With the 2023 Rugby World Cup looming it is time to look at the top contenders and the outside bets gunning for the title.
All Black Dominance
Many observers have interpreted the recent events in international rugby as a clear indication of a shift in power at the highest echelons of the sport. There was a time New Zealand once ruled international rugby, with their counterparts in the southern hemisphere, South Africa, and Australia, trailing closely behind. However, the journeys of South Africa and Australia have been marked by more turbulent twists and turns, in contrast to the sustained dominance of the All Blacks.
New Zealand reign in international rugby is further exemplified by their triumphs in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. Undoubtedly, they stand tall as the most successful rugby team in history. Their remarkable record speaks volumes, as they have emerged victorious in 80% of all matches played between 1903 and 2021.
Rise of the Northern Hemisphere
Recently the Northern Hemisphere has seen a meteoric rise. Ireland's historic summer tour to New Zealand marked a significant milestone in their rugby journey, as they achieved their first-ever series win on All Black soil. This landmark victory was not merely seen as a one-off triumph but rather as a signal of a potential shift in the hierarchy of international rugby.
Ireland and France currently sit at the top of the international rankings. The 2022 Autumn Internationals demonstrated why they hold these positions, as both teams secured victories against South Africa and Australia, highlighting their strength and skill.
The exceptional form of both Ireland and France extended into 2023, as they continued to display their prowess on the rugby field. Ireland's achievement of a grand slam in the 2023 Six Nations solidified their dominance, while France's impressive performance resulted in a second-place finish, with their only defeat coming against the champions.
In contrast, England and Wales are currently undergoing transitional periods and have experienced a string of poor performances. Despite this, as the 2019 finalists, England will prepare to go the distance, but will they make it?
Scotland’s Outside Chance
After years of being classed by many as a second-rate nation, Scotland have elevated themselves to new heights. They suffered narrow defeats to both New Zealand and Australia in the 2022 Autumn Internationals, with only 1 point separating them from the latter. In the 2023 Six Nations, they defeated both Wales and England, resulting in a third-place finish to be proud of. Could they mount a title come October 2023? They will certainly believe so.
The upcoming tournament in September holds great anticipation, as teams prepare to battle for rugby supremacy. However, the decision to create the pools three years in advance has faced criticism. One consequence of this decision is that the top five teams in the world find themselves on the same side of the draw, raising concerns about the imbalance and competitiveness of the tournament. This situation potentially creates an opportunity for teams like England, Wales, or Australia to seize the moment and make a strong bid for the title.
International rugby has not been this open for many years. Feasibly all the top 10 teams in the world could potentially be crowned champions.
Will France claim a home victory? Will Ireland end their run of poor performances at world cups? Or will New Zealand reclaim its mantle at the top of international rugby?
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