Wales will be a worthy competitor after claiming a monumental win over South Africa in late November 2014, coupled with an impressive Six Nations campaign in 2015. Australia has seen a rapid ascent in world rankings recently, placing second overall after claiming the Rugby Championship in emphatic fashion with a scalp over New Zealand. The Wallabies will be itching for tries with backline features like Israel Folau and Matt Giteau in their ranks.
South Africa enters the competition with lingering uncertainties after enduring a disappointing build-up to the World Cup. The southern hemisphere giants were demoralised by a series of three straight defeats in the Rugby Championship this year. One of those defeats was suffered at the hands of Argentina, who recorded their first ever test win over the Springboks. This has seen the Springboks drop to fourth on the IRB world rankings. The Springboks will look to youngsters Jesse Kriel and Handre Pollard to inspire them to victory. The former UP-Tuks 1 players have been a revelation in Springbok rugby over the past year after some impressive individual performances. The Springboks will be looking to kick off the world cup on a winning note as they face Japan on 19 September, before a physical clash against Samoa a week later.
Defending champions New Zealand will attempt to become the first team in history to claim back-to-back World Cup trophies. Such a feat would certainly cement New Zealand as world rugby’s powerhouse nation. Currently the best ranked team in the world, New Zealand have only lost three matches since 2011. New Zealand will be captained by world rugby’s most capped player, Richie McCaw, in a squad consisting of Dan Carter, Kearan Read and Conrad Smith, to name a few. New Zealand faces Argentina in their opening fixture. The Argentines have never beaten New Zealand, but victories over Australia and South Africa in the past year will give the Argentines a good sense of optimism.
Reigning Six Nations champions Ireland will battle France for top honours in group D as the two prominent teams. The Irish boast a wealth of experience, with a squad consisting of Paul O’Connel and Rory Best to lead the forward charge. 2011 World Cup finalists France have lacked consistency in recent years, but they can’t be written off as title contenders. The French will be captained by veteran loose-forward Thierry Dusatoir. Wesley Fofana and Yoan Huget will add attacking flair to the French backline.
Uruguay is the only new addition to the competition at the expense of Russia who failed to qualify for the tournament. Kick off will commence on 18 September when England take on Fiji in the opening match of the tournament. The Webb Ellis Cup has only been lifted by four different nations in its 28-year history. The stage is set and the ground is on level pegging as the world awaits to see the crowning of the next world champions.
Illustation: Shen Scott