So, it’s T-minus one year until rugby’s biggest tournament takes centre stage in Japan – the first time the World Cup will be held in Asia.
The hosts kick-off the showpiece against minnows Russia on September 21, 2019 at the Tokyo Stadium – and they will hope to start as they did in 2015 when they produced a stunning victory over the Springboks in a blockbuster on the south coast.
Holders New Zealand are, despite last weekend’s slip-up against South Africa, firm favourites to retain their crown – but can any of the northern hemisphere sides challenge the formidable All Blacks next autumn?
England looked to be their strongest challengers until a string of big defeats in 2018 was coupled with Ireland’s emergence as a true world force. But there are still plenty of contenders among the big rugby nations.
Here, Sportsmail takes a look at the year ahead, the stadiums, how the home nations are shaping up and just how strong the three southern hemisphere sides are looking.
The Webb Ellis Cup is seen in Tokyo on Thursday at an event to mark one year to go until the 2019 Rugby World Cup
Bill Beaumont, chairman of World Rugby and Japan rugby chief Tadashi Okamura chat during the ceremony
1987 Australia Australia
1991 England, Wales, France, Ireland and Scotland
1995 South Africa
2011 New Zealand
The logical place to start is with the host nation. Japanese rugby hit its highest point in the last edition of the Rugby World Cup, romping to a 34-32 victory over South Africa in their opening game.
Backed by a huge marketing push, the JRFU are hopeful this World Cup can act as yet another catalyst to grow the game in the country and further across Asia.
It is the first time the World Cup will take place in Asia and World Rugby are keen to grow the game on the continent, recently taking the trophy to India on the 18-country tour over two years.
Japan have undoubtedly been the success story of Asian rugby, having appeared in all eight previous editions of the World Cup and boasting the game’s greatest try scorer of all-time, Daisuke Ohata with 69 tries in 58 Tests.
Now, with the country hosting the global showpiece, it aims to attract a million new players to the game across the continent in an initiative dubbed ‘Project Asia 1 Million’.
A Japanese woman poses with Rugby World Cup 2019 mascots, Ren (left) and G at a rugby pop-up museum in Kamaishi
It appears to be working, too. India are ranked first in Asia and third globally in terms of participation, with 160,000 people now involved in the game – of which 40 per cent are female.
This is undoubtedly a chance to shine for Japan and they are certainly doing their bit to promote it. This month, the trophy will return to Japan as they begin the one-year-to-go countdown.
They are, however, yet to get out of the group stages in a World Cup – any advancement on that record is sure to set the numbers soaring.
Oh, and let’s not forget their two mascots: two mythical, lion-like creatures that were believed in ancient Japan to chase away evil and bring happiness.
The mascots, named ‘Ren’ and ‘G’ were unveiled earlier this year. Similar depictions often appear in traditional Japanese theatre. Ren is the parent, and G is the offspring. Organisers said the two are genderless.
Japan’s greatest achievement came at the last World Cup when they started with a shock win over South Africa
Japan also boast the all-time leading try-scorer in Test rugby – Daisuke Ohata touched down 69 times in 58 appearances
1987: New Zealand
1995: South Africa
2011: New Zealand
2015: New Zealand
Tickets and fixtures
Tickets for the World Cup have already gone through a series of ballots, but fear not as there are still opportunities to get your hands on some.
Between September 19-November 12, another general global ballot is open for public applications. If all are not allocated during the ballot then the remaining tickets will go on general sale on a first-come, first-served basis on January 19 next year.
Tickets vary hugely in price. The best spot — category A — for the final would set the punter back £700, while the cheapest adult seat for certain group games — Fiji vs Uruguay, for example — would cost just £14.
Fixtures have already been drawn, and the full schedule for the tournament is below.
Completed: Due for completion next year
Interesting fact: It will host the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2020 Olympics, as well as the track and field events. It will also be home to Japan’s football team from 2020.
