With the Rugby World Cup coming up very soon, it seems like a good time to take a look at the major teams involved in the tournament.
Four years on from their iconic loss to England at the semi-final stage, New Zealand will be looking to bounce back in France later this year.
New Zealand’s run to the tournament
In the last four years, the All Blacks have had a poor time of things. A lot has been written about this New Zealand side and not always positively. Some of the criticism of this team is deserved because the All Blacks have been on the wrong end of some bad results the last couple of years.
Their 2022 started terribly, losing a series at home for the first time in 28 years. The series loss to Ireland was a terrible result for New Zealand, particularly considering how comfortably they won the first game of that series. The All Blacks were outclassed by Ireland twice.
Despite winning the Rugby championship later that summer, New Zealand losing to Argentina and South Africa were poor results and is not the sort of form you would expect from New Zealand. A draw against England in the autumn showed that New Zealand are not the dominant force of world rugby anymore.
They have started 2023 in much better form. New Zealand won all three games of the Rugby championship by a comfortable margin, finishing with a hammering of Australia in Sydney. It will be interesting to see whether they head into the tournament still unbeaten in 2023 as they have Australia and South Africa as the teams two warm up games.
The poor results have very often covered over some good performances for New Zealand. Despite mixed results, New Zealand have still won The Rugby Championship the last three years despite facing the reigning world champions South Africa.
This New Zealand team is certainly still one of the best sides in the world. At the moment it seems like they are forgotten slightly when talking about who is going to win the Rugby World Cup in 2023.
New Zealand XV for this tournament
New Zealand have been able to create a pretty solid team. In the last 12 months it seems like Ian Foster has figured out how to use the superstars in this New Zealand team.
Up front, the All Blacks have quickly brought through two exciting young props who will get their opportunity in the All Black jersey at this tournament. Hooker is an interesting debate. It seemed like Samisoni Taukei’aho had secured that jersey, but Foster has turned back to Codie Taylor in recent games.
There is a very good chance that the combination of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick could be heading into another Rugby World Cup together. But Scott Barrett has been in tremendous form and it would be hard to drop him. We could see that pair run out for New Zealand if Foster wants Scott Barrett at six.
Six and seven are very interesting for New Zealand. Captain Sam Cane has not always been in his best form, but dropping your captain this close to the tournament seems unlikely. Dalton Papalii seems most likely to be the unlucky person to miss out on a starting place in this team. There is no doubt that Ardie Savea will be the All Blacks number 8.
Alongside Aaron Smith seems most likely to be Richie Mo’unga. Ian Foster seems to be set that Beauden Barrett will be the All Blacks fullback at this tournament, with Mo’unga starting at 10. Considering this is how the two have been used this year, Foster is unlikely to make a change unless injuries come into play.
Jordie Barrett has finally found his home in this team, playing brilliantly at inside centre. His partner is almost undoubtedly going to be Rieko Ioane. New Zealand have four excellent options on the wings. Considering his incredible try scoring record so far, Will Jordan is an almost certain starter.
While Caleb Clarke is the most experienced option of the starters, Mark Telea has been the winger in the best form of recent. He has recently been brought into the team and it seems like Telea will be starting for the All Blacks at this tournament.
1.Ethan de Groot-Highlanders
Who to look out for in this team
There is superstar talent all over this New Zealand team. Up front, New Zealand have two of the best props in the world at the moment. Despite being two of the names not as well recognised as others, Tyrel Lomax and Ethan de Groot will be crucial to the success of this All Blacks team.
You would similarly say that Codie Taylor will have a crucial role to play at this tournament. Taylor is brilliant in open play, able to make a real impact with the ball in his hand and at the breakdown. But he needs to get the set piece right as it is such a powerful attacking weapon for this New Zealand side.
I shouldn’t need to explain why Ardie Savea is one of the players to watch at this tournament. Savea is one of the best players in the world, exactly what the All Blacks are looking for at number eight. He is going to be the driving force of this New Zealand time.
This will be a massive tournament for Richie Mo’unga. The Crusaders fly-half has been given some massive responsibility. He is following in the footsteps of some of the best players in rugby history. Having been given that shirt over Beauden Barret, Mo’unga will need to be performing at the highest level at this tournament.
Outside of Mo’unga, Jordie Barrett is going to be one of the players to watch at this tournament. He has been exceptional as a number 12, but is going up against some of the best backs in the world at this tournament. Jordie needs to be the ferocious ball carrier that New Zealand are looking for.
They will similarly hope that Will Jordan and Mark Telea continue their exceptional form. Those two have already shown that they can produce countless highlights reel moments and need to do this against some exceptional defences. It is going to be a massive test for these two players especially.
How can New Zealand win the tournament
This could be a historic world cup for many different reasons. However it seems like it could also be the first time that New Zealand have ever lost a group stage game in any Rugby World Cup. The draw has not been massively kind to the All Blacks.
They begin the tournament with home favourites France. New Zealand haven’t beaten France since 2018, with France comfortably winning the last matchup between those teams. Thankfully for the All Blacks, they can still advance through the pool stage with a single loss.
It does not get a huge amount easier in the quarter-finals. The All Blacks would need to beat either Ireland or South Africa just to make it to the semi-finals. Considering this will be coming after a long group stage, it is going to be very difficult for the All Blacks to make it to the final four stage.
It may be slightly easier in the semi-finals, with Australia, England or Argentina the three most likely teams to meet the All Blacks in the semi-finals. But If New Zealand can once again reach the Rugby World Cup final, then there will be one of the top teams in the world waiting for them and it could even be France once again.
So to win their fourth Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks need to beat two of the top three teams in the world. That is a very difficult thing to do, particularly when you look at New Zealand’s form against Ireland and France.
What are New Zealand’s chances at this tournament
The All Blacks are a lot better of a side than people give them credit for. The All Blacks have some exceptional results over the last few years and seem to be putting it together at exactly the right time. Some people even have them as the odds on favourites to win the tournament.
But I still think they face a tough challenge to win their fourth Rugby World Cup. They have not toured the northern hemisphere particularly well over the last couple of years. The All Blacks need to beat one of Ireland or France and that is not something they have been able to do with ease recently.
I still think the All Blacks are a real threat at this tournament, but their tournament could end at the quarter-final stage. It is going to be an all or nothing type of tournament for New Zealand.
Prediction of New Zealand’s tournament: Quarter-final exit