Rugby’s showpiece event kicks off on Friday heralding a feast of Rugby with 48 matches at 13 venues over six weeks, culminating with the final at Twickenham on the 31st of March. Over 2 million people are expected to attend the event, with an expected television audience of over 3 billion people in 207 territories; while up to 460,000 International visitors are expected during the tournament (the largest number ever for a World Cup).
Here’s how I see the tournament panning out:
* Winners: Rugby Championship winners Australia, hosts England, South Africa, Six Nations champs Ireland, Wales, France and Argentina could all do it but my money’s on New Zealand. After ending 24 years of hurt in 2011, Steve Hansen’s men have the X-factor, the strength in depth, and the mental toughness to win their first RWC on foreign soil.
* Surprise package: France. Despite a generally poor last four years which has seen them finish fourth, bottom, fourth, and fourth in the Six Nations, the French boast an excellent World Cup pedigree and showed glimpses of their potential during the Six Nations as well as recent World Cup warm-up games. They have reached 3 finals and the Semi-finals of the last 4 World Cups and fell agonisingly short in 2011 against hosts New Zealand despite a players mutiny against then coach Marc Livrémont.
Other potential candidates are Samoa and Japan who could threaten Scotland’s quarter-final aspirations.
* Player of the tournament: New Zealand’s electric Julian Savea, Australia’s all-action back-rowers Michael Hooper and David Pocock, South Africa’s Willie Le Roux, England’s George Ford, and Argentina’s Nicolás Sánchez are all contenders, but the dazzling Israel Folau will be the star of the show.
The Ex-Aussie rules and League star, who has notched up 18 tries in only 33 appearances for the Wallabies, has electric pace, outstanding footwork, and raw power. Opposition defences beware!
* Leading points scorer: Sharp shooters George Ford and Johnny Sexton will be right up there but I’m going for World Rugby’s highest points scorer of all time: Dan Carter to top the points chart and add a winners medal to his International swansong.
* Best Northern Hemisphere team: England. Having come through the group of ‘death’ (as group winners) I believe England will be battle hardened come the knock-out stages, and along with home support will make it to the final. While Six Nations winners Ireland after topping their group and enjoying their best ever World Cup campaign, will fall at the Semi-Final stage.
* Top try-scorer: Israel Folau, Anthony Watson (Eng), rookie Nehe Milner- Skudder (NZ), Bryan Habana and Willie Le Roux (both SA) will all run in some tries, but its Hurricanes flyer Julian Savea who I expect to top the charts. Having dotted down 30 times in only 35 tests expect the 25 year-old to make a major impact in England.
So, let the games begin!