Everybody’s eyes are on the rugby world over this next year as the Rugby World Cup races ever closer. Every pass is being analysed, every tackle criticised, and every try is being recorded. The big bosses of each selected countries rugby union are hard at work, trying to put together the best team in the world to lift the Ellis cup on the green of Twickenham. There are those who sit smugly with justified high hopes of their team breezing through the tournament to the win. Then there are those who hold tightly onto the dream of the underdog snatching the crown from beneath the favourites. Right now, the game is still wide open as more and more injured names hit the headlines.
The upcoming QBE Internationals will be a telling story of who is able to field a great team without star players. Impact Sport looked at who the current frontrunners are:
World Cup wins: 2 (1987,2011)
IRB Rankings: 1
Times in a World Cup Final: 3 (1987, 1995, 2011)
A year ago, New Zealand would have been the only team on this list and I would have been emptying my bank account down at the bookies; they are without a doubt in a class of their own. The All Blacks boast the most star-studded team since professional basketball was allowed in the Olympics and America entered the dream team. Defensively, New Zealand has it on lock-down. Richie McCaw charging all over the field with more energy that a Duracell bunny is enough to stop any team. But if their defence is good… it has nothing on the threat presented by the All Blacks when they attack. Born with a rugby ball in their hands, the All Blacks create unimaginable overlaps, breaking their victims’ lines with ease. It takes a team with talent to construct what New Zealand do with ease.
That being said, the past year has seen New Zealand falter. Almost losing to England twice in June, and then recently losing to South Africa, could the reigning champions be getting tired?
World Cup wins: 1 (2003)
IRB Rankings: 3
Times in a World Cup Final: 3 (1991, 2003, 2007)
As with every World Cup, the hosts hold great favour with the bookies for claiming the win on their home turf. The familiarity and added abundance of fans make the pressures of playing slightly easier to deal with. The English have been growing steadily since Lancaster’s take-over in 2012. He has spent the past 2 years building a team to be reckoned with (if it can stop getting injured). What the England backs lack in creativity, the forwards make up for in brute strength and it could be enough to plough England over the try line on to a World Cup. England remain the only Northern Hemisphere country to have lifted the Ellis cup, and they could do it again.
But, whilst being a host makes you a favourite to win, it can also lead to other pressures of a more negative nature. The English media is not known for being kind and if 2011 is any indication, they will not hold back even on home turf.
World Cup wins: 0
IRB Rankings: 7
Times in a World Cup Final: 3 (1978, 1999, 2011)
France are perhaps a more questionable choice for this list. Famed as either being on flying form or falling flat, France might just have what it takes to become only the second northern hemisphere team to win the World Cup. If they can figure out their fly-half conundrum (the conundrum being that the French position of fly-half seems to only require temporary occupants) France offer a huge threat in attack. With the likes of Wesley Fofana and Thierry Dusautoir breaking the line there could be a new age of French domination closing in. They lost by a single point to the All Blacks in the final in 2011, and despite questionable group stages games, they proved they deserved to be noticed.
But as noted before, sometime the French struggle to find the magic in their games leading to some more than embarrassing Six Nations losses seeing them take the wooden spoon in 2013.
Famed as either being on flying form or falling flat, France might just have what it takes to become only the second northern hemisphere team to win the World Cup.
World Cup wins: 2 (1995, 2007)
IRB Rankings: 2
Times in a World Cup Final: 2 (1995, 2007)
A team known for their brute strength in the forwards that eclipses even the English pack, South Africa are going to make an impact at the World Cup, no doubt. The physicality they bring to the game in both the forwards and the backs is second to none, and it could be this that tires opposition defences out enough to slip in a few tries. Those tries will most likely be coming from Bryan Habana, a beast of a man on the wing, who flattens his opposition with his fast running and hard lines. I feel sorry for the winger left defending this man.
The Springboks seem to be on the verge of something great having handed the All Blacks only their second defeat since the World Cup on 4th October at Ellis Park Stadium. If they want to win, more performances like that are a must. They proved to the world that New Zealand are beatable, and that has opened the World Cup right up.
Follow Lucy on Twitter @lucyvictoria44
Images courtesy of rugbyworld.com and myvirtualassistant.co.nz