Rugby World Cup Preview

Written by Square in the Air

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The Rugby World Cup 2015 kicks off with England v Fiji on the 18 September, and once again New Zealand look the team to beat. The world’s best team land on these shores as the hot favourites – trading at 75-78, 20 points more than the next-placed team on Sporting Index’s 100 Outright Index (winner 100pts, runner-up 80pts, third 60pts, fourth 50pts, lose quarter-final 25pts, third in group stage 10pts, fourth in group stage 5pts, other 0pts).

Despite starting as market leaders for every World Cup since the competition was introduced in 1987, the All Blacks have only ever won two editions – the inaugural one and in 2011. Both times they were either co-hosts or hosts and France were the losing finalists on both occasions. Before the narrow 8-7 victory over Les Bleus four years ago in Auckland, all the talk was about ending a hoodoo that had seen the Kiwis disappoint on the world stage for five straight tournaments, only once making the final in that time. New Zealand have never lost a World Cup group match and Steve Hansen’s men should make short work of Argentina, Tonga, Georgia and Namibia in Pool C.

There was a mixed reaction to Stuart Lancaster’s England final squad, despite the coach believing he has a “hard to beat” set of players. There was no place for Danny Cipriani, Alex Corbisiero, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Dave Attwood or Nick Easter, each of whom had a strong case for inclusion. Sam Burgess and Henry Slade are in and a solid Red Rose performance against Ireland last weekend highlighted the squad’s quality after a poor showing against France the week prior. Pool A is by far the toughest one with Australia and Wales set to prove stern opposition.

The opener with Fiji provides the chance for an early England confidence booster. Australia (36-39 on the Outright Index) seem to have been written off, but a record of two World Cup wins and a second-place shouldn’t be dismissed. Wales (27-30 on the Outright Index) will probably need to end a ten-game losing streak against the Wallabies in what could be a pivotal clash on the 10th October. Winning this pool will likely see a quarter-final against Scotland or Samoa and a semi-final against either France or Ireland. The runners-up will then most probably go down the route of South Africa followed by New Zealand – an unenviable task. Ireland have the benefit of being in Pool D with France, Italy, Canada and Romania.

The first two teams will prove competitive, but these are all winnable warm-up games for the later stages. Romania are a physical side but Joe Schmidt’s boys in green should top the standings well-prepared for bigger battles in the quarter-finals. Ireland don’t need to hit the ground running and will gather momentum throughout the tournament. Ireland have never beaten New Zealand but, as Brian O’Driscoll joked recently, that can’t go on forever.

Elsewhere in Pool B, South Africa could top their group however, a potential quarter-final between Pool A’s runner-up is no easy challenge before they are likely to meet the All Blacks in the semi-final.

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