Biggest group games: Wales vs Australia, England vs Argentina
The Tokyo Stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2020 Olympics and will be home to Japan football
The arena is currently under construction and is due to be completed ahead of the World Cup next autumn
The 49,970-capacity stadium will play host to pool games such as Wales vs Australia and England vs Argentina
Completed: June 2001
Interesting fact: The Dome switches between two different playing surfaces: Baseball games are played on an underlying artificial turf field, while football and rugby games are held on a grass pitch which slides in and out of the stadium as needed.
Biggest group game: Australia vs Fiji
The Sapporo Dome is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing venues for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan
An intimate, intense atmosphere is created inside the Dome which is certain to drum up a raucous crowd next year
Baseball games are played on an underlying artificial turf field, while football and rugby games are held on a grass pitch
INTERNATIONAL STADIUM YOKOHAMA
Location: Yokohama City
Completed: October 1997
Interesting fact: International Stadium Yokohama has the highest seating capacity of any stadium in Japan and will host the Rugby World Cup final.
Biggest group games: New Zealand vs South Africa, Ireland vs Scotland and England vs France
International Stadium Yokohama is another vibrant venue for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and will see big games played there
New Zealand vs South Africa, Ireland vs Scotland and England vs France will all take place at the Yokohama venue
HANAZONO RUGBY STADIUM
Location: Higashiosaka City, Osaka
Completed: November 1929
Interesting fact: It is the oldest dedicated rugby union stadium in the country and in 2006, against Georgia, Daisuke Ohata broke the record for the most tries in Test rugby, overtaking David Campese.
Biggest group game: Argentina vs Tonga
Hanazono Rugby Stadium was built way back in 1929 and is the oldest dedicated rugby union stadium in the country
Stonehenge-like objects displayed next to the Hanazono Rugby stadium, which is currently under renovation for the RWC
It was the scene of the greatest individual feat in rugby’s history, when Daisuke Ohata broke the try-scoring record in 2006
CITY OF TOYOTA STADIUM
Location: Toyota City
Completed: June 2001
Interesting fact: The stadium features a retractable roof, which folds in on itself like an accordion.
Biggest group games: Wales vs Georgia, New Zealand vs Italy
The City of Toyota Stadium will be host to some interesting group games including Wales vs Georgia and New Zealand vs Italy
The stadium features an oddly-designed retractable roof (top), which folds in on itself like an accordion
The Toyota Stadium was built in 2001 and is most often used as home to the J1 League club Nagoya Grampus
KUMAGAYA RUGBY GROUNDS
Location: Kumagaya City
Interesting fact: The arena is part of a larger sports complex which includes the Kumagaya Athletic Stadium.
Biggest group game: Argentina vs USA
Kumagaya Rugby Groundis currently used mostly for rugby union matches and holds 24,000 people, it was built in 1991.
The arena is part of a larger sports complex which includes the Kumagaya Athletic Stadium
KAMAISHI RECOVERY MEMORIAL STADIUM
Location: Kamaishi City
Completed: August 2018
Interesting fact: Kamaishi suffered major damage during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the stadium is part of the Unosumai area’s post-disaster recovery project.
Biggest group game: Fiji vs Uruguay
Kamaishi suffered major damage in 2011 and the stadium is part of the Unosumai area’s post-disaster recovery project
Japanese students perform during the opening ceremony of one of the Rugby World Cup 2019 venues
The stadium has undergone complete regeneration, including an overhaul of all of the changing-room facilities
This aerial view shows the Otsuchi Bay (L) of the Pacific Ocean and the newly built Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium
HAKATANOMORI FOOTBALL STADIUM
Location: Fukuoka City
Completed: July 1995
Interesting fact: It has changed its name for rights reasons – the Level5 Stadium is named after the gaming company of the same name, responsible for making Professor Layton, Inazuma Eleven, Ni no Kuni and Yo-kai Watch.
Biggest group games: France vs USA, Ireland vs Samoa
Hakatanomori Football Stadium has a capacity of 22,563 and will host matches such as France vs USA and Ireland vs Samoa
It has changed its name for rights reasons, the Level5 Stadium is named after the gaming company of the same name
KOBE MISAKE STADIUM
Location: Kobe City
Interesting fact: It is home to J1 League football team Vissel Kobe, for whom Andres Iniesta and Lukas Podolski play. It was also the first football stadium in Japan to host night games following the installation of lights.
