It seems like only yesterday that Richie McCaw was proudly holding up the William Webb Ellis Cup in the middle of Eden Park and John Key was performing his infamously awkward triple handshake after the All Blacks won the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Pool A has been labelled as the “group of death”, and hosts England are far from guaranteed an easy passage into the quarter-finals, with tough matches against the Aussies and co-hosts, Wales. Home-ground advantage will count for something though — as proven twice by the ABs. The lower ranked Fijians are more than capable of causing an upset, so it’s only 19th-ranked Uruguay that are a near certainty to head home early.
South Africa are favourites to top Pool B, but who will join them in the next round is a tough call. Japan has not won a World Cup match since 1991, and the United States’ record is only slightly better. Scotland have been the Six Nations wooden-spooners for three of the last six years, so that could leave the door open for our bros from Samoa to make it to the knockout stage.
The top-ranked All Blacks look to have the easiest passage to the knockout stages in Pool C, having never lost to any of their four opponents. Namibia is the lowest ranked team in the tournament, and Georgia isn’t the most feared rugby-playing nation. This means the match between Argentina and Tonga could well decide who goes through alongside the ABs, provided everything goes according to plan.
Pool D should see Ireland easily through as they have won the Six Nations in the last two seasons. France should also make it through at the expense of their neighbours Italy and could well be the All Blacks’ opponents in the quarters. Relative minnows Canada and Romania would probably be exceeding expectations if they managed to pick up any points.
As is always the case at major tournaments, there is room for some surprising results. However, if everything goes to plan, the All Blacks have a great chance to make history and become the first three-time champions and also the first to win back-to-back World Cups. We are backing black and will have plenty of coverage of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in our last two issues of Critic for the year!