The 10th edition of the Rugby World Cup is set to kick off on Friday, with host France taking on New Zealand at the Stade de France in Paris. It promises to be an exciting start to this prestigious sporting event.
As opening matches go, this one is monumental, featuring two of the world’s top rugby teams facing off in front of an anticipated sell-out crowd of 80,000 spectators. It’s a clash of titans at its finest.
This matchup will mark the beginning of a series of 48 games spread across nine venues in France. The tournament will culminate with the final match at the same Stade de France on October 28, promising a thrilling month of rugby action.
As the kickoff approaches, here’s everything you need to know in preparation for rugby union’s premier event.
Where is it?
France, having previously hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2007, secured the hosting rights for this year’s event in 2017. Their bid triumphed over competing bids from South Africa and Ireland.
France’s hosting of the Rugby World Cup is particularly significant as it coincides with the country’s upcoming role as the host of the Olympic Games in Paris next year, putting it squarely in the global sporting spotlight.
Organizers have high expectations, with an anticipated 600,000 fans expected to travel to France for the tournament. To accommodate this, they made a significant number of tickets available, setting a record with 2.6 million tickets offered for the event.
The Rugby World Cup will feature matches at nine distinct venues across nine different cities in France: Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Paris, Saint-Étienne, and Toulouse, offering fans a wide range of locations to enjoy the tournament.
The Stade de France will play a central role in the tournament, hosting the opening match between France and the All Blacks, two quarterfinals, both semifinals and the highly anticipated final. Among the other venues, the Stade de Marseille is the sole host for knockout stage matches outside of the Stade de France.
How to watch?
In the United States, where the national team has failed to qualify for the tournament for the first time since 1995, rugby fans can catch the matches on NBC for coverage of the Rugby World Cup.
For viewers in different regions:
- In Australia, the tournament will be broadcast on Stan Sport.
- In New Zealand, you can catch it on Sky.
- In the United Kingdom, ITV and S4C will provide coverage of the Rugby World Cup.
- For a comprehensive list of international broadcasters covering the Rugby World Cup, you can visit the official Rugby World Cup website to find the most up-to-date information.
Who is taking part?
The Rugby World Cup for this year will feature a total of 20 teams, divided into four pools, with each pool consisting of five teams.
Several of the nations participating in the tournament are familiar contenders. Ireland, South Africa (the defending champions), France, and New Zealand currently hold the top world rankings, followed by Australia, England, Argentina, Wales, and Scotland, all of which are well-established and competitive teams in rugby.
Fiji has had a remarkable preparation for the tournament, achieving a historic victory over England just last month. Additionally, Italy, Georgia, Japan, Tonga, and Samoa have been consistently competing against, and on occasion, defeating some of the world’s top rugby-playing nations for many years.
What’s the format?
In the Rugby World Cup format, each country plays every other team in its pool once. The top two teams from each pool then move on to the quarterfinals, where they compete in a knockout format.
The top team from Pool A will face the runner-up from Pool B in quarterfinal four, while the winner of Pool B will meet the runner-up of Pool A in quarterfinal two. A similar arrangement applies to Pools C and D, resulting in quarterfinals one and three on the other side of the draw.
In the semifinals, the victor of quarterfinal one takes on the winner of quarterfinal two, and the victor of quarterfinal three competes against the winner of quarterfinal four. Additionally, there will be a third-place playoff on October 27th between the two teams that lose in the semifinals.
Who is in which pool?
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C||Pool D|
|New Zealand||South Africa||Wales||England|
Who are the favorites?
In the past nine Rugby World Cups, only four different nations have emerged as winners: New Zealand and South Africa, both three times, Australia twice, and England once. France is the only other nation to have reached the final.
This year, in a potentially unique scenario, four teams come into the tournament with strong chances of winning the Webb Ellis trophy. Notably, two of these teams have never claimed the title before.
The Rugby World Cup favorites are South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland (the number one-ranked team), and France, but an unusual aspect of the draw from three years ago means that two of these top contenders will exit the tournament before the semifinals.
South Africa’s confidence is soaring following impressive wins against Wales and New Zealand recently, while France benefits from home-field advantage and secured victories against Australia, Fiji, and Scotland in warm-up matches. However, France has faced challenges with injuries to key players like Romain Ntamack, Paul Willemse, Cyril Baille, and Jonathan Danty.
Ireland, sitting at the top of the world rankings, aims to break its history of disappointment in the World Cup by advancing beyond the quarterfinals.
On the other side of the draw, the competition appears less formidable, potentially providing teams like Australia, England, Argentina, or Wales with a path to the semifinals without confronting one of the top-four teams.
Ugo Monye suggests that England, despite recent underperformance, may have a somewhat simpler route to success in the World Cup, though navigating such a tournament is never truly simple.
‘Pool of death
On paper, Pool B appears to be the most challenging group, as it pits Scotland, a team that has reached the quarterfinals on all but two occasions, against early matchups with Ireland and South Africa.
Tonga, on the other hand, has benefited from a change in eligibility rules implemented since 2022. These rules now allow players to change their international allegiance if they meet the criteria and haven’t been selected for another nation in three years. This change has allowed Tonga to bolster its squad with several former New Zealand and Australia internationals in preparation for the tournament.
Former Scotland captain Stuart Hogg, who retired earlier this year, acknowledges the challenge facing Scotland in Pool B, often referred to as the “pool of death.” They are up against the current world champions and the world’s top-ranked team. Despite the tough competition, Hogg believes that to be the best, you have to defeat the best.
Who are the star players?
French scrum-half Antoine Dupont, who was named the player of the year in the men’s game two years ago, is expected to bring his exceptional skills to the tournament, including his clever passes and agile runs. Unfortunately, his regular half-back partner, Ntamack, won’t be available due to a knee injury sustained before the tournament.
Nevertheless, head coach Fabien Galthié has a squad filled with star quality, including the formidable winger Damian Penaud and the dynamic ball-carrying number eight, Grégory Alldritt.
New Zealand, still recovering from a 35-7 loss to South Africa last month, has assembled an experienced squad with players like Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, and Brodie Retallick, each boasting more than 100 international appearances. Captain Sam Kane and hooker Dane Coles were part of the All Blacks’ winning team in 2015.
South Africa, while missing some star players from their 2019 title-winning team, still has notable talents like Eben Etzebeth, Cheslin Kolbe, and Makazole Mapimpi.
Ireland’s Johnny Sexton is preparing for his final appearances in professional rugby at the age of 38, with key forwards like James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, and last year’s men’s player of the year, Josh van der Flier.
England’s Owen Farrell, despite a two-game ban, will return during the group stage. Scotland is relying on Finn Russell’s dazzling play in the challenging “Pool of Death.”
Fiji is known for its exciting, fast-paced style of rugby, led by players like Levani Botia, Josua Tuisova, and Semi Radrada. Fresh from their historic victory against England, Fiji has the potential to make a significant impact in this year’s World Cup.