Antepost Angle: 2019 Rugby Union World Cup

Ahead of the competition in September we look at who could win the World Cup
Ahead of the competition in September we look at who could win the World Cup

The conclusion of the Six Nations brought with it the final major tournament before the Rugby Union World Cup in Japan for our Northern Hemisphere sides and the last real chance to judge their title credentials.


Recommend bets

2pts New Zealand to win the World Cup at 6/5

1pt e.w. Wales to win the World Cup at 9/1

For details of advised bookmakers and each-way terms, visit our transparent tipping record.


The Southern Hemisphere sides still have their Rugby Championship to play - in the earlier time slot of July and August - so it is harder to judge them as this stage, although you'd expect it to follow the pattern of their 2018 performances.

For the Northern Hemisphere sides, all had high points during the Six Nations and plenty to grab hold of going into the World Cup, but all - with the exception of Wales - will feel they have a lot of work to do in order to compete for the William Webb Ellis Trophy.

I take a look at the key nations' potential World Cup route, how far they could go and where your money should be going.

READ: Full World Cup Guide: Schedule, fixtures, TV coverage, history

Northern Hemisphere

Wales

Wales celebrate their Grand Slam triumph
Wales celebrate their Grand Slam triumph

A Grand Slam Six Nations, a record third for coach Warren Gatland and a record breaking run of 14 straight wins. Wales have never been in a stronger position going into a World Cup

I tipped Wales in my Six Nations Antepost Angle in November, following the Autumn Internationals, as did our rugby tipster Tony Calvin. At that point we both felt Wales would thrive going under the radar when all the talk was about an All Black conquering Ireland and a vastly improved England.

However, something else happened. For the first time they actually started to thrive on the pressure and enjoyed being favourites. Gatland, who normally likes keeping Wales as the underdogs, shocked everyone in the main pre-tournament press conference by saying his side would win the competition. That confidence flowed through the team and as the Six Nations rolled on Wales started to enjoy the pressure and favourite's tag and it started to produce their best performances, when in the past such situations had caused them to stutter.

That change of mentality and maturity was highlighted in their dismantling of Ireland in Cardiff. It moves them to second in the world rankings, replacing the Irish, and means expectations rise for the World Cup. But now it seems that expectation is something Wales can handle and Gatland has tried the same tact again, now stating they can win the World Cup.

They are the complete package, have an excellent game plan and are playing with supreme confidence.

Before Saturday I put up Wales each way to win the World Cup at 12/1, knowing their odds would shorten if they claimed the Grand Slam and they are now best priced 9/1, still excellent odds for the best team in the Northern Hemisphere.

Predicted World Cup

Finalists

Route: Pool D winners - QF v France/Argentina - SF v Ireland/South Africa - Final v New Zealand

Wales' only challenge in Pool D is Australia, but they are a falling nation who have endured a miserable two years. So they should win the Pool easily to then face the runner up from Pool C, which should be France or Argentina who will finish behind England. Both are not what they used to be, although Argentina peak for World Cups.

Then it will be Ireland or South Africa in the semi-finals, two nations Wales have beaten in November and March respectively. Champions New Zealand should only face tough tests against South Africa in their Pool and England in the semi-finals and might be undercooked for the final against the Welsh.

England

The Six Nations beautifully showcased just how good England are and why they can win the World Cup, while reminding us how poor they can be and why this could very likely become a third consecutive World Cup failure.

Lets put it this way, when Uri Gellera is offering to help you, you know you have issues.

England proved they still have the best all round game and players to win a World Cup, hence why they are the shortest odds of the Northern Hemisphere sides to lift the William Webb Ellis Trophy.

However, what is really concerning are the words used by coach Eddie Jones and the players following their draw with Scotland, having thrown away a 31-0 lead.

Scrum half Ben Youngs said they were 'arrogant' and 'flippant', while Jones believes they cannot handle the pressure and need a specialist psychologist to help them remedy their worrying habit of throwing away leads, something that started in 2015.

However, if Jones hasn't solved those problems by now you wonder how they can sort them out with just a few warm-up matches left to play.

This England team is fantastic at its best and play some breathtaking rugby, they are one of three teams capable of beating New Zealand. However, when they are bad they are terrible and lose their heads and their way quickly.

