View from the Rugby World Cup press box: ITV's rugby commentators give their insight into the tournament

ITV's top rugby commentators give their World Cup insight exclusively to Sporting Life
ITV's top rugby commentators give their World Cup insight exclusively to Sporting Life

There are so many differing opinions to how events in Japan will unfold, in what is being called the most open Rugby World Cup to date, so to get the best views, we've gone to the experts that watch more rugby than anyone else - the ITV commentators.

ITV will again have exclusive coverage of the third largest sports event in the world, and it will be brought to life by four key man - Miles Harrison (also of Sky Sports); Nick Mullins (also of BT Sport), Martin Gillingham and Simon Ward - who, between them, will commentate on every game of the tournament.

These guys have watched more rugby matches than most of us have had hot dinners, so who better to get the best inside knowledge from than this quartet.

Miles Harrison

Miles Harrison
Miles Harrison

Winner: New Zealand

Well they have won the last two and it is, like for most rugby fans, my default position! But, I genuinely believe others do have a great shot. The odds have shortened on South Africa for very good reason. Also, the Home Nations taken together have as a good a shout as I can remember.

Finalist: South Africa

In view of what I have just said, I think South Africa will go a long way and will take some beating.

Player of the Tournament: Ardie Savea (New Zealand)

So many to choose from but if you like your rugby talent to be exciting then try these wingers for starters …Kolbe, May, Reece, Penaud, Graham and, if fit, Fukuoka. But, I’m going to pick a forward, as I always seem to do. I anticipate the likes of home locks Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones and James Ryan contributing in epic proportions but, back-rower, Ardie Savea is my choice to be all fired up and possibly prove to be the brightest star of them all.”

World Cup to forget: Referees, but not for the reason you think

The hope has to be that, in their own way, all nations move forward. Of course, if they do and I think they will, we will have the best World Cup ever. I suppose the ones we want to have a tournament when we forget about them are the referees. This is not because we don’t value their role but rather, if we do forget about them, then in the aftermath of the really big games, we will be talking about the game and not the controversy.

Best performing tier two nation: Japan

This is not merely because they are hosts. I’ve been watching them closely grow as a team. They will put real pressure on Ireland and Scotland in that pool and those games will be played in amazing atmospheres. I also expect Fiji to put Australia and Wales through some stressful moments too.


Nick Mullins

Nick Mullins
Nick Mullins

Winner: New Zealand or South Africa

Never been harder to pick the winner. With New Zealand a bit off colour, Rugby Championship winners South Africa come into the equation. England all of a sudden look like they’ve built and prepared cleverly as well. Fancy an outside bet. What about France? Decent odds, but they’re experts at letting you down. Maybe four years too soon for them, when they host the 2023 tournament.

Beaten finalist: New Zealand or South Africa

I expect it to be a New Zealand v South Africa finale, but don’t rule out England or Ireland or Wales or Australia or France. Hope that helps.

Player of the tournament: Joe Cokanasiga (England)

Head coach Eddie Jones likes them big and fast, and they don’t come much bigger and faster than Bath winger Joe Cokanasiga (pron “Thocker-na-singa”). If he gets some game-time and he gets some ball he could light up this World Cup.

World Cup to forget: Russia

It might be a very long month or so for Welsh coach Lyn Jones and his men, who are in the same pool as Ireland and Scotland. Losing at home to Jersey in the build-up doesn’t suggest they’re about to launch a bid for glory.

Best performing tier two nation: Japan

You could see Japan riding a wave of home emotion into the quarter-finals. You’d expect the Pacific Nations Cup winners to set the tone on the opening night against Russia. After that they’ve got Ireland and Samoa before what’s likely to be a decider against Scotland in Yokohama.


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Martin Gillingham

Martin Gillingham
Martin Gillingham

Winner: New Zealand

This is perhaps the weakest All Blacks team we’ve seen for a decade but one still capable of winning the World Cup. Their opening weekend meeting with the Springboks is the heavyweight clash of the pool phase and like eight years ago when the men in black met France twice at Eden Park, my hunch is that rugby’s greatest rivalry shall be played out twice in this tournament and, as in Auckland, at the same venue - this time at Yokohama’s International Stadium.

Beaten finalist: South Africa

This is the Boks’ best chance of success since they won the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time 12 years ago and in Rassie Erasmus they have their best coach since the international moratorium was lifted in 1992. They came closest to beating the All Blacks in 2015 and may well beat them this time though I fear it is more likely to happen on September 21 than November 2.

Player of the tournament: Antoine Dupont (France)

The potential to produce 80 minutes of rare brilliance makes France the greatest threat to England in the pool. And with plenty of time ahead of their October 12 meeting to consider the precise source, I suspect Antoine Dupont will get plenty of name checks. The Toulouse scrum-half barely looks old enough to be allowed out after dark without his mother, but give him too much space and the odd shaft of daylight and he’ll carve you up. Bound to make his mark in the opening month.

World Cup to forget: Argentina

A nation used to making the knockout phase has to miss out in Pool C. And despite improved performances in Super Rugby – in the Pumas’ franchise guise of Jaguares they were runners-up this year – there is little to suggest they will beat either England or France in the opening fortnight in Japan.

Best performing tier two nation: USA

Those anticipating a Brighton-style shock in Japan may be disappointed. I don’t believe any of the former World Cup winners, or indeed the Six Nations teams, will succumb to an emerging nation. Fiji set themselves high standards - last November they beat France in Paris – but I don’t see them getting the better of either Wales or Australia in their pool.

Which means I tip the United States as the most likely to enhance their reputation. Their South African coach Gary Gold, who is well-known to fans of the English Premiership, has been doing a good job with them and I reckon a win at the expense of Tonga plus periods of competitiveness against England, France and Argentina can be expected.


Simon Ward

Simon Ward
Simon Ward

Winner: South Africa

Having run out so strongly in the Rugby Championship - relevant games as opposed to warm-up games - Rassie Erasmus really seems to have got the Springboks grooved and focussed. And with two firecracker scrum halves in Faf de Klerk and Herschel Jantjies, they will attack swiftly and powerfully.

Finalist: New Zealand

Yes, you can never count the All Blacks out, but with their air of invincibility slightly tarnished, particularly after the draw in Wellington, and the absence of Retallick and McKenzie, they could be susceptible this time around.

Player of the tournament: Jamie George (England) & Antoine Dupont (France

I have two! Hooker Jamie George, he is the British and Irish Lion that has finally come off the England bench to show the world what a multi skilled operator he is.

The second isAntoine Dupont. The Toulouse halfback has been playing 9 and 10 this last season and has the all-court game to unlock the tightest of defences. Just needs his pack to provide him with the ball!

World Cup to forget: Argentina

Unfortunately I don't see Argentina moving on from those standout moments of 2007 and 2015. Seem to have stalled in their ambitions and style of play.

Best performing tier two nation: Fiji

Everybody loves to watch Fiji in their prime and coach John McKee has had better preparation time than ever before. Providing their pack stand up to the set piece, what a backline!


Every game of the Rugby World Cup from the opening match, Japan v Russia on Friday September 20, through to the final in Yokohama on November 2 will be broadcast live, plus an evening highlights show, on ITV and ITV4. Games can also be watched live on the go with the ITV Hub app.


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