The 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan is almost upon us, and it is set to be arguably the most open edition ever, with around half a dozen sides theoretically contenders for the Webb Ellis trophy.

We have given our Telegraph Sport rugby columnists the tough task of making their pre-tournament predictions, while the majority are optimistic for England's chances, they have found it challenging to look beyond a southern hemisphere victor.

Austin Healey

Winner: New Zealand

I think New Zealand will win the World Cup unless England can manufacture a second place in the group. If England lose to France in the final game they go into the better side of the draw become eventual winners.

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Runner-up: South Africa

Runners-up is a really difficult one to call. I think the likelihood is either New Zealand or South Africa - the Springboks look good at the right time.

Top try scorer: Jonny May

May will be the top try scorer with seven as Eddie Jones seems to like to play him in every game, and England should score a lot of tries in the opening two matches.

Dark horse: Scotland

Scotland are the dark horses for me under Gregor Townsend, if they beat Ireland in the pool stage I could see them defeating South Africa in the quarter-finals.

How England will do

Everybody is talking them up and they have all the components to go all the way. I would just prefer that they met New Zealand in the final rather than the semi-finals and avoided Wales if at all possible. Whilst I never like losing to France, I think this could be the time.

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Will Greenwood

Winner: South Africa

Power, pace, a great goalkicker and lineout gurus. Springboks look the full package.

Runner-up: England

Will just come up short having knocked out New Zealand in the semi-final!!

Top try-scorer: Makazole Mapimpi (South Africa)

Seven in the pool stages will put him beyond the reach of most…

Dark horse: France

Wales beware in the quarter-final…

How will England do:

They'll do epically well and end up as losing finalists, though I hope I'm wrong about getting beaten by South Africa in the final. Keep the Vunipolas fit and there's no reason why we can't win the whole thing.

Springboks players celebrate a try during a Rugby Championship match against Argentina. Photo / Photosport
Springboks players celebrate a try during a Rugby Championship match against Argentina. Photo / Photosport

Sir Ian McGeechan

Winner: New Zealand

Far from invincible but the All Blacks will have learnt lessons from recent defeat by Australia and draw in South Africa. Still the team to beat.

Runner-up: Wales

Warren Gatland's team have proven they can win tight games of rugby. Very good under pressure.

Dark horse: England

I can't see Australia or France winning three knockout games in a row. England my third pick after New Zealand or Wales.

Top scorer: Ben Smith (New Zealand)

On the basis that the All Blacks will play more games than others and Smith is a try machine.

How will England do:

So much depends on where they finish in their group. If they avoid Wales I think they make the final.

Maggie Alphonsi

Winner: New Zealand

They know how to peak at the right time. This team don't want to be remembered as the players who lost in the black jersey. That will drive them on.

Runner-up: South Africa

I've been very impressed by them recently, and their attack has a real variety plus a solid kicker in Handre Pollard. It's a good combination.

Top try scorer: Jonny May (England)

I can see Jonny filling his boots against Tonga and the USA if he gets to start, though I'd also keep an eye out for Reece Hodge of Australia and Sevu Reece of New Zealand.

Dark horse: Fiji

They could cause some serious damage, particularly with the likes of Leone Nakarawa and Vereniki Goneva fit and firing. They're very dangerous when they get going.

How England will do:

They will get to the semi-final against New Zealand, start well and take the lead but I fear they will fade in the second half and slip to a narrow defeat. But I hope I'm wrong!

All Blacks Brodie Retallick and Kieran read in action against England. Photo / Photosport
All Blacks Brodie Retallick and Kieran read in action against England. Photo / Photosport

Jamie Roberts

Winner: Wales

Warren Gatland will have primed his squad for this moment, and led by Alun Wyn Jones they can triumph.

Runner-up: South Africa

Transformed since Rassie Erasmus took over, with a strong pack upfront and a lethal finisher in Cheslin Kolbe.

Top try scorer: Antoine Dupont

So sharp at sniping around the fringes and runs excellent support lines off his ball-carriers - he can rack up tries.

Dark horse: France

Love to upset the odds at a Rugby World Cup and this will be no different. They can shock England.

How England will do: Quarter-finals (lose to Wales)

Coming second behind France would leave England facing Wales in the last eight, and Gatland knows how to defeat them.

How Wales will do: Winners

Wales can control possession, shut teams down with their defence and have the world-class goal-kicker needed in Leigh Halfpenny to win it all.

Mick Cleary

Winner: England

They have got to this point in good shape and if they can maintain a clean bill of health they have the power and pace to win.

Runner-up: South Africa

The Springboks have gathered momentum since Rassie Erasmus took over and look as if they have real clout up front and potency behind.

Top Try-scorer: Jonny May

The team that goes the furthest often has the best chance of delivering the top try scorer and May is in rich form.

Dark horse: Fiji

The Pacific Island teams have greater chance to flourish at a World Cup as it is the only opportunity they really have to train together.

How will England do:

The return to fitness of Manu Tuilagi allied to the ball-carrying punch of the Vunipola brothers as well as Kyle Sinckler make England so powerful.

England's Joe Cokanasiga in action against Ireland. Photo / Photosport
England's Joe Cokanasiga in action against Ireland. Photo / Photosport

Gavin Mairs

Winner: England

This looks likely to be the World Cup where power is the decisive factor which is why I think England and South Africa will be the most dangerous, and with New Zealand's patchy form in the Rugby Championship, Eddie Jones's side can win it.

