The 2015 Rugby World Cup kicks off on September 18 at London’s rugby headquarters, Twickenham Stadium, when the host, England, takes on Pacific island powerhouse Fiji. Six weeks and forty-seven matches later, the Brits hope to fulfill the aspirations of an expectant nation by running onto the same pitch for the Final, and returning the William Webb Ellis Cup to the game’s ancestral home. That is, if they can advance from their pool.
This year’s edition of the quadrennial event is as wide open as ever. There are five or six nations that have a chance to wrest the Cup from the 2011 Champion, the #1-ranked New Zealand All Blacks. No team has ever gone back to back, and the Men in Black have a history of being dethroned during this tournament.
Here’s a look at the best of each pool:
Pool A: Australia, England, Wales, Fiji, Uruguay
Picking two to advance from this quagmire is the Gordian knot of this year’s event.rugby worl
Australia looks better on paper, having beaten cross-Tasman rivals, the New Zealand All Blacks during their summer campaign. Head Coach Michael Cheika has a zen-like approach that has his players seeking their higher purpose.
The only coach for England to have won the World Cup was knighted by the Queen. If Stuart Lancaster can’t get his boys to the Final, they’ll call for his head.
Wales is due. They have endured years of unmet expectations, and would love nothing more than to be responsible for England’s early departure.
When Fiji trade their sulus and sandals for rugby kit, the friendly islanders become bone-crushing warriors. They won’t win the pool, but they just might ruin the party for someone else.
Our Picks: Winner-Australia Runner up-England
Pool B: South Africa, Scotland, Samoa, United States, Japan
Recent controversy in South Africa regarding the percentage of black players (or lack thereof) on the Springbok roster has divided the Rainbow Nation in ways that harken back to the days before Mandela. They’ll need a united front to get through the semifinals.
Scotland’s fans have historically had a “glass is half empty” outlook, mostly because they’ve needed to ingest the other half to endure watching their team. Their recent form may just induce a rash of optimism.
Samoa is stacked with overseas professionals that gladly reunite to wear their nation’s jersey, and then attempt to emboss it into their opponents’ sternums. Tackling the giants from this tiny island is usually a two man job, one for each leg.
The last test for the United States before the World Cup included a gritty 1st half display of defense at Soldier Field against Australia which would have impressed even Butkus himself. Two wins in a World Cup would be historic.
Winner-South Africa Runner up- Scotland
Pool C: New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Namibia, Georgia
New Zealand will win this pool. Take that to the bank. And, by virtue of having the easiest draw in the World Cup, they’ll also have the most well rested team in the knockout rounds. Danger.
Argentina beat South Africa this summer, illustrating the parity at the top of the rugby food chain. They’ll be the runners up in Pool C and could push for a spot in the final four.
Tonga’s surprise win over France in the 2011 RWC will make this pool take notice, but they still aren’t ready to run with the big dogs.
Winner-New Zealand Runner up-Argentina
Pool D: Ireland, France, Italy, Canada, Romania
Ireland have reason to believe that this year, their World Cup curse will be broken. However, a recent tumble from #2 down to #6 in the World rankings has their fans questioning the luck of the Irish once more.
France seems to regard pool play with classic Gallic disinterest, but they are the team that nobody wants to tangle with in the knockout rounds. New Zealand’s rugby faithful still see the Tricolour in their nightmares. If France loses the battle for Pool D with Ireland, they’ll play New Zealand in the quarters.
Winner- Ireland Runner up- France