they might be the favourite to make it the furthest out of those two groups. But their position in the tournament likely means they need a miraculous result to get out of the pool stage. Scotland are in Pool B with South Africa and Ireland, which means to get out of the pool stage, they will need to beat one of those two teams. That is an incredibly difficult thing to do.
This might be the best Scottish side to go to a Rugby World Cup. Ranked fifth in the world, they finished third in the Six Nations only behind the best two teams in the world. Finn Russell will be able to call on one of the best back groups in the world. There is some concern about whether they have the forward pack to compete with the top nations.
They do have the fire power to beat a top country, but it will really come down to whether their forwards can compete.
New head coach Steve Borthwick would be classed as a miracle worker if England can get anywhere near the levels, they were four years ago. This England team has had a lot of poor results over the last few years, mainly focused on their struggles against Scotland and in the Six Nations in general.
England would hope to breeze through their group, but the recent loss to Argentina makes things a little bit more concerning. The path that England have to get back to the Rugby World Cup final is the players who got them there four years ago returning to a world class level.
Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and Tom Curry will all still feature at this tournament. England will hope guys like Ollie Lawrence, Ellis Genge and Freddie Steward can all show their talent at this tournament, as they will need it to be a dark horse.
Samoa, Tonga and Fiji have all been bolstered by World Rugby changing the eligibility rules. This means superstars like Charles Piutau, Semi Radradra and Malakai Fekitoa should all feature at the tournament. This is going to make all three pacific nations very difficult to beat and one of them could emerge as a dark horse.
Absolute Rugby’s Prediction
This World Cup might be one of the most difficult to predict in the competition’s history, but we’re going to give it a go anyway.
With the talent and size of the French team, combined with what will be an electric home crowd, we are predicting France to finally end their World Cup Final curse and lift the Webb Ellis trophy for the very first time. As they are our main dark horse, Australia will meet them in the final.
Despite being the number one team in the world, we are predicting Ireland to fall at the Quarter-final stage once again. I’m sure we will be proven wrong in due course, but it is still fun to make those predictions now.