Biggest group games: England vs USA, Scotland vs Samoa
Kobe Misake Stadium is home to J1 League football team Vissel Kobe, for whom Andres Iniesta and Lukas Podolski play
The arena was also the first football stadium in Japan to host night games following the installation of lights
Here it is in 2001 under construction ahead of the 2002 football World Cup, when it hosted three group matches
SHIZUOKA STADIUM ECOPA
Location: Fukuroi City
Completed: March 2001
Interesting fact: The walk from Aino Station to the stadium is notable for the sixteen works of art which line the route, commissioned for the launch of the 2002 football World Cup.
Biggest group games: Japan vs Ireland, South Africa vs Italy
Fukuroi’s Shizuoka Stadium Epoca holds 50,889 people and will host Japan vs Ireland and South Africa vs Italy
Ireland have already played at the stadium, and recently, too – they beat Japan 35-13 there last June in a friendly
Capacity: Capacity: 40,000
Completed: March 2001
Interesting fact: Oita Stadium has a retractable dome roof driven by a wire traction system.
Biggest group games: Australia vs Uruguay, Wales vs Fiji
The aesthetically-pleasing Oita Stadium has a retractable dome roof which is driven by a wire traction system
It is chiefly used for football – it’s home to J1 League club Oita Trinita – and was designed by famous architect Kisho Kurokawa
Completed: August 1998
Interesting fact: It usually plays host to football team Roasso Kumamoto, who play in the J2 League.
Biggest group games: Wales vs Uruguay
Kumamoto Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in Higashi-ku, Kumamoto, Japan which is currently used mostly for football
It usually plays host to Roasso Kumamoto, who play in the J2 League but will host Wales vs Uruguay in next year’s World Cup
So, how are the home nations shaping up?
v Wales (Twickenham) August 11
v Wales (Cardiff) August 17
v Ireland (Twickenham) August 24
v Italy (Newcastle) September 6
By Chris Foy
A year ago, England were still on a roll. The Sweet Chariot was thundering on, remorselessly. New Zealand’s global pre-eminence seemed destined to face a new, powerful threat from the north.
Granted, the record-equalling 17-Test winning run under Eddie Jones had come to an end in Dublin, but England re-established a tone of positive progress when a heavily-weakened squad won 2-0 in Argentina, while a huge contingent were helping the Lions draw their series against the All Blacks. The outlook was bright. There was no obvious sign that the new English golden age was about to come to an abrupt end.
But that is what happened. The wheels came off the chariot earlier this year, but it was last autumn when the first clues emerged that there may be trouble ahead. England beat Argentina, Australia and Samoa, but it was as if they did so out of habit, without playing well. The development graph had plateaued.
Then it dropped sharply. After another Six Nations began with realistic Grand Slam ambitions, defeats by Scotland, France and Ireland saw the quest for a ‘three-peat’ of titles end with the shock of a fifth-place finish. Two months later, the Barbarians brought a Galactico-laden squad to Twickenham and they subjected the hosts to a record home defeat; scoring nine tries for a 63-point haul.
Eddie Jones’s stunning start as England coach has hit the rocks with a series of big defeats throughout this year
The captaincy is uncertain with Dylan Hartley (left) and Owen Farrell both in contention to lead the side
Days later, Jones and his tour party flew to South Africa to face the Springboks, who were regarded as vulnerable at the start of a new regime. England wrought havoc early on in the opener at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, but succumbed to a rousing fightback by Rassie Erasmus’s new side. Seven days later, the Boks clinched the series in Bloemfontein and suddenly Jones found himself in the eye of a storm of criticism and speculation. The golden age was over, despite a consolation win in Cape Town.
Certainty and success has given way to confusion and unrest. Paul Gustard left his post as defence coach to take charge at Harlequins, with John Mitchell given the job this week. England have also been seeking a full-time attack coach, with Australian Scott Wisemantel expected to be appointed after a productive audition.
