England, France, Argentina, USA, Tonga
In 2015, Eddie Jones was hired to do one thing. Win a World Cup, write Rhodri Morgan, Alice Reeves-Turner, Matthew Banks and Tom Holmes.
Two successive victorious Six Nations campaigns (including a Grand Slam) offered tangible hope that this goal could be achieved. But the last two years have seen a noticeable absence of silverware and increased tensions in a team stacked full of stars.
Two big warm-up victories over Italy and Ireland will have restored some faith in Eddie Jones’ and captain Owen Farrell’s leadership, but this will need to be proved over the coming weeks as they face the consensus ‘group of death’.
The French travel to Japan with a lot to prove, having suffered a humiliating 62-13 defeat to New Zealand in the last World Cup, as well as a string of poor Six Nations performances – including a 44-8 loss to England. If France are to win their first World Cup – or even get out the group – they’ll need experienced heads like Louis Picamoles to take a leading role; with seven players under 25 with less than 10 caps in their squad.
England fans will remember their close shave with Los Pumas in RWC 2011 and, as semi-finalists in the last tournament, they’ve proved that they’re always capable of causing an upset.
Mario Ledesma, one of the country’s most decorated forwards now turned head coach, has a difficult task ahead; creativity is where Argentina do their best work and they’re capable of producing devastating attacking rugby – but only when discipline and defensive cohesion is maintained.
The U.S.A. take arguably their strongest ever team to take part in the 2019 World Cup in Japan, with
the team currently seated 14th in the world (who could forget that 30-29 win over Scotland last year?) and are led by the former Cardiff Blues fly half, Blaine Scully. However, considering the standard of opposition in the group stage, it’s hard to see the Eagles advancing.
The World Cup’s smallest nation are coming off a crushing 92–7 defeat to the All Blacks on September 7 and aren’t expected to trouble the top seeds. As always, they will be a fun side to watch; bringing speed, physicality and some exciting attacking talent, including Leicester full-back Telusa Veainu. A win against the USA is priority #1, with anything else a bonus.
Surprise package: Argentina
Whipping boys: USA