Rugby World Cup: With exactly one year to go, how are the leading nations shaping up?

·4-min read

Excitement levels for the 2023 Rugby World Cup have ramped up another notch with Thursday marking exactly one year to go until the tournament gets up and running.

For some teams, the next 12 months will present a chance to continue building momentum ahead of the showpiece event. For others, a year of uncertainty awaits.

While it is still too early to pick out a strong favourite to win the event, a handful of teams – major issues or not – stand out among the top candidates to lift the famous trophy.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how the leading lights are shaping up ahead of the quadrennial world championship in France.

SOUTH AFRICA

Where better to start than with the reigning world champions? The Springboks triumphed somewhat against the odds in Japan three years ago, becoming the first team to win the title after losing a match in the pool stage.

Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, South Africa went 20 months between beating England in the 2019 final and cruising to a 40-9 victory over Georgia in July last year, though series victories over the British and Irish Lions, England and Wales have helped get any rustiness out of the system over the past 12 months or so.

The ongoing Rugby Championship is a better litmus test of what to expect in a year's time, and the Boks find themselves third with four matches played, albeit with only a point separating the four sides. Consistency is proving to be a major issue, having strung together successive wins only twice in their past 14 outings, something that must be put right.

South Africa have won the Rugby World Cup three times
South Africa have won the Rugby World Cup three times

NEW ZEALAND

Perennial World Cup favourites New Zealand won back-to-back tournaments prior to South Africa's triumph three years ago. If they are to have any chance of wrestling back the Webb Ellis Cup, then a number of issues must be resolved.

The All Blacks opted to put faith in under-fire boss Ian Foster amid a run of desperately disappointing results, which included three successive home Test losses for the first time in their history, with Ireland winning their maiden Test series in the country.

Defeat against Argentina two weeks ago may well have forced New Zealand chiefs to reconsider their options before it is too late, but Foster's side responded with an emphatic 53-3 victory against the same opponents in Hamilton to move top of the Rugby Championship standings and send out a message to their critics.

Back-to-back fixtures with Australia, followed by Tests with Wales, Scotland and England, will provide a better indication of exactly where this New Zealand side are ahead of the World Cup after a turbulent period.


IRELAND

Ideally for Ireland, the World Cup would start this week rather than in a year's time on the back of what has been a stellar period. Andy Farrell's side closed out the momentous series win in New Zealand in July and have won 13 of their past 16 matches.

Despite that consistent run of results, Ireland have gone four years between Six Nations titles, with their solitary loss to France in this year's competition prolonging their wait for silverware.

Ranked at number one in the world a year out from France 2023, Ireland need to fine tune one or two areas and ensure they keep their star players – Johnny Sexton among them – fit and firing.

Ireland are top of the rugby rankings
Ireland are top of the rugby rankings

FRANCE

Having lived up to the hype by ending a 12-year wait for Six Nations success, followed up by their recent series win over Japan, France are now under pressure to win the World Cup for the first time in their history on home soil next year.

Les Bleus have won 10 in a row since their most recent defeat, coming at the hands of Australia in July 2021, and will test themselves against Australia and South Africa prior to their Six Nations title defence getting under way in February.

A fit Antoine Dupont remains crucial to any chance France have of ending their World Cup hoodoo following a record three defeats in finals. Beyond wrapping certain players in cotton wool, Fabien Galthie must ensure the hunger remains and that his men can cope with the pressure that comes with being the host nation.


ENGLAND

If results in both hemispheres over the past few months have taught us anything, it is that any of the major rugby nations can beat any other on their day. Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Argentina have each produced some big victories, for example, while Australia as ever will fancy themselves on the biggest stage of them all.

The same is very much true of England, who earned an impressive series win Down Under to silence Eddie Jones' growing list of critics following yet another underwhelming Six Nations campaign.

And therein lies the problem for England. Jones has constantly said hitting form in time for the World Cup is all that matters, and the Red Rose simply cannot afford for one of their off days to come in a knockout match.

As runners-up last time around, and as one of only four teams to have ever lifted the trophy, this will be another win-or-bust tournament for England in what will be Jones' final bow before being replaced.