Rugby Union

Rugby World Cup: Analysing the top six nations

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With the World Cup countdown now being counted in hours, it is time for a final assessment of the prospects for the top teams in the competition.


The warm up games provided a mixed bag for England supporters, with a second team looking very exciting against France, but the first team looking ragged and tired the following week.

However, the home field advantage cannot be underestimated as they showed by dismantling the then number two ranked side in the world.


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If they can find a way to have both backs and forwards play well at the same time (and for 80 minutes) they will fancy themselves against anyone.

Ford's kicking will be under the microscope, as will be the breakdown and set piece, as always. At the very least the hosts will have the fall back of being "very hard to beat". In this most open World Cup ever, they will be genuine contenders, if not necessarily favourites.

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The Irish will almost be wishing the warm up matches hadn't happened. Back to back defeats against lower ranked sides isn't ideal when preparing for your best ever chance to win the big one. They might even be wishing the World Cup was last year where they went close to being unbeaten.

However, the current iteration of the side will be hard to overlook at any stage of the competition. Like England, they will be very hard to beat with statistically the best defence in World Rugby. But unlike England they have vast experience throughout the side and a very settled spine of the team.

Despite their latest loss, their scrum performance will have bolstered their prospects. With threats all over the field, a gritty physicality, a high percentage kicker, and a tactical mastermind in Joe Schmidt at the helm, Ireland could still be the best bet.


Going into the toughest group in World Cup history is one thing; doing so without your talisman and points machine at full-back is another. So often afflicted with white line fever Wales rely on their sharpshooter to win close matches more than perhaps any other side. On the other hand, without the security of Leigh Halfpenny's boot, don't be surprised to see Wales unleash their full attacking potential.

With experience and power Wales won't count themselves out of escaping the "Pool of Death". The other thing that will stand them in good stead is that under Warren Gatland you can expect them to be possibly the fittest side in the competition.

Barring a controversial, early red card who knows how 2011 would have panned out. Four years and once again they could just be dark horses for the upcoming marathon of rugby.

New Zealand

Is it possible for a New Zealand side to go under the radar? If ever it was, this is the year. After multiple years of nearly perfect rugby and global domination, cracks have appeared at the wrong time for the All Blacks.

However, this is not a brand of All Black that has choked on the big stage. The team that will enter the 2015 tournament may not be on fire as they were in 2013, but they have unrivalled experience, strength in depth, and sheer ability to win.

They showed in the Rugby Championship that they can win ugly after a battering from the Springboks. The fact that they have been recently beaten, and are below par by their very high standards, may make them more dangerous than ever. They will not be complacent in the World Cup, and anything other than victory will be a massive disappointment.


A year ago the Wallabies looked strong candidates to fall at group stages. One year on and they are the Champions of the Southern Hemisphere. What their starting team will be is anyone's guess, but when you look at the talent, they can swap in and out of multiple positions it is a formidable task for any team to put them away.

Their scrum is looking stronger than ever with Scott Sio making his name and the giant Will Skelton powering the engine, and the back row will ensure that their lethal backline get their fair share of the ball.

Most importantly the Australians are battlers and will play hard for 80 minutes, and if their Northern Hemisphere rivals can't match the pace they set, they will go far. To win the tournament will need a consistent selection of the most efficient personnel. Expect them to dazzle, but to be put away in the knock-out stages by a more clinical, measured outfit.

South Africa

Rolling into the Rugby Championship it looked like South Africa might be timing a perfect run to peak for the World Cup. They had unearthed some outstanding young talent, developed threats other than sheer power, and had beaten the mighty All Blacks.

Then they looked to repeat the feat and until the final minute it was likely that the Spring Boks might arrive in England as the favourites. 30 seconds later they had lost two in a row, and the following week had finished bottom of the table.

Does this mean that they don't have a chance? No. They will need some luck, composure, and for key players to step; but it's possible. Maybe 2015 is too soon, but you can't help but feel they are building a pretty special side. And in knock-out rugby; anything can happen.

France and Argentina will have their say, but I can't see them making a realistic run to the final. But, of course, we've all thought that before.

Any of the teams on this list can realistically reach the final or win the whole thing. All of these sides are stronger than they were in 2011 so the only guarantee for readers is a high standard of exciting rugby in the upcoming weeks.

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