The Top 10 Rugby World Cup 2015 Contenders
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1 New Zealand
No surprises here, the All Blacks have been on a steady rampage since their victory in 2011. Richie McCaw can still do it for them, Dan Carter is still Dan Carter, Kieran Read is the world’s best No 8 and Julian Savea will only get even better. Massive favourites and not many would argue.
IRB ranking 1 World Cup best Winners 1987, 2011
2 South Africa
If the Springboks put their best side out they have enough power to beat anyone. They may not be the force that lifted the title in 2007 but still have plenty old and new talent in the side. A fit Fourie du Preez would make a difference and Willem Alberts, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen offer serious back-row clout. They could very easily bully their way to the final and we don’t mean that in a nasty way (although Bakkies Botha might think otherwise).
IRB ranking 2 World Cup best Winners 1995, 2007
They can still be hot and cold but have lost only one of their past 10 Tests. Ewen McKenzie has certainly gotten them to a better place since the Lions tamed them. They’ve still got Quade Cooper, Will Genia and David Pocock to come back into a squad of increasing depth and starlet James O’Connor has been given a chance to redeem himself at the Queensland Reds. Henry Speight is about to become eligible, Israel Folau is by far the best fullback in the world right now and Will Skelton could be a real force in 12 months’ time. If everything can click for the Wallabies they will be serious contenders in 2015.
IRB ranking 3 World Cup best Winners 1991, 1999
Can Ireland break the habit of a lifetime and come good at a World Cup? France and Italy in their pool means they could easily advance to the semi-finals. Joe Schmidt has proven himself as an outstanding coach and there are some real leaders in the side in Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony. Sexton heading home from France is a real positive for the Irish. A fit Tommy Bowe and solid 13 to fill the massive whole left by O’Driscoll’s retirement could see them very well reach a semi. You just never know with the Irish.
IRB ranking 5 World Cup best Quarter-finals 1987, 1991, 1995, 2003, 2011
Currently 4th in the world rankings but home advantage in 2015 will be massive. They may have suffered a 3-0 series defeat to the All Blacks in June but this should not obscure the progress made under Stuart Lancaster. They are a growing threat, no question.
IRB ranking 4 World Cup best Winners 2003
Warren Gatland played it perfectly stating that Wales would not be showing their full hand before the tournament. In one sentence he managed to keep the opposition guessing, cut himself some slack in the event of autumn defeats and advise his own players to assume nothing. If they can finally beat southern hemisphere opponents this autumn it will be another significant psychological plus; the way they finished in South Africa in June showed how dangerous they can be.
IRB ranking 6 World Cup best Semi-finals 1987, 2011
France surely cannot get any worse, with five defeats in their past six Tests. World Cups can bring the best out in sides and the extended break from gruelling Top 14 club duties makes a huge difference. The eligibility of the South African-born Rory Kockott will bring much-needed organisation and Wesley Fofana is world class. The possible addition of Steffan Armitage could be massive along with the other players in their sight that may become eligible. Watch this space.
IRB ranking 7 World Cup best Final 1987, 1999, 2011
Unlucky to lose to both the Springboks and the Wallabies in this year’s Rugby Championship, they have regrouped well under coach Daniel Hourcade. Their IRB world ranking of 12 does not reflect their scrummaging strength or their improving back line galvanised by Nicolás Sánchez at fly-half, Joaquín Tuculet at full-back and Juan Martín Hernández at 12. The Pumas’ confidence will also soar when their first Rugby Championship victory materialises. They will be a tough side for anyone to beat.
IRB ranking 12 World Cup best Semi-finals 2007
Independence or not, Scotland need fresh impetus on the rugby field. Their Kiwi coach Vern Cotter could just be the man to provide it and Glasgow are possibly the most improved side in the PRO12 in recent times. Adam Ashe, Jonny Gray and Stuart Hogg should all develop further over the next 12 months and three wins from Cotter’s first four games made a welcome change. Unfortunately for the Scots, Samoa, Japan and the United States are all improving too… Oh and South Africa are also in their group.
IRB ranking 8 World Cup best Semi-finals 1991
Fiji’s first-choice back line could be spectacular but Samoa are probably the Pacific nation best equipped to dent reputations next autumn. It remains to be seen what their squad will look like, but next year’s historic home Test against the All Blacks will lend an extra edge to their preparations. They have already beaten Italy 15-0 in June and Northampton’s Kahn Fotuali’i and George and Ken Pisi add a touch of class behind the scrum.
IRB ranking 9 World Cup best Quarter-finals 1991, 1995