The 10th edition of rugby union’s crown jewel, the World Cup, is shaping up to be one of the most competitive editions of the tournament with a number of teams having their eyes on the ultimate prize.
Only four nations have ever hoisted the Webb Ellis Trophy - New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and England - but hosts France are 11/4 joint-favourites to break their duck this year.
With number one-ranked side Ireland also gunning for their first World Cup, there’s a real possibility that the list of winners will expand to five after the 2023 competition is all said and done.
|2023 Rugby World Cup
|Various venues across France
|Friday 8th September - Saturday October 28th, 2023
|How to watch
|France 11/4, New Zealand 11/4, Ireland 9/2, South Africa 9/2, Australia 17/2
Few sights are more synonymous with international rugby as the black jerseys of New Zealand, so it seems only fitting they have won a joint-record three World Cups.
The All Blacks won the inaugural tournament in 1987 as hosts in dominant fashion, cruising through the pool stage before comfortable victories over Scotland, Wales and France in the knockouts.
Having strolled to the top prize in such convincing fashion first time out, the Kiwis shockingly had to wait until 2011, when they next hosted the World Cup, before getting their hands on the trophy again.
They only made one final in the interim period, with some great players, including Andrew Mehrtens, Christian Cullen and, most famously, Jonah Lomu, missing out on a world title during that period.
But they would eventually get over the hump, albeit not as convincingly as in 1987 as they just edged out France 8-7 with fifth-choice fly-half Stephen Donald slotting the decisive penalty in Auckland.
New Zealand then became the first team to retain the World Cup four years later in England in their first success on foreign soil.
One of the greatest All Blacks teams of all-time were deservedly crowned champions after thrashing France in the quarter-finals, edging past South Africa in the semis, before a thrilling final success against Australia.
The final marked the end of an era for New Zealand rugby with all-time record points scorer Dan Carter, record appearance holder Richie McCaw, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Kevin Mealamu and Tony Woodcock all retiring after the tournament.
Only one side has ever beaten New Zealand in a World Cup final and that honour goes to South Africa, who have played in three finals and won them all.
Having missed the first two editions of the World Cup, the Springboks won the top prize at the first time of asking as hosts in 1995.
South Africa’s excellent defence would see them edge out the All Blacks 15-12 in the first final to go to extra-time.
Joel Stransky kicking all 15 points before President Nelson Mandela presented Francois Pienaar with the Webb Ellis Trophy in a highly symbolic moment.
The Springboks would claim a second world title in 2007 in another try-less final, this time holding their nerve to see off England 15-6 in Paris.
The two nations would meet again in the most recent World Cup final in Yokohama, where the outcome was more decisive as the Boks' formidable pack won the day 32-12 against pre-match favourites England.
No side has been to more World Cup finals than England, who have reached the decider four times, but they only have one title to show for their efforts.
But sandwiched in between the two defeats to South Africa in finals and a painful loss at Twickenham to Australia in 1991 is English rugby’s day of crowning glory.
Arguably England’s greatest generation of players, under the watch of coach Clive Woodward, delivered the nation’s one and only title in 2003 thanks to an unforgettable drop goal from Jonny Wilkinson in extra-time.
That kick saw England repay Australia for their win on English soil, as the Red Rose took home the Webb Ellis Trophy from Sydney with a 20-17 success.
England remain the only northern hemisphere side to have won a World Cup, with France having reached three finals but lost them all.
One of France’s final defeats came at the hands of Australia in 1999, who won both their World Cups during the 1990s.
A golden generation of Wallabies, led by all-time great John Eales, were at the top of their game during that decade, which started with a 12-6 win over England in 1991 to cap off an undefeated run through the World Cup.
England would exact some revenge with victory over Australia in the 1995 World Cup quarter-finals, before the Aussies were back on top in 1999, becoming the first two-time winners back on British soil.
After a bruising extra-time semi-final win over South Africa, the Aussies won the final with relative ease against France in Cardiff, as Les Bleus failed to back up a sensational semi-final success over the All Blacks.