It is a very exciting time to be an Ireland rugby fan. The “Green Machine” has looked absolutely incredible as of late, cementing their status as the 2nd best team in the world rankings. Their success in 2018 saw them lose just once, with their awesome form culminating in a win over the All Blacks in Dublin in November. That win was their first ever victory over New Zealand in Dublin, and boy was it impressive.
Despite the plaudits in Ireland’s favor, there is little doubt that Steve Hansen’s men remain the team to beat. Although international rugby is not currently active in the Southern Hemisphere, the sheer talent and experience in their ranks – plus their indomitable winning nature – see them as them as the rightful favorites heading into the Rugby World Cup in 2019.
Of course, there will be more rugby to play before we get to Japan. There will also be a lot of shift in form for players, and the power dynamic in international rugby. There will also be teams hoping to change their own fortunes before the biggest tournament in the sport. England, South Africa, Wales, Scotland, and even Australia, will not be heading to Japan to simply make up the numbers.
World Cup 2019: The Odds
Odds courtesy of Bovada are correct as of February 1, 2019
From the odds above, New Zealand are considered the favorites at even money, while Ireland, the second favorites, are +450. The champions have certainly earned their right to being classed as the most likely team to win the tournament, given how they dominated in 2015 (and since then).
Let’s take a look at what happened in England 2015.
World Cup 2015: How Far Have We Come?
New Zealand were the greatest team in the world then, and are widely regarded as the cream of the crop now. They lifted the trophy in England, having played some of the best rugby seen in living memory. Their stellar line up of world-class players might not be what it was in 2015, but they are still the team that sets the bar for every other rugby nation on Earth.
Ireland had a heartbreaking end to the 2015 tournament. Having lost a number of key players ahead of their quarter-final appearance against Argentina, they were completely blown away by the South Americans in Cardiff. The Pumas won that game 43-20, to the surprise of many, and this led to Schmidt blooding a wealth of new talent in order to prevent anything similar ever happening again.
England were knocked out in the group stages, having lost to Wales and Australia. The subsequent sacking of head coach Stuart Lancaster and defense coach Andy Farrell saw the former head to Irish province Leinster, where he won the European Champions Cup and the Pro 14 titles in his first season. Farrell joined the Irish setup and contributed to their most successful season of all time before landing the head coach role, when Schmidt walks away.
How About Everyone Else?
It is tempting to talk about Ireland and New Zealand in depth before considering any other team. The reason being, these two teams are undoubtedly the best in the world. Until Japan 2019, we will not be able to say, for absolute certainty, who the best of the two are, but what we do know is that Ireland currently have the upper hand. Their win in Dublin in November saw them heralded as the best in the world.
Then, there is England. A very disappointing Six Nations campaign in 2018 led to the Red Rose finishing 5th in the table, with losses to Ireland, France, and Scotland. Eddie Jones has managed to turn things around a little, giving fans some optimism ahead of the tournament. They beat Australia and South Africa in the Autumn Series, coming close to upsetting the All Blacks, too.
Elsewhere, South Africa are starting to show signs of their former selves. With Rassie Erasmus in charge, the team looks capable of challenging anyone. With a little more time and preparation, there are few teams that will want to challenge them. The same applies to Scotland, who look even better under Gregor Townsend than many had expected. On their day, they can put it up to anyone.
Is it Between New Zealand and Ireland?
Ask almost anyone with an interest in rugby and they will tell you that it is between New Zealand and Ireland for the cup. Those from the “Land of the Long White Cloud” will put aside the pain of losing to the Irishmen in Dublin and will be targeting a win over them where it truly matters. Ireland looked incredible in that game, winning in almost every single department, but is it safe to say that New Zealand were not at their best?
One thing that New Zealand has over Ireland, whether you like it or not, is true pedigree in World Cup championships. They have won the trophy three times and have never lost a pool game. They have almost always been at the top of the World Rankings and are synonymous with rugby around the world. Ireland, on the other hand, have never made it past the quarterfinals.
It is quite intriguing that the Irish might meet the New Zealanders before the final, if things go against them. We want to see the best face the best in the final, so there would be few who would be too upset if we saw Ireland vs. New Zealand meet in the championship game. However, if Ireland or New Zealand lose in the group stage, that is exactly what could happen.
Can Ireland Keep Their Momentum Going?
What Irish fan will ever forget the last gasp drop goal from Johnny Sexton to beat France in Paris? As time goes on, many will forget that this occurred in their first game in the championship, and not the last. Given how important it was, our minds will probably play tricks on us and convince us that it won the entire tournament. Well, in a way it did. Quite poetically, it summed up Ireland’s year.
Ireland also registered their first series win in Australia last year, before winning against the All Blacks for the first time in Dublin. Consequently, they were the first team since South Africa in the 1995 World Cup final to prevent the team scoring a try. To make matters even better for the men in green, Leinster routed to a European Champions Cup and Pro 14 double.
