With exactly a year to go until the 2015 Rugby World Cup kicks off in England we take a look at the top 10 contenders for the tournament;
The USA would be the most unexpected champions in this top 10 given their current placing of 18th in the world rankings, however they are not a side to be written off. A tough group means it will be difficult for the Eagles to make the World Cup knock-out stages but don’t put it past them.
We saw during the FIFA World Cup how well the USA side performed despite lowly expectations beforehand. If ever there’s a nation than can perform at the big events it’s the USA and if they can make it out of their group who knows what might happen.
For me Japan are the dark horses of the 2015 World Cup. Although they will be focussing on the 2019 tournament on home soil don’t put a few upsets past an ever improving Japanese side. Proof of their improving form came when they broke into the IRB top 10 for the first time earlier this year.
Although Japan are probably a couple of players short of a world class side, astute head coach Eddie Jones has proven he can make his side tough opponents. Japan will have to perform better than both Scotland and Samoa in the group stages to progress, but then there is every chance of them making an impact.
The form of the Welsh national side seems to have dipped slightly since the 2013 Lions tour with infighting between the regions and WRU compounded by the loss of key players to France damaging national cohesion. This has now however been all but resolved so Wales can focus on the World Cup.
A tough group draw will see Wales do well to make the knock-out stages, however if they can make it through then they’ve already proven they have what it takes to go deep into the tournament. If they can stay injury free expect big things from a top class Welsh side.
As ever France go into the World Cup as one of the biggest unknowns. They have spent the last two years floundering as they seem to have regressed under head coach Phillippe Saint-André which will see them go into the World Cup as huge underdogs.
Despite this, as ever, the French will be ones to watch during the World Cup as nobody quite knows what to expect from them. Sitting in the easiest of the four pools they have every chance of qualifying for the knock-outs and from there who knows what they might do.
Los Pumas have been one of the real success stories of rugby’s global expansion. Their appearance in the Rugby Championship over the last two years will have done them no harm, although they are still yet to register a victory in the tournament which is a concern.
Argentina have already proven they are capable of making it through to the semi-finals and a draw in Group C means they have every chance of qualifying for the knock-outs once again. We know the pack will be solid, now they just need to ensure the backs are firing on all cylinders.
Ireland have seen a resurgence in form under new head coach Joe Schmidt as they ran out victors during this years Six Nations and have continue their good form more recently. If they can maintain this form through the next 12 months they could spring a few surprises at the World Cup.
They have been drawn in probably the easiest group of the tournament so should be capable of qualifying for the knock-out phases. The loss of BOD is a huge blow, however a raft of young talent coming through will be hoping to make their mark over the next 12 months.
The Wallabies seem on something of an upward trajectory at the minute, although there are still concerns over their ability to hold on to their top 3 position in the IRB rankings. They know look a much more cohesive unit and capable of competing with the likes of New Zealand and South Africa but lack a little bit of consistency.
They are faced with the toughest group in the competition so will do well to qualify for the knock-out rounds. The other question mark lies over whether they have the player depth to cope with the number of Wallabies departing for teams overseas as they are looking particularly light on the wings.
There is every chance England could go on and win the 2015 World Cup on home soil, however there’s also a chance the pressure could get too much and they could bomb out in the group stages. They face a tough group and must beat either Wales of Australia to qualify.
There’s no doubting that the home support will give them a huge boost during the tournament, but the concern is that there may be too much expectation. They need to figure out their best combinations and fast or risk coming into the tournament unprepared.
The Springboks still look like the side most capable of taking the Webb Ellis trophy off the All Blacks. As ever they will have a solid pack and look to have some backs at last capable of doing some damage ball in hand. They do however need to settle on a 10 who can take them through the World Cup.
They face a couple of potential banana skins in the group but if all goes to plan they should qualify with relative ease. On their day they look capable of beating any side in the world but still seem to struggle when coming up against the All Blacks.
Given New Zealand’s run since claiming the World Cup on home soil it would be difficult to bet against them going on and reclaiming their title once again. They have a relatively simple group and should easily make it through to the knock-outs where they have proven they can beat anyone in the tournament.
The big question mark still remains over whether they are capable of maintaining their form on the biggest stage, however having done it in 2011 no longer have that monkey on their back. If I was betting on the tournament tomorrow my money would be on an All Blacks side packed with talent, experience and with plenty of depth.
*Special mention must also go to Samoa who come a close 11th!
Who do you think is going to win next year’s World Cup?