It’s the sporting spectacle that seizes New Zealand’s imagination every four years. The All Blacks arrive at this year’s Rugby World Cup having rediscovered rich form. But the field has never been more even, with France and Ireland among the favourites to win and the Pacific Island nations boosted in their playing ranks.
Words: Christopher Reive, Luke Kirkness; Design: Dean Talavera; Interactive: Chris Knox
Across September and October, 20 of the world’s top rugby nations will head to France in the hopes of leaving the European nation with the title of world champions.
Only four countries have ever had that honour, with New Zealand, Australia, England and South Africa the only teams to have earned the right to host the Webb Ellis Cup aloft.
Interestingly enough, with the draw being made so far in advance of the tournament, it has turned out that the teams currently ranked among the top five in the world all fall on the same side of the draw from the quarterfinals, while Ireland (1), South Africa (3) and Scotland (5) are all in the same pool.
Elsewhere, some nations have received a boost in their talent pools for the tournament thanks to a change in World Rugby eligibility rules, which saw a shorter stand-down period implemented for athletes who have already represented another country at test level; former All Blacks lock Vaea Fifita will take the field for Tonga and ex-Wallabies first five-eighths Christian Leali’ifano is representing Samoa.
The tone will be set from the opening match of the tournament when the All Blacks take on the hosts at Stade de France – the two favourites with the bookmakers getting an early opportunity to make their mark on the event. That will be the first of the 48 matches played across a 51-day period, with the final at the same venue on October 28 local time.