With the Men’s Rugby World Cup well underway, Sports Writer Isabelle Danes examines Ireland’s World Cup chances and plots a potential route to the Final.
The 2023 Rugby World Cup is finally upon us, as it promises to be one of the most entertaining tournaments in the competition’s history. We take a look at the four main contender’s for this year’s Rugby World Cup.
France enter their ninth Rugby World Cup as hosts for the third time, with their fans maintaining their reputation as an engaging and energetic crowd. It promises to be a tournament not to forget.
The host nation, playing in front of 80,000 fans at a sold out Stade de France, kicked off the tournament against New Zealand, in which France emerged 27-13 victors. It was a breathtaking and captivating game, which has set the scene for the remainder of the tournament.
France’s most notable absence at this year’s tournament is fly-half Romain Ntamack, who when partnered with Toulouse’s Antoine DuPont, forms an imposing partnership. Lock Paul Willemse was also ruled out of the tournament following a thigh injury. Tight-head prop Cyril Baille and star centre Jonathan Danty were unavailable for selection against the All Blacks, but they are expected to return in the coming days and weeks.
New Zealand, with three titles and forty-nine wins are the most successful team in Rugby World Cup history. However, they come into the tournament off the back of a record-breaking defeat at the hands of South Africa.
Scrum-half Cam Roigard is one of seventeen players in the New Zealand squad who start in their first World Cup, whilst six players, including captain Sam Cane, are featuring in their third Rugby World Cup. Cane was due to start in the All Blacks’ opener against France, but suffered a back injury in the captain’s run and was forced to withdraw from the game. Coach Ian Foster has said the injury ‘doesn’t look too serious’.
South Africa have power, size and a depth that many teams simply cannot compete against. Notable absences for their Rugby World Cup title defence include flyhalf Handre Pollard, centre Lukhanyo Am and lock Lood de Jager, all three of whom started in the victory over England in the Final four years ago.
South Africa have power, size and a depth that many teams simply cannot compete against.
Interestingly, head coach Jacques Nienaber also decided to bring four scrum halves in Faf de Klerk, Jaden Hendrikse, Cobus Reinach and Grant William, and just one specialist fly-half in Manie Libbok, although de Klerk and Kolbe are credible options as fly-halves.
This South African team arrives in France with confidence, having secured victories over Australia, Argentina and New Zealand in their warm-up games.
Ireland have been present in every tournament since the first World Cup in 1987, but have never managed to reach a semi-final. This year, the road to glory is strewn with challenges, not least of which is navigating through a fiercely competitive group.
Notably, Ireland will navigate this tournament without the vastly experienced Cian Healy, who succumbed to a calf injury in a warm-up game against Samoa. Filling Healy’s void is Munster’s Jeremy Loughman, stepping into the crucial supporting role. With Johnny Sexton returning from suspension, we find ourselves in an exciting position, presented with a significant opportunity to claim victory and etch our name in Rugby history.
We find ourselves in an exciting position, presented with a significant opportunity to claim victory and etch our name in Rugby history.
Ireland, who are the current Six Nations Grand Slam Champions and are currently the highest ranked team in the world, began their world cup journey with a 82 – 8 victory over Romania on the 9th of September. Ireland survived an early scare to come away victorious with a confident start to what is hopefully a long and exciting campaign, potentially culminating in a Final in the Stade de France on October 28th.
Ireland now travel 350 km to Nantes to face a tough test against Tonga on Saturday. Tonga, due to changes with World Cup regulations, have bolstered their squad by adding former All-Blacks George Moala and Malakai Fekiota to their squad. Their inclusion adds significant strength to the Tongan side, making them a difficult opponent.
The third game in Ireland’s group promises to be an exciting, albeit nerve-wrecking watch for many fans. A Saturday night clash in the Stade de France against the current World Champions South Africa awaits Ireland, in what promises to be a tournament-defining game. This will undoubtedly be a highly intense and fiercely contested encounter.
The final group game for Ireland will see them face their familiar rivals, Scotland. In their most recent clash, Ireland were victorious, though they were pushed very close. This game adds an extra layer of excitement and anticipation to the contest, as both teams search for a win to secure their spot in the knockout stages.
The Controversy Surrounding the World Cup Draw
Reaching the Final poses a formidable challenge for these four teams. The unveiling of the World Cup draw occurred in 2020, against the backdrop of a vastly different landscape in the world of rugby.
Significant shifts in World Cup rankings have led to a scenario where Pool B comprises three of the top five teams - namely Ireland, South Africa and Scotland - while Pool A has New Zealand and France, both powerhouses in the sport. Fiji, who are currently ranked 7th, stand as the highest-ranked contender in Pool C.
Nevertheless, this new arrangement injects a fresh dynamic into the competition, particularly amongst Tier 2 Nations positioned on the opposite side of the draw. This optimism holds that this tournament could potentially mark a significant turning point for the Pacific Islands, and more broadly, Tier 2 Nations.
This tournament could potentially mark a significant turning point for the Pacific Islands, and more broadly, Tier 2 Nations.
With the World Cup providing a significant opportunity for Ireland to claim the ultimate rugby prize, the challenges that lie ahead in the group stage add to the excitement and anticipation. Fans will be eagerly watching and supporting their team as Ireland aim to overcome these formidable opponents and progress deep into the tournament.
This Irish team is already the most successful in the history of Irish Rugby, giving us every reason to believe that they can be the ones to lift the Webb Ellis trophy on October 28th.