Predicted World Cup

Semi-finalist

Route: Pool C winners - QF v Australia - SF v New Zealand - out

England have Argentina and France as their main threats in Pool C. We know France are terrible and while they often shine in World Cups they are in too much disarray to do that again. Argentina are in transition and not the side they used to be, but they are on an upward curve again after three years of struggling. Los Pumas really do peak for World Cups and love the underdogs tag, so expect them to put up a challenge, but England will still see them off.

They'll face a poor Australia and then a semi-final against back-to-back champions New Zealand and the story should end there. Saying that, if any team can beat the All Blacks it remains the Red Rose.

Ireland

Ireland are the defending Six Nations Champions
Ireland are currently a far cry from their 2018 Six Nations success

What happened to Ireland? The defending Champions were favourites to win the Six Nations after an outstanding 2018, but something has gone wrong.

I've mentioned before that the Irish peak a year too early in World Cup cycles, and it looks like they could have made that mistake yet again.

Their clinical edge has gone, their discipline has disintegrated and their confidence and composure have taken a real hit. They have some big questions to answer and problems to fix.

But lets remember they are still a high-class outfit and possess some of the best players in the world. They started the year with many expecting a Six Nations and World Cup double and that pressure seems to have got to them. The Irish may well benefit from now being written off by many and go into the World Cup as underdogs again.

They can win this World Cup, but remember Ireland have never got past the quarter final stages.

Predicted World Cup

Quarter Finalists

Route: Pool A winners - QF v South Africa - out

Scotland are their main threat in the Pool stage, but Ireland should see them off. Japan are good and as hosts will be inspired by the home crowd, but Joe Schmidt's side have the quality to win the group.

Then they should face South Africa and then Wales. Both could be 'toss of a coin' winners, as all are evenly matched, but calling on current form, Ireland would be defeated by either one of those rivals. Having not reached a semi-final before, if pushed, I'll say another quarter-final defeat.


Sky Bet odds - To Win

  • New Zealand - 6/5
  • England - 4/1
  • Wales 13/2
  • Ireland 7/1
  • South Africa - 8/1
  • Australia - 12/1
  • France - 25/1
  • Argentina - 40/1
  • Scotland - 50/1
  • Japan - 200/1
  • Italy - 500/1

*Odds correct of 19/3/19


Scotland

Like England and Ireland, Scotland were another nation to endure a disappointing Six Nations. After four years of building and improving they would always plateau at some point, not helped by a rack of injuries at the start of this year.

They will improve again in the future and their fightback draw with England could be the springboard for that. If they have their key players fit for the World Cup and keep them that way during the tournament then they could be the shock underdog. Remember that very few expected much in 2015 and they reached the quarter-finals before being controversially being knocked out by Australia.

They will need to improve on foreign soil though, as their record away from Murrayfield is woeful. They'd have to beat Ireland in order to win Pool A, as a runner-up spot should mean a quarter-final against New Zealand, which, even with improvement, would end in defeat.

Predicted World Cup

Quarter-Finalist

Route: Pool A runners-up - QF New Zealand - out

With hosts Japan in the Pool, Scotland will have a huge fight for second place. A lot will depend on just how good, or not, Ireland are in the Pool - as they are slow starters in competitions.

They could lose to Japan, so realistically it is a second or third place in the Pool and progress will stop at best at the quarter-finals with New Zealand waiting.

France

France claimed two victories and looked useful in the first half of the opening game against Wales on home soil. But ultimately all this papers over the crack. The country's rugby is a mess from top to bottom and needs a complete overhaul. If their World Cup is the disaster it should be, then it should finally bring the moment to snap the French out of their arrogant state and make them admit they have serious problems.

Yes, the French can still make magic happen and World Cups certainly inspire them. They were in a total mess in 2011, with all the players refusing to speak with the head coach. However, they still reached the final and should have beaten the All Blacks in it.

Predicted World Cup

Pool C third place or Quarter-Finalist

Route: Pool C runners-up - QF v Wales - out

I cannot make up my mind whether France will finish second or third in Pool C, which contains England and Argentina. Either way the best they should do is make the quarter-finals. If they go further than that then some other nations will have really blown it.

Italy

Conor O'Shea has brought improvement to Italy but it is not enough currently
Conor O'Shea has brought improvement to Italy but it is not enough currently

Italy certainly improved in this Six Nations. They competed for longer and pushed their opponents harder, making them really earn their victories, unlike in recent years. But they still came away with no wins.

They should have beaten France and got into winning positions against Wales and Ireland but schoolboy mistakes and basic skill-set errors cost them dearly and it must drive coach Conor O'Shea mad.

