Having watched every Test match in 2023, it is time to front and call the #RWC2023 winner before kick-off. Have a read of who I believe will be in the final on the 28th October at the Stade de France and who will win, writes Mark Keohane.
This past weekend buried the Wallabies and England as having any realistic chance of winning the World Cup.
Both are a disaster.
Both survive in the rugby consciousness, despite such under achievement.
Eddie Jones had a rocking start to his tenure at England coach: 18 successive Test wins, but the first time he played the All Blacks at Twickenham, England lost. Eddie then singled out the All Blacks as his only mission over four years and he duly delivered. England hammered the All Blacks in the 2019 World Cup semi-final. His players forgot they had to play the Springboks in a final a week later and they took a 20 point humiliation.
The same Springboks, with two weeks together under the new coaching of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, won the first two Tests against England in South Africa in 2018 to win the series. This was Eddie’s 18 in succession team. The Boks, 24-3 down after 20 minutes in the first Test in Johannesburg, won. They easily dismantled England in the second Test in Bloemfontein and then when it counted most, destroyed England 32-12 in the final of the World Cup in Japan in 2019.
Eddie left England, his last two seasons mere misery, and transferred that misery to Australia, who were awful against the Springboks in Pretoria, the All Blacks in Melbourne and France in Paris. In between they lost to the Pumas in Sydney and the All Blacks second stringers in Dunedin.
Eddie had promised the rugby public his team would do a ‘smash and grab’ and win the Rugby Championship and the Bledisloe Cup.
In this crazy World Cup draw, the Wallabies somehow may actually make it to the World Cup semi-finals because of the skewed World Cup draw that will send home two of the world’s best four teams and keep around two of the game’s most struggling teams.
Once again, the absurdness of a World Cup draw made four years ago.
Scotland are competitive and Fiji on Saturday stirred the hearts of every rugby supporter in beating England at Twickenham. Argentina are always a fan favourite but they don’t have Lionel Messi in the No 10 jersey.
Realistically, there are four teams who will compete to win this World Cup: Ireland, France, South Africa and New Zealand.
Two of the four go home in the quarter-finals because they cancel each other out.
France and Ireland have been the most consistent two teams in the past two years.
I keep on waiting for France to fail but they have not. They looked vulnerable against Scotland and against the Springboks in Marseille in 2022. On both occasions, they had no forward dominance. The Springboks, in particular, battered their forwards.
Outside of the Boks, I don’t see anyone stopping France.
I thought, maybe the All Blacks but the Boks, at Twickenham, provided the necessary evidence that the All Blacks get 10 points in every match on historical – and deserved – hype but the current imposters give up 15 points by way of introduction.
The French forwards are very good. The Boks’s forwards are exceptional and that includes both sets of forwards that make up a match 23.
Fiji and Samoa in the pre-tournament matches made for wonderful storytelling. Neither has the depth to go beyond a final eight.
Scotland the Brave edged France 52-51 over two matches in Edinburgh and in Paris in the last few weeks. I like these Scots. They have attitude and they have quality but they don’t have the depth to win a World Cup.
England and Australia are not good enough.
Ireland have anointed themselves but they won’t win it and the Boks will send the All Blacks home in the quarter-finals.
For all the aura of the black jersey, for all the greatness in results in the mighty Richie McCaw and Dan Carter era, currently these All Blacks are led by the most ordinary captain and coach in Sam Cane and Ian Foster. The duo are limited. The two lack inspiration and they lack the type of presence of World Cup winners.
They led a team to the slaughter against the Springboks at Twickenham on Friday night. They lost by 28 points – their worst in the history of the All Blacks.
Such is the acceptance of New Zealanders, they actually found positives in their worst loss in history. How is that the mindset of champions? It is one of knowing your team is going nowhere.
France’s best 23 were in action in Paris against Eddie’s Wobblies and they smashed them.
Ireland, after the Boks have dealt with them in the Group stages, will be dealt with by France.
If in Dublin, Ireland wins. If in France, the hosts win. The World Cup is in France.
Which leaves just the hosts and the defending champions to contest the final.
My winner and score, that must be revisited on the 28th October, is for the Boks to complete the most amazing World Cup double and win successive World Cup finals with 20 point differentials.
On this particular column, let’s talk again around midnight on the 28th October.
For now, those are my picks.