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International Rugby: Who would be ready if the World Cup was this year?

The Rugby World Cup is just a year away and while France and Ireland look extremely strong, New Zealand are struggling.

The All Blacks looked out of ideas as they went down 2-1 to the Irish in their recent three-match series and the pressure seems to be mounting on coach Ian Foster.

Elsewhere, Eddie Jones has eased his own worries with England's 2-1 series success in Australia, while Wales will have taken heart from a first-ever victory in South Africa.

What

World Cup 2023

Where

France

When

Friday 8th September to Saturday 28th October 2023

How to watch

ITV

Odds

France 5/2, New Zealand 3/1, England 5/1, Ireland 5/1, South Africa 11/2

Ireland's history boys eye global glory

Ireland's issue has almost always been that they have been flying the year before the World Cup, only to peak too early and inevitably fall short at the tournament itself.

The last three World Cups have seen them fall in the quarter-finals but they are 5/1 to go all the way next year. They should certainly be confident, having outplayed New Zealand to win their July series 2-1.

After losing the first Test in Auckland, Andy Farrell and his troops regrouped to secure successes in Dunedin and Wellington to take their first ever wins in New Zealand and with it a rare series victory for a visiting team to the 'Land of the Long White Cloud'.

However, it will count for nothing if they stumble next year and until they prove otherwise, there will remain fears that they have, once again, peaked early.

Similarly, France enjoyed a successful summer, giving some of their big names a rest and experimenting with some fringe stars in Japan.

Les Bleus are 5/2 to win their first World Cup and have the added advantage of the tournament taking place on home soil.

Fabien Galthie's men have fallen behind Ireland in the world rankings but there's no shame in that and these two are by far the form teams on the planet and if the tournament was tomorrow, they would be ready. However, past failures have led to an unkind draw, with the potential the pair could meet in the last eight.

Frustration for Kiwis

The New Zealand Rugby Union's preference for selecting continuity candidates when appointing a new coach played a big part in Foster getting the job when Steven Hansen stepped down in 2019.

Some decent early results patched over shaky performances but the All Blacks were second best throughout their series with Ireland and there are renewed calls for Scott Robertson to come in.

Robertson is fresh off another successful season in charge of the Crusaders and fielding a full XV from the Chruistchuch outfit wouldn't be a bad thing.

That said, the depth of talent in New Zealand means the selectors cannot ignore players from other teams and Foster will be looking to the Rugby Championship, a tournament his side are 1/1 to win, to try and find a game plan that works.

The cards dealt to Foster haven't been easy, with South Africa's departure from Super Rugby seemingly impacting the ferocity of the Kiwi forwards, as they are no longer tested to the same degree.

However, there is no room for excuses when you're in charge of the All Blacks and he has to make some big calls. Does Sam Cane stay on as captain? Should Jordie Barrett feature in midfield rather than fullback? And as brilliant as he is, is Beauden Barrett as good at running the attack as Richie Mo'unga? All this needs to be decided before they head to France in September 2023.

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Is Jones finding his way again?

There is a school of thought that Eddie Jones is a man ahead of his time and that his unorthodox tactics always become vogue.

The heat was on the Australian coach after England claimed just two wins from their five matches in the Six Nations and things weren't helped when they lost the opening games of the series in his homeland.

However, despite again missing key players, the Red Rose engineered a comeback and there were signs Down Under that England, 5/1 to win the World Cup, were starting to rediscover a similar groove to that which saw them reach the final in Japan and have time to develop.

They beat the Wallabies in the quarter-finals in 2019 and the same frustrations remain for the two-time champions. Dave Rennie has made positive changes since being appointed in 2020. However, whatever structures a coach puts in place, they cannot account for individual errors and Australia still make too many of them.

There were positives to take from this month's series, with Tom Wright a real game-breaker in the back three, while there was also more consistency throughout their forward play.

Australia are 12/1 to lift the Webb Ellis Cup and like their Antipodean neighbours, need a big Rugby Championship.

Boks developing depth

South Africa won't mind how they are shaping up with less than 18 months until the World Cup. They were, quite frankly, a shambles at a similar stage four years ago and went on to win the World Cup.

They are 11/2 to defend their crown and after using the second of three Tests against Wales to experiment, coach Jacques Nienaber will now feel he knows upon whom he can rely.

That's vital as he aims to reinvigorate a squad that has also won a series against the British & Lions in the last three years.

The decision of the summer was arguably to select Damian Willemse at fullback, with the 24-year-old both a threat with ball in hand and with the boot.

Willemse will be looking to cement his place in the side during the Rugby Championship and could form a potent nine-10-15 axis with rookie scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse and fly-half Handre Pollard.

Encouragement for Pivac but uncertainty for Townsend

Things couldn't have gotten worse for Wales after they lost their final Six Nations match against Italy, allowing the Azzurri to break their 36-game losing streak in the tournament.

Pivac survived the calls for his departure and his players showed they are with him during their series defeat to the Boks.

While the first ever win in South Africa came in the middle Test and amongst Nienaber's changes, it was still a historic success and achieved without a host of big names.

They will need a tighter set-piece needed at next year's tournament, especially with them set to face both the Australians and the always electric Fijians.

While a 2-1 series defeat was a success for Wales, Scotland's reverse by the same scoreline in Argentina left more questions.

Gregor Townsend chose to rest key players like Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg but perhaps with an eye on his emerging stars stepping. That didn't happen and 'Toonie' and his squad still seem to have something to prove ahead of next year.

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