The flagship international rugby union event, the World Cup, returns in 2023, and the preliminary draw has already been made. In a ceremony that took place in Paris, which will also host the final at the Stade de France, the 12 teams that have already qualified were drawn into their respective pools.
In Pool A, host nation France have been paired with New Zealand, who are the current favourites in the World Cup rugby union betting odds, and Six Nations strugglers Italy. They will later be joined by qualifiers from Africa and the Americas. The French seem to be on the rise, given the success of their U20 team and recent 6N performances, and will be keen to take revenge on the All Blacks for what happened on the latter’s home soil back in 2011.
Pool B will have a Celtic feel with Ireland and Scotland drawn together, and you wonder if they will be competing with each other for second place given that the third drawn team in the group are the reigning champions, South Africa.
Australia and Wales, quarter finalists in 2019, have been paired together in Pool C with Fiji- a repeat of their 2015 WC pairing. The two countries were also drawn together for next year’s Women’s World Cup. while England’s quest to overcome the pain of last year’s tournament will begin in Pool D against Argentina, Japan, and qualifiers from the Americas and the Oceanic region.
It’s unusual for the World Cup draw to take place so far in advance of the tournament, and the Rugby World Cup board has confirmed that this may be a one-off occurrence, with future draws occurring less than a year to the scheduled start.
We are approximately two-and-a-half years shy of the tournament at the time of writing, and trying to make accurate predictions as to who might get their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup is difficult as a result.
New Zealand, the tournament favourites, may be without Dane Coles, who will be 36 by the time of the world cup, Joe Moody and Sam Whitelock, who will both be 35, as well as Aaron Smith who will be 34. Will they still be performing at an elite level by then?
England, if they are to go one better in 2023 than their heart-breaking defeat to South Africa in the last World Cup, will be hoping that their key figures retain their physicality despite their advancing years. Ben Youngs, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Joe Launchbury, Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph will all be into their thirties before the action heads to France. The fleet- footed Jonny May will be 33 – will he still have the requisite turn of pace to break the defensive line?
Will we get to see RWC 2019 winning skipper Siya Kolisi at World Cup 2023? Makazole Mapimpi, who ran in six tries in Japan in 2019, will be 33 as will Wales’ Dan Biggar. The ever-entertaining Japanese duo of Yu Tamura and Michael Leitch will be 34 and 35 respectively.
Is Age Just a Number?
The possible absence of Cian Healy, Jonathan Sexton, Keith Earls and Sean Maitland could be crucial in the battle between Scotland and Ireland in Pool B, while Wales may also lose Leigh Halfpenny, Alun Wyn Jones and Jonathan Davies in addition to Biggar.
There’s plenty of time for new blood to stake their claim, of course, and maybe some of these veterans of the game will still be performing to the highest possible standard in 2023. We’ll certainly be following the build-up to the tournament closely and it is sure to be a spectacle.