He can do all the coaching he can, but whether it is poor skills base or a mental problem, it seems set in the Italian way and is something that cannot be easily fixed.

Predicted World Cup

Pool B third place

With New Zealand and South Africa in their Pool then there is no way Italy will reach the knock out stages. Their best result will be beating Namibia and Canada and hope they don't get humiliated by the big two.

Northern Hemisphere

New Zealand

Captain Richie McCaw lifts the World Cup for New Zealand in 2015
New Zealand have won both the 2011 and 2015 World Cups

The back-to-back World Champions, the only nation to win the tournament three times, the number one ranked side in the world, and the Rugby Championship holders yet again. They are overwhelming favourites again and with their captain Kieran Reed retiring from international duty, they have extra motivation to continue their dominance.

They can be beaten, Ireland and South Africa achieved that rare feat in 2018 and England pushed them close in the autumn too. But after faulting in World Cups for over a decade and 'bottling it' as title favourites, the Kiwi's now find the pressure inspiring and find another gear in the World Cup.

Predicted World Cup

Winner

Route: Pool B winners - QF v Scotland - SF v England - Final v Wales

There whole tournament comes down to the first match against South Africa - one of the few teams that will be confident of beating the Kiwis. Being the first match for both this will depend on who is less rusty and it is the one time New Zealand might be cold and vulnerable.

If they win the group as expected they will have a straightforward quarter-final against Scotland or hosts Japan. Then another big one against England. Again, if New Zealand haven't been tested since their opening game they might not be battle hardened and have some soft spots. We might be clutching at straws here and a lot will depend on the shape England are in at that point.

Once in the Final they will be vastly more experienced and confident than whoever they play, which will stand them in good stead. If they face Wales they've not lost to the to them since 1953.

South Africa

South Africa celebrate their victory over New Zealand in 2018
South Africa celebrate their victory over New Zealand in 2018

Despite November defeats to England and Wales, South Africa had an outstanding 2018 as they really grew and developed as a side. They beat England in the summer tour 2-1 and defeated New Zealand in the Rugby Championship to finish second in the competition.

They are still a developing side which means they sometimes lack composure and consistency, as we saw in November. When they are confident they are so powerful and now have an excellent all-round game. During a World Cup the question will be how they can handle setbacks in the most hostile situations.

The Rugby Championship this summer will tell us more about whether they've built on their promising 2018 and become even stronger or not for the World Cup.

Predicted World Cup

Semi-finalists

Route: Pool B runners-up - QF v Ireland - SF v Wales - out

As above, a lot rests on that opening Pool clash with the reigning champions and South Africa, having beaten New Zealand in 2018, will fancy their chances.

On current form you'd expect them to see off Ireland - but again it's a close call. Then Wales would be disappointed - having beaten the Springbok in November - not to see them off in the semis, but again this is a 'coin toss' of a game that could go either way. South Africa could go out the quarter-finals stage or go all the way to the Final - that's the beauty of this World Cup.

If they do reach the final and face New Zealand, they could cause an upset to win the trophy for a third time.

Australia

Again, we will know more about Australia after the summer's Rugby Championship, but we are expecting them to be fighting with Argentina to avoid finishing bottom.

They had a dreadful 2018 and look a shell of their former powerful selves both on and off the pitch. It is not the first time they go into a World Cup year with problems to then go and shine in the tournament itself. A bit like the German football team, they seem to get it right for most World Cups. However, they currently look in too much of a mess to get near the trophy.

Predicted World Cup

Quarter-Finalists

Route: Pool D runners-up - QF v England - out

Wales should beat then to top the Pool, meaning the Aussies will face England in the knockout stages. These two raise their game against each other and it means anything can happen, but England are a class above their old enemy as it stands.

Argentina

A nation in transition who have endured a tough couple of years. However, they performed better in the 2018 Rugby Championship to restore hope they are on the up again. That said, their autumn tour of Europe was disappointing.

Their golden generations have gone, but their history shows they peak for World Cups, reaching the semi-finals in 2015 and quarters in 2011.

Predicted World Cup

Quarter-Finalists or Pool exit

I can't decide between France or Argentina to finish behind England in their Pool to progress to the knockout stages. Really, Argentina should be looking to achieve this, with France in such a mess at present. If they reach the quarters, Wales would await and Argentina could be put to the sword.

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