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By Pete Moore On September 19th, 2019

Can anyone beat England?

One more sleep ’till the Rugby World Cup starts. NB: since Japan is hosting it, and matches are kicking off in the mornings UK time, I will be spending my evenings catching up. With the caveat that I am a hopeless predictor of any sporting event, this is how I see it.

Only New Zealand, Seff Efrica and England can win it. With Wales, Ireland and France there are six teams that can beat each other on any day, but the Rugby World Cup is attritional. The two finalists will have to play 7 games in the end and injuries are a certainty. So while Wales, Ireland and France can and might claim big scalps, only New Zealand, Seff Efrica and England have the strength in depth right through their squads to cope.

New Zealand are favourites, partly on reputation. They’ve been vulnerable this year but they’ll be there at the end. The Saffers have been increasingly impressive since they ditched a selection policy which made them a laughing stock. The result is an awesomely powerful pack and a lighting quick backline. Handre Pollard is their one decent fly half. If he gets crocked they’re in trouble. England also have an incredibly powerful pack, which they intend to use like a threshing machine against anything in its path. Our weakness is that quite a few of our players are rather spikey and can lose their minds. World Rugby wants a clean tournament and referees are under instruction to get the cards out.

So that’s my prediction, one of New Zealand, South Africa or England. Beyond that, I have no idea.


  1. I think it is one of the closest World Cups there has ever been. I’d say five of the six you named could win it (I’d be very surprised if France was to compete particularly well at this World Cup). A few years ago, after choke after choke after choke, I adopted an attitude that I wouldn’t expect New Zealand to win the World Cup until they did it. Now, after back to back wins, and a decade as the best team in the world, I’m probably going to expect New Zealand to win it until they don’t. If they don’t win it the best chance is likely South Africa, who have built a strong foundation.

  2. In terms of the attritional bit – the Six Nations plays 5 games over a similar period of time to the World Cup’s 7. And normally at least 2 (normally 3) of those 7 games will be against second tier nations. So 5 games against tier 1 nations in the Six Nations, versus 4 games against tier 1 nations in the World Cup. So I wouldn’t say it is much more attritional than the Six Nations.

    And both Ireland and Wales have won grandslams in the last two years at the six nations. So I’d reject that England can weather it better than Ireland or Wales (I’d also argue Ireland are as strong in depth as England are).

  3. I’ve just realised I left the Wallabies out of that. They’re with Ireland, Wales and France, capable of beating anyone but not quite there to go the whole way. In fact the French are stuffed with talent, but they always do something insane at a World Cup.

    Seamus –

    Six Nations squads are large. This year Ireland had a 38-man squad. Scotland was 39 strong. World Cup squads are limited to 31. And the criteria are much tighter about replacements, so you’re pretty much limited to 31 from start to finish.

  4. The recent South African improvement is at least in part due to the fact that they now pick players who are playing overseas rather than just domestic based players

  5. Someone less kind than I suggested SA may be juiced.

  6. The impact of those 7 players is unlikely to be telling, not least as most of them likely would have been fringe players to begin with. A number of that 38 man panel didn’t even play in the Six Nations (4 didn’t play any games at all). In fact if you exclude the players who didn’t play at all, and substitute out the players who only played against Italy, and you get 32 players.