At long last, the 2023 Rugby World Cup is upon us.
In light of the moderate success in this year’s crystal ball 23 predictions for 2023, balls are on the line so here are 10 fearless predictions for the World Cup.
Who will win the World Cup? France
Fabian Galthie’s men have had a couple of late disruptions – injury and the furore surrounding a past incident involving newly called-up Bastien Chalureau – but France is primed to claim their maiden Webb Ellis Cup after three near misses.
Finalists in 1987, 1999 and 2011, France is riding the wave from their domination across Europe over the past few years at club land and significant improvement in the Six Nations.
They lost in Dublin earlier this year, but they won last year and put a half-century on England at Twickenham once Jonathan Danty returned.
France have match-winners across the park, with Antoine Dupont the world’s best player as their main shot caller at halfback.
Top try scorer? Damian Penaud
It has to be someone on the first half of the draw.
Why? No one on the second side of the draw, including Australia, will dominate multiple oppositions and therefore flashy backs will have to work harder for tries.
Even in Pool B, South Africa’s wingers can score tries for fun. But they’ve got to get past Ireland, Scotland and Tonga. That’s not going to be easy.
As such, it has to be someone from either France or New Zealand.
The All Blacks generally have multiple candidates, but could Will Jordan’s history of injuries see Ian Foster take a cautious approach to rolling the star outside back out in meaningless Tests?
Damian Penaud and Gabin Villiere will challenge for the title. But given Penaud’s ability to find himself in the right place at the right time, I’ll back Penaud.
Final four? France, New Zealand, Argentina, Australia
Sorry South Africa, France will have your measure in the quarter-final.
Ditto Ireland, who will be knocked out by the All Blacks.
Fiji will give Pool C a shake and knock over Wales, but I can’t see them getting past Eddie Jones’ Wallabies. It will see them qualify in second place and come up against Argentina, whose ability to get on the ball will frustrate Fiji’s desire to use the ball.
The Wallabies, meanwhile, can put behind them a frustrating year where they’ve lost to three of the world’s top five during their five Tests to date. They’ll beat England and atone for 2007’s defeat in Marseille. It’s written in the stars.
Player of the tournament: Antoine Dupont
The world’s most influential player. Dupont is a winner and has barely stopped winning over the past three years. Strong and skilled, he’s a playmaker and a leader. More than anything, he’s a winner.
Biggest headline from the opening weekend? Les Bleus lose
Hosts go down to All Blacks as Foster’s men put behind them Springboks embarrassment.
Remember 2019? The All Blacks smashed the Springboks yet got rolled in the semi-finals by Jones’ England.
The All Blacks won’t have the same nerves as France. Nor have they had the same disrupted past week, where they’ve had to withdraw lock Paul Willemse and bring in a man who has been showered in controversy.
Danty’s minor injury is a big blow. But once he returns, he’ll make it count.
Biggest flop? England
It’s splitting hairs between Ireland and England. Given I’ve said Ireland won’t progress past the quarter-finals, it will be another disappointment for the Emerald Isle. But spare a thought for their pool.
England, however, should be considered the biggest flop if they don’t make it past the quarter-finals. They’ve got a dream run to the semi-finals given they wouldn’t play a top five opponent before a possible semi-final.
Wallabies’ key player? Taniela Tupou.
There’s four players the Wallabies can ill afford to lose: Angus Bell, Will Skelton, Samu Kerevi and Tupou.
But Tupou is the biggest.
Tests are won and lost against top-line opposition when a tight-head struggles.
More than that, Tupou can turn Tests through his scrummaging and carrying.
If he plays to his capacity, the Wallabies can shock the world.
Breakthrough player of the tournament: Mark Nawaqanitawase
While Max Jorgensen will emerge in the tournament, Nawaqanitawase will leave the tournament an international star.
The 22-year-old has gone from strength to strength over the past 12 months, becoming a Waratahs regular before emerging as a late inclusion for Australia A and then going on to star for the Wallabies on their end of season tour last year.
But the World Cup is a different ball park. Nawaqanitawase will thrive on the big stage.
Who will referee the final? Wayne Barnes
The Englishman has been at the top of his craft for years.
He lets players get away with murder at the breakdown from time to time, but it makes for an attractive match.
World Rugby wants games to flow more and become more enjoyable for the watching public. It’s why he’ll nudge Jaco Peyper for the whistle duties.
Where will the Wallabies finish? Semi-finals
Given the Wallabies’ struggles on the scoreboard and their lack of success in recent years, it seems highly unlikely they can make a final.
Stranger things have happened though. A card can changes things. Head Injuries Assessments, too. Jones has been speaking about that possibility all year and it’s a very real possibility.
The Wallabies should make a quarter-final.
If they’re disciplined and kick straight, which is a big if in itself, they should have too much power up front and pace and skill out wide in their pool.
A quarter-final? Well, Argentina and England wouldn’t scare the Wallabies. Nor should they.
The issues for the Wallabies is they’ve rarely been able to string matches together and play with any consistency and it’s why they are unlikely to progress past a semi-final.
Go to dish in France?
Steak frites, naturally.