Behind the scenes, there has been a steady and somewhat alarming turnover of staff; from fitness coaches to physios, analysts and media officers. The perception is that Jones oversees a tough, volatile environment that leads to defections, but he insists that the regular changes help to galvanise and improve the whole set-up.
With the World Cup fast approaching, England have vast depths of playing resources but no great clarity about the make-up of their first-choice side – or even their captain. Dylan Hartley missed the South Africa tour due to concussion and in his absence Owen Farrell earned credit for his leadership. But Jones may go back to the Northampton hooker who was such an instrumental figure in driving the revival following the last World Cup.
Lock Maro Itoje (second left) shows the strain of the demoralising series defeat in South Africa during the summer
Despite their troubles in 2018, England boast a huge depth of talent, including the likes of wing Anthony Watson
In terms of team selection, there are few certainties. Farrell will start – either at 10 or 12. The same goes for Maro Itoje, but not many others have that assured status. Maybe Ben Youngs at scrum-half, Billy Vunipola at No 8 if he stays fit, and his brother Mako at loosehead prop, but there are question marks in most areas. Jones will still hope that Manu Tuilagi makes a strong late run to be included in his plans for Japan, but there remain so many doubts. Who will start at full-back, on the wings, in the centre, at fly-half, hooker, tighthead, in the second row and on the flanks? These are complex conundrums. At least the rise of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry means that the perennial hunt for a pedigree openside is now a matter of choosing from high-class contenders.
With a year to go to the global showpiece, England are on a knife-edge. It could go either way. If they re-establish their thunderous momentum, with the addition of new coaches serving to add fresh impetus, there are enough quality players to ensure they re-emerge as World Cup contenders. But as well as needing good results, the time for clarity on various levels is fast approaching. If they stay trapped in a thick fog, the Far East crusade could turn into an almighty let-down.
v England (Twickenham) August 24
v Wales (Cardiff) August 31
v Wales (Dublin) September 7
By Rory Keane
There is only one major issue facing Ireland ahead of next year’s World Cup: have they peaked too early?
Last season was an unforgettable campaign for Irish rugby with Leinster claiming the Pro14 and European Champions Cup titles as well as a Grand Slam and a series victory in Australia for the national side.
Head coach Joe Schmidt has guided Ireland to second in the world rankings and all roads will lead to Dublin on November 17 when the all-conquering All Blacks roll into town. Beat the back-to-back World Cup winners then and Ireland can look to Japan with serious intent.
Schmidt has built a formidable and well-organised outfit, ably assisted by a backroom team consisting of defence coach Andy Farrell, forwards coach Simon Easterby and scrum guru Greg Feek.
Head coach Joe Schmidt, who has been at the helm for five years now, has guided Ireland to second in the world rankings
Tadhg Furlong has emerged as the premier tighthead in the northern hemisphere and anchors a formidable pack captained by Rory Best, while Jack McGrath and Cian Healy tussle for loosehead duties.
Ireland’s lock stocks have never been so plentiful with Iain Henderson, Devin Toner and last season’s breakout star James Ryan jostling for position. Tadhg Beirne, arguably the best second row in Europe last season, has left the Scarlets to bolster Munster’s pack and will add further depth.
Sean O’Brien, Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock are all back in action following long-term injuries and will look to break up the Peter O’Mahony, Dan Leavy and CJ Stander back-row axis that proved so effective last term.
In Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, Ireland have a world class half-back pairing that are proven at the top level. Garry Ringrose, Robbie Hensaw and Bundee Aki will fight it out for the two midfield spots over the next 12 months.
Schmidt will hope Jacob Stockdale will return from a hamstring injury with the verve and sharpness he displayed in the 2018 edition of the Six Nations. The Ulster wing took the competition by storm with a record seven-try haul during a memorable championship.
Ireland have never reached the semi-finals in the competition’s history but they are armed to mount a serious assault at the 2019 World Cup.
