England’s strong recent form in the Six Nations has seen the leading bookmakers start to take them seriously as potential Rugby World Cup contenders this year.
Their 20-10 victory in Wales was a major step forward for England, shrugging off the disappointment of their opening day defeat to near neighbours Scotland. England are a different proposition under new head coach, Steve Borthwick, after the RFU dispensed with the services of Eddie Jones following a dismal run of form in 2022.
A quick glance at the latest outright market for the Rugby World Cup 2023 sees three of the top-five nations based in Europe. It’s something of a surprise given that the domestic leagues of the Southern Hemisphere have strengthened in recent years, which can only be a good thing for developing national squads.
It’s fair to say that today’s sports betting markets span far and wide, beyond the European borders. Domestic leagues in Australia and New Zealand are all faring well and gaining increased exposure globally. Super Rugby and the United Rugby Championship – also involving sides from South Africa – are now rivalling the likes of the Aviva Premiership and the France Top 14, improving the competitive experiences of domestic players for New Zealand and South Africa, with Australia not too far behind.
Former England head coach, Eddie Jones, believes there are six countries capable of winning this year’s World Cup in France. Below, we look at the five main powerhouses bidding to lit the Webb Ellis Trophy in France this autumn.
It helps being the host nation, but France have got arguably their best ever chance of lifting a Rugby World Cup. Their squad is an exceptional age, with plenty of young talent starting to shine with time and experience. With the likes of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack leading the way, this French squad will run through brick walls for each other, especially in front of fervent home crowds this autumn.
The latest Six Nations has shown they are not infallible though. A 32-19 defeat in Ireland shows there’s still work to be done.
New Zealand are the undisputed heavyweights of World Cup rugby. The All Blacks have long been the most fearsome prospect for any Northern or Southern Hemisphere nation locking horns with the Kiwis. Although the All Blacks haven’t had things all their own way in recent times, they will still be primed for a bold bid in France later this year.
Recent Test matches have been closely contested, including their most recent 25-25 draw with England. Prior to this, the All Blacks only narrowly edged out Scotland 31-23.
Ireland is the major force in the Six Nations right now. They have been the team to beat for some time and after three successive victories the Irish sit at the top of the 2023 Six Nations table again, on course for another Grand Slam.
In fact, Ireland are the number-one team in the world rugby rankings, which explains why they are rated so highly by the bookies. Veteran Johnny Sexton remains the heartbeat of this Ireland team. Keep him fit and fluent and there’s every chance of success in France. They have a tough Pool B, with South Africa and Scotland for company. Finish second in that group and it is highly likely Ireland will face France in the opening knockout round.
The South Africans will fly to France as the defending champions, after overcoming England 32-12 in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final. The Springboks are considered big-game players, having shown the heart and desire to win three of the last seven Rugby World Cups. In fact, South Africa are now level with New Zealand on three World Cup successes.
However, South Africa’s results outside of the World Cup stage have been less so prolific. In fact, they’ve bagged just four Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship victories against New Zealand and Australia. Like Ireland, South Africa will view Pool B as a tough nut to crack, with Scotland the potential dark horse.
One of the main reasons behind England’s short odds to win the 2023 Rugby World Cup is their preferential Pool D. England have been joined by Japan, Argentina, Samoa and first-timers Chile in their group. It would be a huge surprise not to see England top this Pool. Another big factor in England’s favour is the breadth of its squad, which has a string of experienced campaigners, along with a sprinkling of young, emerging talent, underpinned by its rock-solid community game. There are plenty of up-and-coming rookies pushing for a place in the England squad later this year, with fast-improving Josh Hodge a prime example of someone that’s made the step up the divisions with ease.
If Borthwick can guide England to a strong Six Nations finish, hopes will be higher than 12 months ago for a strong showing in France.
One thing is for sure, this year’s tournament promises to be one of the most open in the history of the competition.