The Springboks, under the tutelage of Rassie Erasmus, head into the 2019 IRB Rugby World Cup full of belief that they are one of the front runners to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for the third time in their history and equal their Southern Hemisphere foes, New Zealand, in this feat.
The All Blacks are reigning champions, as well as becoming the first team in the history of the tournament to win back-to-back titles, after having won their second title in 2011 and then lifting the trophy for the third time in 2015.
But 2019 brings a different dimension to the tournament with the All Blacks looking far from all-beaters after drawing with the Boks in Auckland, struggling to beat Argentina on the South American continent and then going down to Australia in the Rugby Championship.
With the Springboks playing some rather good rugby and the All Blacks struggling to stamp their normal authority on the game, there are a few others who are putting their hands up for title contenders.
New Zealand – One can never discount the men from the Land of the Long White Cloud. The All Blacks will always be title contenders despite what their record is heading into an IRB tournament. The current champions boast a win record of 82.69% over the last two years although their record in the last 12 months has only been 73.07%.
New Zealand will look to add a fourth title to their history and will be quietly confident of a second-consecutive success on English soil after having beaten Australia in the World Cup final at Twickenham four years ago.
South Africa – The Boks had a difficult start under Erasmus with five wins in 14 matches but the last 12 months has seen the men in Green and Gold claim 8 wins in 12 matches with one draw – that dramatic 16-all tie in Auckland!
The ever-present Siya Kolisi will no doubt be confident of becoming the first black captain to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for South Africa and indeed in the history of the World Cup. South Africa’s World Cup success rate of 83.33% is second only to the All Blacks, who boast a win ratio of 88%.
England – The inventors of the game have only won the title once, Down Under in 2003 when Johnny Wilkenson led England to an extra-time 20-17 victory over Australia in Sydney.
England have matched New Zealand over the past 12 months but have only managed a win-ratio of 70.45% over the last two years and Australian Eddie Jones, who helped master-mind South Africa’s 2007 success, will be looking for a repeat of his success 12 years ago.
Wales – The Welsh have always “just” been there. Their best finish at the World Cup was in 1987 when they came third after beating Australia 22-21 in the third-placed play-off. After crashing out at the quarter-final stage in 1999 and 2003, Wales again pushed the boundary with a fourth-placed finish in 2011. 2015 saw another quarter-final ending with a 23-19 defeat against South Africa.
But the Welsh Dragons have been one of the best teams in the last 12 months with a win-ratio of 76.92%, equal to Ireland’s and better than the All Blacks, Springboks and England.
Ireland – The Irish have been one of the best over the last 12 months and are in one of the easiest groups at the World Cup, with Scotland, hosts Japan, Russia and Samoa as their opponents. A 100% record is most likely and this will land them top of Pool A but with a likely quarter-final against either New Zealand or South Africa, the chance of making the semi-finals is a slim one.
But the Irish can go further, with one of the big guns having a bad day at the office or with some helpful officiating, they could have their best World Cup yet and beat their quarter-final hoodoo.
Australia – And then there were the Aussies! Australia have played in four finals, equal to the All Blacks, having won the title twice, in 1991 and 1999. Australia have lost the final twice, first to England on home soil and then to the All Blacks last time out in England.
Australia’s last 12 months does not bode well, having won just five games in 12 starts and their record on the road is just as bad, having lost 9 of their 15 games outside of Australasia.
But then again, I am no guru and I will more than likely have egg on my face when Scotland lift the Webb Ellis Cup on Saturday 2 November 2019.
Comment below on your predictions.