The Rugby World Cup 2023 begins today with a mouth-watering clash between two giants of the game.
Hosts France face New Zealand in Paris in a showdown that’s guaranteed to deliver big hits, show-stopping play and nail-biting tension. But that’s just the start.
Ireland have come of age in recent times. True, a knock-out round win will put Jonny Sexton’s men in uncharted waters, but this year’s Six Nations Grand Slam winners seem to have captured that elusive blend of experience, confidence and winning momentum that could take them all the way.
And what of France? Gone are the days when pundits give a Gallic shrug and speculate over what kind of French team will turn up. Les Bleus are on fire, fizzing with self-belief and boasting an embarrassment of talent. A first World Cup win on French soil is surely written in the Parisian stars for Antoine Dupont’s troops.
Not if South Africa have their way. Talisman Eben Etzebeth leads a typically monster pack that will bulldoze tirelessly, creating platforms from which a lightning Springbok backline can blitz the opposition in their bid to defend their 2019 crown.
And each squad will have to bring their A-game if they are to overturn New Zealand. Always the team to beat, the All Blacks have a habit of finding form in the World Cup and will deal better than most with the pressures of the latter rounds. Look out for wings Will Jordan and Mark Telea making their mark through the coming days.
Argentina too, will be clawing at the gates. The Pumas are now a force thanks to 12 years in the Rugby Championship and wholly deserving of their 6th place world ranking. And if Australia have underperformed in recent years, former England coach, Eddie Jones is now at the helm and keen to make an impression. Plus, you can count on the green and golds to see red when their backs are against the wall in knock-out rugby.
Steadily growing in power, Scotland go into this contest with greater confidence and cohesion than ever before; the Tartan army will make their presence felt this time round. And while in transition, Wales and England both have it within them to get the combinations right at any stage.
But as the professional game has matured, we’re seeing more countries than ever in with a shout of disturbing the traditional balances of power, and that is to be celebrated. It means this year’s race for the William Webb Ellis Trophy will be our most unpredictable and interesting yet.
Having secured wins over big names in world rugby, Japan are poised to launch themselves into their group games and beyond. Fiji arrive fresh off the back of their first-ever victory over England – at Twickenham, no less – a historic win that should infuse composure into their famously high velocity, one-way game.
After securing big results in Cardiff not so long ago, both Italy and Georgia know they can disrupt on away turf. Meanwhile, no one will be thrilled to go up against the likes of Samoa and Tonga; the Pacific islands’ free-spirited power play will keep the toughest of opponents honest until the final whistle.
Beyond these genuine contenders, the Rugby World Cup will always provide shock and awe in equal measure. Teams like Chile and Portugal earned their spots through thrilling qualifiers, and underdogs have consistently spoilt the script.
As the tournament gets underway, there are looming issues on and off the pitch, from the club game's struggles in England and Wales to the challenges of implementing greater safety measures for player health.
However, amidst all this, the World Cup is a time of genuine excitement and togetherness, a cultural spectacle that captivates fans and showcases the joy of elite rugby.
With Parisian lights, iconic anthems, and the Haka and so much more, the Rugby World Cup is set to once again capture the hearts of millions and deliver unforgettable moments on the grandest stage of all.