World Cup Countdown: State of Play

We’ve seen a great autumn of rugby so far including the dramatic ending to England’s victory over South Africa, Wales’ 74 point rout of Tonga and Ireland defeating New Zealand for the second time in three games.

With one week left and just under a year before the World Cup we take a look at the contenders for next year’s showpiece event.

New Zealand are still top of the tree despite their loss to Ireland but their position looks less stable than it has in recent years. South Africa and Ireland have beaten them, England ran them extremely close as did South Africa in the second leg of their Rugby Championship tie.

Steven Hansen was quick to label Ireland favourites for the World Cup but I think it’s safe to say New Zealand will still be fancied by the bookmakers to claim their fourth World Cup title.

Steve_Hansen_2012
By Government of NZ – http://gg.govt.nz/content/mike-eagle-christchurch-onzm-services-rugby, CC BY 3.0 nz, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59328418

Rassie Erasmus is doing a terrific job with South Africa, they defeated England 2-1 in the June test series which is a massive boost. Siya Kolisi is magnificent captain and with the dangerous duo on the wings of Sbu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi have emerged as two of the most in-form wings in the world maybe just behind Jacob Stockdale and Rieko Ioane.

Their narrow loss to England showed they do have some weaknesses, despite Malcolm Marx’s work in the loose he is still unreliable at the set piece, his lineout issues at Twickenham handed the second half initiative to England as they trusted in Owen Farrell’s boot to guide them to victory.

Ireland, all conquering in the 2018 Six Nations which was followed up by a series win over a very disappointing Australia outfit before swiftly dispatching of Argentina and then dismantling New Zealand. Johnny Sexton is a remarkable player, he directs play, Beuaden Barrett got taught a real lesson in Dublin.

Peter O’Mahony he stops at nothing to deliver the win, tenacious, hard working and physical. Tadhg Furlong is the best tighthead prop going, you can argue all you want it won’t change fact that he is tremendous. Joe Schmidt has taken his time moulding Ireland into the team he wants them to be.

Jonathan_Sexton_2015_RWC
By Warwick Gastinger – Rugby World Cup 2015 DSCN4929, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43622816

Schmidt has built a group that knows what it feel like to win, they know how to win, they certainly have the credentials to be crowned champions in Japan. That is if they get past New Zealand.

Their Celtic cousins Wales have had a great November series, they started it off with a free flowing, open win over Scotland in Cardiff. They then scraped past Australia before expertly punishing Tonga by scoring loads of tries.

Warren Gatland now has a group of players from the Scarlets that love to attack, gone are the days of ‘Warrenball’, Gareth Anscombe is transforming the backline, he’s fast, skilful and can expertly manage a game.

Then there Is England. People may laugh after the year they’ve had but the world should be wary of Eddie Jones’ charges. The writing seemed to be on the wall this autumn, but England roared back into life despite it taking them 40 minutes to get into the South Africa test.

England-rugby (1)
By DIALLO 25 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57847156

They gave New Zealand one hell of a game, make no mistake they rattled Hansen’s cage, the Six Nations opener against Ireland is going to be an amazing game. Owen Farrell is leading the charge and they’ve finally found an openside in Sam Underhill and Tom Curry isn’t far behind.

There we have it the five frontrunners just under a year out from the World Cup. New Zealand leading the charge but the others aren’t far behind.