Tadhg Furlong has emerged as the premier tighthead in the northern hemisphere and anchors a formidable pack
In Conor Murray (left) and Johnny Sexton (right), Ireland have a world class half-back pairing that are proven at the top level
Bundee Aki will be vying for a starting spot in the centre while Jacob Stockdale will hope to return from injury with gusto
v France (TBC) August 17
v France (Murrayfield) August 24
v Georgia (Tbilisi) August 31
v Georgia (Murrayfield) Sept 6/7
By Rob Robertson
Scotland fly-half Finn Russell and full-back Stuart Hogg are world class on their day. If the pair are fit and peak at the right time then their country has a great chance of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the World Cup.
If Scotland’s two star players are not firing on all-cylinders — or even worse not available through injury — then Gregor Townsend’s team will struggle to get out of Pool A which also includes Ireland, Samoa, minnows Russia and hosts Japan, who could pip them for second place.
Russell and Hogg are vital to the Scotland cause as a year out from the World Cup there is no strength in depth in their positions.
Gregor Townsend’s team have a potentially tricky pool — Ireland, Samoa, minnows Russia and hosts Japan — to get out of
Scotland fly-half Finn Russell and full-back Stuart Hogg are world class on their day and will spearhead their attack
Russell’s understudy is Adam Hastings, son of Scotland legend Gavin, after winning his first three caps on the summer tour
The understudy for Russell is Adam Hastings, son of Scotland rugby legend Gavin. The 21-year-old won his first three caps on the summer tour but there is no guarantee he will even be first choice at his club Glasgow Warriors this season. The other option at ten is Peter Horne who is a far better centre than fly-half.
Townsend’s selection dilemma is even worse at No 15 as other than Hogg his options are as deep as a puddle. Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour have played fifteen for Scotland before but are really international wingers playing out of position. Youngster Blair Kinghorn may end up being Hogg’s understudy at full-back if he continues to improve.
On the positive side the Scotland back row has real potential heading towards the World Cup. Openside flanker Hamish Watson has only recently returned to action after a shoulder injury and is the pick of the bunch. There are also youngsters such as Jamie Ritchie and Magnus Bradbury, the son of the SRU’s first ever female President Dee Bradbury, coming through.
There is back-row grunt available in the shape of Josh Strauss and David Denton with Scotland captain during the last Six Nations John Barclay, who won’t be available until the New Year after Achilles tendon surgery, bringing a calming influence to proceedings.
Youngster Blair Kinghorn may end up being Hogg’s understudy at full-back in Japan if he continues to improve
There are youngsters Jamie Ritchie and Magnus Bradbury, son of first female SRU President Dee Bradbury, coming through
v England (Twickenham) August 11
v England (Cardiff) August 17
v Ireland (Cardiff) August 31
v Ireland (Dublin) September 7
By Nik Simon
Dākuhōsu; Japanese for Dark Horse. There has been little fanfare but Warren Gatland has gradually built up Wales’ strongest squad since the dawn of professionalism. Few other teams in world rugby can boast their years of stability or experience – and that could be their trump card.
Depth has been their downfall in the past. Injuries have ravaged thin squads and Wales have taken to the field like a cast of walking wounded. Nowadays, however, a second wave of players – largely from the impressive Scarlets – has provided quality cover in almost every position.
Warren Gatland has gradually built up Wales’ strongest squad since the dawn of professionalism
James Davies and Ellis Jenkins are the latest contenders to succeed Sam Warburton – with Jenkins tipped as a future captain
Sam Warburton’s retirement is a major blow in terms of experience, but the Welsh conveyor belt continues to churn out No 7s. Ellis Jenkins and James Davies are the latest contenders – with Jenkins tipped as a future captain. The immediate captaincy, however, should fall to Alun-Wyn Jones.
Twelve months out and Gatland could already name most of his squad. Most of his star names are fresh and rested after being left out of the summer tour. It was a shrewd move by the Kiwi, although the WRU would be foolish not to create a selection loophole for Toulon No 9 Rhys Webb.
With a core who have already played at the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, Wales will hope to make it ‘third time lucky’. There is no reason Gatland cannot lead a farewell swansong into the depths of the knockout stages – but overcoming the All Blacks seems like the impossible task.