What makes this team so successful is the abundance of world-class stars that they have. From the pack to the backs, there are numerous players that can slot in if any of the starters are injured. This is something that the Irish have never had before, and this only further cements the opinion of those who believe that there is, even more, to come from this special team.
What Happens in The Lead Up to The World Cup?
There is plenty of ball to play ahead of the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off on September 20 in Japan. As with any sport, there are many things that change in the space of eight months or so. The Six Nations is currently running, and this could have a massive effect on the confidence and momentum of players and teams, respectively. You have to consider the form of players, too, which can go up and down very quickly.
It is not just in the Northern Hemisphere where teams will be sharpening up, as New Zealand take on Australia in the Bledisloe Cup in August 2019. Argentina and South Africa, as well as the Pacific Islanders, will also be trying to do as much as possible to make their game the best it can be ahead of the tournament.
With most teams unlikely to progress past the group stages, the old “making up the numbers” tag will be something that they will be hoping to avoid. There are always shocks and upsets in the Rugby World Cup, and many of these teams can have a huge effect on who gets their hands around the trophy at the end of the tournament.
The Group Stages
Anyone who watched Japan beating South Africa in England 2015 will know that nothing is a certainty in rugby. One poor performance can lead to a team capitulating and finding their way onto the first plane home. None of the major teams that are tipped for World Cup glory will want to sleep on any of the teams in their respective groups. Doing so could be disastrous.
Group C – otherwise known as the “Group of Death” – sees England, France, and Argentina placed together for a shot in the knockout stages. England are favorites to emerge from the group, but any one of the English, French, or Argentines could emerge on top. This is, without a doubt, the toughest group of Japan 2019, given that most teams are close to each other in terms of talent.
In Group D, many believe that there is also serious potential for an upset. Wales and Australia are expected to emerge as 1st and 2nd, but Fiji – a team that Wales have succumbed to before at a World Cup – will be aiming to take a big scalp and make it into the knockout rounds. What a sight it would be to see Fiji taking their place in the quarterfinals. In order to see that happen, however, we will need to see an upset first.
Who Will Make the Quarter Finals?
Here is how all four Group Stages look for the World Cup in 2019:
- Pool A: Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Russia, Samoa
- Pool B: New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Namibia, Canada
- Pool C: England, France, Argentina, USA, Tonga
- Pool D: Australia, Wales, Georgia, Fiji, Uruguay
In betting terms, you would have to fancy Ireland and New Zealand to win their groups. It looks likely that the Irish will have too much for Scotland, although this will be a very difficult game for Joe Schmidt’s men, especially in the first half. New Zealand will be in a similar position to Ireland with South Africa. The men in black should see them off, however.
I believe England will build momentum heading into the World Cup. If they can keep the Vunipola brothers fit – and develop some congruity in their back row and backline – they should see off France and Argentina. In Pool D, Wales look to be the strongest team and should be too physical and smart for an Australia outfit that have just not delivered on the big stage since the last World Cup.
Teams to Progress?
- Winners – Ireland
- Runners-up – Scotland
Ireland’s strength and physicality, their peerless kicking game, and their limitless pool of players will likely see them emerge from this group as winners. While Scotland are a solid team at home, they do often flater to deceive when not playing at Murrayfield. Given that a few injuries could spell the end of their World Cup, they will more than likely not want to risk injuries against the most physical team in rugby.
- Winners – New Zealand
- Runners-up – South Africa
The Springboks have shown signs of a revival in 2018 but are some way off beating the All Blacks in a World Cup game. While they certainly have a chance of upsetting the apple cart, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to deal with New Zealand’s firepower just yet.
- Winners – England
- Runners-up – France
Although a huge fan of the Pumas, I cannot see them beating England in the World Cup. Eddie Jones’ men will likely have the upper hand in that game. This leaves a shootout between France and Argentina, and one which I see going in favor of the physical French.
- Winners – Wales
- Runners-up – Australia
Wales are a team that seemingly has the habit of nicking games right at the end. A lot of this is down to their excellent fitness levels, and their wily coach, Warren Gatland. Not to forget Shaun Edwards, who has done excellently well with the Principality since linking up with the team. Australia, on the other hand, probably have enough for Fiji, but are some way off Wales.
Who Will Win the 2019 Rugby World Cup?
There are a number of teams in the reckoning for the title of winners of Japan 2019. Instead of breaking down every team’s claim to the title, I will, instead, focus on the top 5 rugby nations on the planet, according to their World Rugby Rankings. According to most betting sites, these are the five teams that also have the best chance of winning the tournament on November 2.
Let’s start with the 5th best team in the world – according to those rankings – and the two-time champions, South Africa:
Since Rassie Erasmus has arrived, it appears that South Africa have been reborn. While far from the powerhouse they once were, The Springboks are shaping up nicely ahead of the tournament. The confidence that was lost under former coach Allister Coetzee has returned, and the optimism is building that the sleeping giants may awake at just the right time in Japan.
