Editor Craig Lewis and chief writer Jon Cardinelli debate which team they think are most likely to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Lewis says Springboks
Of course, there’s an element of this prediction being made with the heart over the head, but there’s no denying that the Boks have to be viewed as a leading title contender. As my colleague Jon Cardinelli points out, there are a number of top teams who should all be in with a shout in what is shaping up to be one of the most ‘open’ World Cup tournaments in history.
What cannot be denied, though, is that the Boks have put all the necessary building blocks in place to ensure there is every chance of them lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time. Over this year’s Rugby Championship, coach Rassie Erasmus split his squad into two highly capable groups, which included a host of leading overseas-based players.
The move undeniably paid dividends, with the so-called ‘first-choice’ squad claiming an important draw with the All Blacks in Wellington, before hammering Argentina in Salta.
Meanwhile, in the opening Rugby Championship clash of the year, an expanded squad that included several fringe players duly claimed a bonus-point win over Australia. That ultimately laid the foundation for the Boks to claim the Championship title for the first time since the tournament was expanded to include Argentina.
Yes, history will tell you that no team has gone on to win the World Cup after claiming the Tri-Nations or Rugby Championship trophy, but those are all just semantics.
This Springbok team are immensely well prepared, while depth has been created across key positions and in the leadership group. A recent run of important results has also added to the belief in this Bok squad.
They will not go down quietly in Japan.
Cardinelli says All Blacks
By my count, as many as six teams have a realistic chance of winning this year’s World Cup. We will know who is worth the title of contenders and whether the All Blacks deserved to be talked up as favourites after the opening weekend of the tournament.
The Springboks held the All Blacks to a draw while the Wallabies scored a record victory over their trans-Tasman rivals in the recent Rugby Championship. While some marked those results as a sign of New Zealand’s decline, I felt that the All Blacks were holding a lot back in terms of their tactics and best combinations. I have no doubt that they will pose a greater threat at the World Cup in Japan.
The Boks have improved a great deal over the past two seasons, and yet they should not be viewed as favourites ahead of the clash with the All Blacks on 21 September. This statement is made with the team’s recent and historical record against New Zealand in mind. While Rassie Erasmus’ Boks have proved to be capable of an upset, a full-strength All Blacks side will be tough to beat.
It’s a massive fixture in the context of the tournament. The winner should go on to top Pool B and take a significant psychological advantage into the playoffs. New Zealand and South Africa will meet again in the final if all goes to plan.
Perhaps the Boks will surprise us all by beating the All Blacks in the pool stages and again in the decider. It’s been 10 years, though, since the Boks went undefeated in three straight fixtures against New Zealand, and I doubt we will see it happening in 2019.
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