The Welsh Rugby Union would be foolish not to create a selection loophole for world-class Toulon No 9 Rhys Webb
And what about the southern hemisphere sides?
By Will Kelleher
Aside from the shock defeat by South Africa last week, their form is superb. Only four teams have beaten them since the last World Cup, which they won with ease. Ireland (40-29 in 2016), The British & Irish Lions (24-21 in 2017), Australia (23-18 in 2017) and the Springboks (36-34) – they have drawn once too, to the Lions again, but that’s it. In the last 10 Tests are scoring an average of just over 37 points per Test. Alarming to say the least.
As for the dangermen, where do we start? At a conservative estimate they would likely fill eight places in a World XV right now, but let’s pick out two.
Beauden Barrett scored a record-breaking four tries in the second Bledisloe Cup match of the season and he now has scored more points in 66 Tests than Dan Carter managed in 112. Quite simply remarkable, and almost unstoppable. He can’t kick goals, which can lose them the odd Test very occasionally though…
Wing Rieko Ioane has 18 tries in just 18 Tests and is still only 21 years old. His middle name is Edward too, which you probably didn’t know – it does not make him any more normal though.
Beauden Barrett has scored more in 66 Tests than Dan Carter managed in 112, the man is quite simply remarkable
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi is yet to make his Test bow, but the former league-playing Chiefs half-back will get his chance soon
Watch out for Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi – usual spelling. The 23-year-old scrum-half’s name is pronounced Tey Toy-roar Tah-hoo-ree-or-rung-ee – but most call him Triple T. He’s just made his Test bow and is behind Aaron Smith and haka leader TJ Perenara in the pecking order, but the former league-playing Chiefs half-back will get more chances soon.
The All Blacks batter everyone most weeks but there are a couple of places to nail down. The blindside flanker position is one – after Jerome Kaino moved to Toulouse – with Liam Squire, and new-boy Shannon Frizell in contention at the moment. And also they need to decide how to fit Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Ngani Laumape, Waisake Naholo, Rieko Ioane, Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Richie Mo’unga in one back-line. Tough break, eh?
They are in Pool B in Japan, also containing South Africa, Italy, Namibia, and one of Kenya, Hong Kong, Germany, and Canada. That will be decided in the repechage tournament hosted in France across three match days: Sunday November 11, Saturday November 17 and Friday November 23.
One potential problem area is at No 6 where Liam Squire and new-boy Shannon Frizell in contention at the moment
Average to poor form. The Wallabies have lost more than they have won since they were defeated in the 2015 World Cup final to the All Blacks (15 wins, 19 losses, 2 draws) although admittedly eight of those have been to New Zealand. They had looked to had lost their way on their last trip north – with big defeats to England and Scotland – but seemed to have turned a corner in their series against Ireland. They lost 2-1 but were way more competitive. Now New Zealand have smashed them twice, they beat the Boks but lost to Argentina and Michael Cheika is under severe pressure from the Aussie media. He stands resolute, however.
Israel Folau remains the one to watch. He holds some quite preposterous views off the pitch, but is sensational on it. He has pace, power and an absurdly high leap. A real star.
If you were to build a man in a lab and wanted him to be the perfect shape to win turnovers at the breakdown – admittedly a strange project – you’d get very close to David Pocock’s physique. At 6ft 1in, a touch over 16st, he is almost impossible to shift. Superb around rucks, and pretty right-on guy off it – campaigning for LGBTQ rights and animal welfare in his spare time.
New Zealand have smashed the Wallabies twice and Michael Cheika is under severe pressure from the Aussie media
David Pocock is impossible to shift and superb around rucks while Israel Folau has pace, power and an absurdly high leap
Pete Samu could be their World Cup bolter. He was cleared to play for Australia in June after a Brad Shields-esque tug-of-war for his services with New Zealand, and the 26-year-old flanker is a new Wallaby. The former Randwick Rugby Club man – alma mater of Cheika and Eddie Jones – is quiet off the pitch but loud on it.