Africa’s rugby giants will back themselves in the tournament, that is for sure. They are not there to make up the numbers and will be reminded that they have gone on to upset the apple cart before. They have two titles to their name, and no team in the world manages to win the trophy twice without being considered as one to watch.
Can South Africa do it? Yes, by all means, they can end the tournament as champions. However, given that they are likely to face Ireland in the quarters, it seems that they might have to be satisfied with just one appearance in the knockout stages.
Although England suffered an appalling 2018 by their own standards, the quality is still there. As the adage goes, “form is temporary, class is permanent,” and the Red Rose will be hoping to show just how much of the latter they have in this year’s Six Nations. If England can win the tournament, they would be considered by some to be the best team in the Northern Hemisphere. Imagine what this could do for their confidence.
The big game for England ahead of the World Cup is against Ireland in Dublin. Some of you reading this might know the result of this game, as, at the time of writing, it has yet to be played. If England has beaten Ireland in “Fortress Aviva,” you could very well see the makings of a team that will go on to lift the cup.
England’s last appearance in a Rugby World Cup final was in 2007, when they surprised every man and their dogs to get as far as they did. They won the cup in 2003, and while the team is nowhere near as good as it was then, they are always in with a shout.
The semi-finalists in 2011 could have been winners, but for what some believe was a harsh red card by referee Alain Roland. As such, the Welsh missed a date with New Zealand in the final, with France progressing on their part. While they didn’t exactly enjoy the same success in 2015, they will be more than confident of going all the way in Japan.
Wales beat Australia for the first time in 10 years in Cardiff this Autumn, while they also registered a solid win against South Africa. Additionally, they won their summer series in Argentina in a whitewash, showing their solid strength in depth.
While I don’t believe Wales has what it takes to go all the way, I am confident that they have the talent to prove many, including myself, very wrong. What they do have in their favor is a strong coaching setup, great fitness, and some world-class players. I just don’t think they are at the same level as Ireland and New Zealand.
- What a year for Irish rugby. Aside from a loss against Australia in the three-match series – one which Johnny Sexton wasn’t playing in – they would have been unbeaten in an entire year of rugby. Sexton and Schmidt won player and coach of the year, respectively, and the team also won awards for their impressive form on the pitch.
These achievements have seen Ireland the pick of many for their first ever World Cup title. All in all, they put together a fantastic run that earned them a Six Nations Grand Slam, a series win in Australia, and a first home win over the All Blacks. They are, by far, the only team that New Zealand will genuinely fear heading into the World Cup and are even the favorites in many bettors’ eyes to lift the cup.
Sexton and Murray are without a shadow of a doubt the premier half-back pairing in the world. Taidgh Furlong is not just the best tighthead in the world, but arguably the best player of 2018. Peter O’Mahony is the best 6 on the planet, while James Ryan and Jacob Stockdale have already established themselves as world class in their first seasons.
Can Ireland do it? Read on and I’ll let you know what I think.
The current champions head to Japan as the favorites. In fact, they are rarely not the favorites in any game or competition they partake in. They have it all: class, finesse, power, technical prowess, confidence, skill. You name it, the All Blacks will demonstrate it in ways that make the rest of us mortals shake our heads in disbelief.
New Zealand are the greatest team to ever play the game. They are the blueprint, the benchmark, and everything in between. Although they have three World Cups to their name, they should have even more. The 1991 semi-finals, the 1995 final, the 1999 semi-finals, the 2003 semi-finals, and the 2007 quarter-finals were all games that they might have won, if small margins – and their bottle – had not eluded them.
You would have had to be a very brave person to back against New Zealand to win a World Cup. However, in 2019, there will be more betting enthusiasts who gravitate towards Ireland over the men in the black shirts. They are probably not as strong as they once were – and have not replaced the likes of Dan Carter and Richie McCaw – and some believe that they are there for the taking.
It is going to come down to Ireland and New Zealand. Regardless of all the rugby we witness in Japan 2019, there is no other team that will be leaving “The Land of the Rising Sun” with the trophy in their possession. While we would all love to see a final between New Zeland and Ireland, but…
Enough of that nonsense. New Zealand and Ireland will be in the final. This will be one of the biggest games in the history of rugby. This will be the game that decides, once and for all, who the greatest team in the world is (at least, until the following World Cup). It is there, it is written in the stars, and it will be nothing short of awesome. I personally cannot wait.
The question is, who will take it?
Ireland. I am certain that this is Ireland’s year. This is the greatest team that they have ever had, the greatest coaching setup that they will ever have, and everything just seems to be going so well for them that not even an injury to Johnny Sexton or Conor Murray – which would be awful nonetheless – will necessarily stop them. This is a team with bags of confidence. Everything looks destined for the Irish to claim their first World Cup. What a great time it is to be an Ireland fan.
Prediction: Ireland to win the 2019 World Cup at +450