It only seems like yesterday that England hosted the 2015 World Cup, but four years have almost passed, meaning another one is upon us. And this one will certainly be a unique tournament, as the competition heads to Asia for the first time, with Japan the hosts.
New Zealand, England, Australia and South Africa are never far from the equation, but could some unexpected teams put forth a real challenge in 2019?
Ireland are a huge rugby nation, and as of March 2018 were ranked number two in the world. Surprisingly though, they’ve never had a serious impact on the World Cup stage, boasting the remarkable stat of exiting the tournament at the quarter-final stage on no less than six occasions – including the last two tournaments in 2011 and 2015.
The Irish produced a stunning performance in the 2018 Six Nations too, not just winning the tournament, but doing so by beating England in the final game on St. Patrick’s Day at Twickenham to secure the Grand Slam too. It was also the manner and domination of their performances that caught the eye, landing a hugely impressive 20 tries across the five games – the highest tally by a single team at the tournament since 2002.
Despite never having gone past the quarter-finals previously, Ireland are second favourites in the William Hill Rugby World Cup betting markets, with only New Zealand fancied more.
Japan will be the host nation in 2019, and they caused the biggest Rugby World Cup shock of all-time in the 2015 tournament in England, when they beat the almighty South Africa 34-32 thanks to a last-minute try.
While few will fancy them to win the tournament, don’t underestimate the impact the motivation of being the host nation will have, especially after they showed themselves to be more than capable of competing last time out.
Argentina were surprise semi-finalists in 2015, blowing away Ireland 43-20 at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
It was the second time the South Americans had reached the tournament semi-finals, with Los Pumas losing to just the Tri Nations during the tournament, while also scoring the most points in the pool stages.
They’re clearly fans of the big stage, so don’t be surprised to see the world number nine team upset the rankings once again.
If you’re looking at which Six Nations teams could cause a stir in Japan, you may be surprised to find that both Ireland and Wales are more fancied to do well than the likes of England and France.
Wales have come close on the World Cup stage on a couple of other occasions, reaching the semi-finals in both 1987 and 2011. The latter was an especially tense affair with Wales crashing out 8-9 to France, with Warren Gatland’s side playing with one less man for 61 minutes after the captain was sent off.
It wouldn’t be the biggest Rugby World Cup shock to see Wales reach the final – but them winning it? That would be up there.