Problems remain, however. Tackling. Lineouts. Nothing trivial then… Australia may have played the best side in the world twice in consecutive weeks in August but it is no good missing 80 (EIGHTY) tackles in two games. Nor is it only completing 60 per cent of your lineouts on your own throw. There is no doubt they have quality – and Australians can never be written off at World Cups, whatever the sport – but these are no vintage Wallabies.
They will face Wales, Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay in the big event.
Pete Samu (right) was cleared to play for Australia after a Brad Shields-esque tug-of-war for his services with New Zealand
Australia completed just 60 percent of their own lineouts in the two Tests they played against New Zealand
Improving but inconsistent. So, they beat England twice in June but have just lost to Argentina – the latter which coach Rassie Erasmus described as ‘embarrassing’ and effectively a disgrace to the Springbok jersey – and then stunned the world by beating New Zealand. After the 2015 World Cup the South Africans fell off a cliff, losing eight times in 2016 – their worst EVER year of Test rugby. But now they are reviving slowly. They beat France 3-0 in 2017, then England 2-1 this summer – but have mixed results in the Rugby Championship. It will be fascinating to see which Boks come north in November.
Sale scrum-half Faf de Klerk is so nonchalant he is almost taking the mickey without really meaning to. Before each scrum he spins the ball on one finger, toying with his opponents. It must be a nervous tick but sums up his talent. De Klerk is so electric, and quite unconventional – he played havoc with England this summer.
And as for Aphiwe Dyantyi, jeez he is fast. Tore England to shreds in June in his first Tests and is already a star with five tries in seven games. So athletic and apparently can run a 10.7sec 100m – which is frightening.
Faf de Klerk is so nonchalant he is almost taking the mickey without really meaning to, he is exceptionally talented
Aphiwe Dyantyi tore England to shreds in June in his first Tests and is already a star with three tries in five games
Schalk Brits is hardly a new name, or a youngster at 37, but watch out for his progress this year. He officially retired from Saracens in May to pursue an MBA degree at Cambridge University, but is now tentatively back in the fold having filled in this summer. If he makes the World Cup he will be the happiest man in Japan – possibly the planet – having never really hit the heights for his country despite being one of the most talented hookers in the world.
Erasmus has already made steps to solve one massive problem by picking the Boks who play overseas. Bringing back De Klerk, Willie Le Roux and keeping on the likes of Franco Mostert – bound for Gloucester – Bath’s Francois Louw and others besides will be vital. Other than that they concede too many points – an average of 25 per match since the last World Cup. Tighten that up, get the right players in and they’re dangerous once more.
Standing in their way in Japan will be New Zealand, Italy, Namibia and one of Kenya, Hong Kong, Germany, and Canada.
If Schalk Brits makes the World Cup he will be the happiest man in Japan, having never really hit the heights for his country
By Will Kelleher
Georgia are managed by Kiwi Milton Haig, who is big mates with England boss Jones. They’ve scrummed with England and have a very talented back in Soso Matiashvili. They also have a formidable front row, most of whom play in France.
Russia only made the cut because of a Rugby Europe shambles. Romania, who had initially earned the European qualifiers’ spot, Spain and Belgium were all docked points for repeatedly fielding ineligible players during qualification. They are likely to be one of the weakest outfits at the tournament.
Uruguay might have one of the oldest players in the Japan showpiece – lock Rodrigo Capo Ortega is already 37. They beat Canada by a point to make the tournament but were thrashed by the USA in March.
Tonga are trying to argue to get Charles Piutau to play for them, although it looks almost certain that won’t happen. They do however, have some talented players who ply their trade in the Premiership – Sione Kalamafoni, Nili Latu, Valentino Mapapalangi, Sonatane Takulua and Telusa Veainu to name a few.
In the Repechage there is Kenya, Germany, Hong Kong and Canada battling it out for the final spot. They will play a round robin during the autumn in France and the winner goes into All Blacks’ group (lucky them!).
Georgia are managed by Kiwi Milton Haig, who is big mates with England boss Eddie Jones, and have trained with England
Tonga are trying to get Bristol Bears’ Charles Piutau to play for them, although it looks almost certain that won’t happen