The Springboks have been installed as the new second favourites for World Cup glory after leapfrogging England and Ireland in the bookmakers’ estimations. It follows an extremely strong month in which Rassie Erasmus’ men vanquished Australia, drew with the All-Blacks and beat Argentina.
The top betting websites now rate South Africa as the team most likely to stop New Zealand picking up a third consecutive World Cup title.
Earlier this year, Ireland were the clear second favourites to win the World Cup, followed closely by England. However, both teams have suffered some poor results in 2019 and leading sportsbooks like BetOnline have lengthened the odds on them seizing World Cup glory. Yet the odds on the Springboks’ keep on shrinking as they continue to secure eye-catching results.
South Africa find themselves in Pool B along with New Zealand, Italy, Canada and Namibia. The clash with the All-Blacks will naturally be challenging, but the defending champions look far from invincible right now. They have just slipped to number two in the world rankings, overtaken by Wales, and chinks are appearing in their armour. Regardless of the result against New Zealand, the Springboks should sweep aside Italy, Canada and Namibia and cruise into the quarter-finals.
It might seem unfortunate for South Africa to land in the same group as the All-Blacks, but it could actually be a blessing in disguise. If both teams make it out of Pool B, they will go into opposite sides of the draw, meaning the Springboks would not have to face New Zealand again until the final.
Erasmus’ men are all but certain to beat the likes of Italy, Canada and Namibia, and they would then face a team from Pool A in the quarter-finals. You would expect the Irish to win that group, with Scotland highly likely to finish second, and South Africa should not fear either team. The Scots lack consistency and South Africa have a far greater depth of quality. Ireland began the year hoping to usurp New Zealand atop the world rankings, but they suffered heavy defeats at Twickenham and Cardiff in the Six Nations and their momentum has been well and truly dashed.
Potential semi-final opponents for South Africa would be England, Australia or Wales, depending on how the pool stage goes. Then they could be on for a showdown with New Zealand. It looks like a tough path to success, but the Springboks have pulled it off before and they are in fine form, so they can approach the tournament surging with confidence.
There are certainly challenges on the horizon. Aphiwe Dyantyi is a fine talent and he will be sorely missed. The sudden departure of attack coach Swys de Bruin is unfortunate, while Ulster forward Marcell Coetzee might also be missed after he suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out for 12 weeks. The back row was named Ulster Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year following an impressive season, and he had a chance of making the World Cup squad.
Yet Erasmus’ group of stars is packed full of world-class talent, including Faf de Klerk, Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth, Willie Le Roux, Duane Vermeulen and Peter-Steph du Toit. The Springboks have more than enough individual brilliance within their ranks to prevail in tight games against formidable opposition.
And the notion of Italy dumping South Africa out of the tournament is frankly laughable. “At the World Cup, we absolutely must win against Namibia and Canada and then focus on the other two big challenges we have,” said Italy coach Connor O’Shea. “I believe that against South Africa, with this team, we can create an opportunity on our day.”
South Africa have just risen to fourth in the world rankings, and they could soon be top of the pile, whereas Italy are 13th, sandwiched in between Georgia and the USA. They are the whipping boys of the Six Nations on an annual basis, and if the Springboks lose to them there will be an inquest. The bookmakers have it right – Rasmus’ men are 4/1 to win it and Italy are 1000/1 – and fans can dare to dream of another world title heading back to South Africa.