Runner-up: New Zealand

If England, as expected win their pool, they will avoid New Zealand in the semi-finals if South Africa top their pool. New Zealand however should still make the final.

Top try scorer: Jacob Stockdale

The Ulster wing appears to score tries for fun and if he continues his potent beginning to his Test career could score a hatful in the pool stages.

Dark horse: Wales

As reigning Grand Slam champions, who would wager a bet against Warren Gatland's side being the second northern hemisphere side to lift the Webb Ellis cup?

How England will do:

There is an air of uncertainty about England's hopes, but their power and attacking options suggests that this year is their best chance to win the World Cup since 2003.

Daniel Schofield

Winner: New Zealand

Talk of their demise is premature. Still loaded with talent and crucially the experience of winning back-to-back World Cups.

Runner-up: South Africa

Winning the Rugby Championship in a World Cup year means little, but are still making huge strides under Rassie Erasmus.

Top try-scorer: Sevu Reece

In a pool with Canada, Namibia and Italy, the All Blacks wingers are going to be running rampant.

Dark horse: Fiji

So often we talk about their backs, but with Nakarawa, Mata and Yata in their pack they can go toe to toe with Australia and Wales in Pool D.

How England will do:

Semi-final defeat to the All Blacks. Could just as easily win the tournament or be knocked out in the group stages.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland. Photo / Photosport
Wales head coach Warren Gatland. Photo / Photosport

Tom Cary

Winner: South Africa

New Zealand can still lift their game to a level that others cannot. But they're beatable. It feels like the Springboks are peaking at the right time.

Runner-up: England

Eddie Jones' team are well capable of beating any team on their day. But they can lose their heads when they can't overpower opponents.

Dark horse: Ireland

After the year they've had - and their World Cup history record - a win for Ireland would be a major surprise. If they keep key players fit and play to their potential…

Top scorer: Jonny May (England)

Has lifted his game to another level in the last 12 months. Wheels.

How will England do:

Losing finalists. They will beat Australia in the quarter-final and New Zealand in the semis but fail to make it a hat-trick in the final.

Charlie Morgan

Winner: South Africa

Power, speed, the nous of Rassie Erasmus and a recent knack of rattling New Zealand puts them in a strong position

Runner-up: New Zealand

Their new combinations look to be clicking nicely but three from three will be snatched away by the Springboks

Top try-scorer: George Bridge (New Zealand)

The hard-working, rapid wing is a clever support runner and will benefit from pool-stage thrashings of Italy, Canada and Namibia

Dark horse: France

Les Bleus like Rugby World Cups at the best of times and look settled after a focussed training camp and impressive warm-up performances

How England will do:

A semi-final loss to either South Africa or New Zealand after some bulldozing wins the pool stages

George Bridge. Photo / Photosport
George Bridge. Photo / Photosport

Ben Coles

Winner: New Zealand

Don't be fooled by the All Blacks' struggles, they will peak for the Rugby World Cup, squeezing past England in a blockbuster semi-final.

Runner-up: Wales

This is it for Warren Gatland, so you imagine something has been held back to surprise Australia in the groups. Argentina or France, then South Africa, await beyond.

Top try scorer: George Bridge

Not as flashy as Sevu Reece, his All Blacks team-mate, but Bridge is rapid, a potent finisher and can also feature at full-back. Could be a breakout star.

Dark horse: Argentina

Choosing between them or France to finish up behind England in Pool C is toss of a coin, but the Pumas thrived four years ago and are stronger after Super Rugby.

How England will do:

Semi-finals (loss to NZ). No shame in this, but while England are clearly good enough to knock off France, Argentina and Australia, the All Blacks are a different beast.

Kate Rowan

Winners: South Africa

The Springboks have peaked at just the right moment - they will beat a New Zealand side not as mentally resilient compared with the 2011 and 2015 World Cup winning sides in the pool stages, before dispatching of Ireland and Wales en route to the final.

Runners-up: England

While Wales and Ireland have both reached world No1 in the past month, England like the South Africans have the ballast and may also have a defence that performs rather better than their Celtic rivals in the vital moments.

Top try scorer: Jonny May (England)

Key to England's run to final will be Jonny May's prolific try scoring - particularly the brace I believe he will score against France that will end up being the difference between the two sides in the pool stages.

Dark horse: Fiji

The opening game against Australia could potentially be the Fijians' chance to put their mark on the tournament. If Australia coach Michael Cheika does opt for a more open style of play that could play into the Fijians' hands. Surprise quarterfinalists.

How England will do:

A run to the final is dependent on the fitness of key players, none more so than Owen Farrell. If the skipper stays fit (along with the Vunipolas) then he can guide his side into an attritional final, where they will miss out by a score.

Richard Bath

Winner: New Zealand

Far from a classic All Blacks side but they avoid South Africa until the final and have good strength in depth.

Runner-up: South Africa

If they lose opener to NZ, they avoid Kiwis and probably England until the final, and will be favourites to win quarter and semis.

Top try scorer: Sevu Reece

The prolific All Black wing only has three caps so will play as often as possible, making hay against Italy, Canada and Namibia.

Dark horse: France

They are making massive strides under Jacques Brunel, have fearsome World Cup pedigree, like hot conditions, and are monstrously physical.

How England will do:

Third. They are seeded to top the group, meet Australia in the quarters and NZ in the semis, which will be make or break.