Springboks, among favourites
By Mike Godfrey
On Friday, the long awaited Rugby World Cup 2019 opening ceremony begins in Japan.
The opening game between the host nation and Russia will take place in their capital, Tokyo.
Starting a 44-day global celebration of rugby, top class players and its values, Nigel Owens of Wales will have the honour of refereeing the opening match. This World Cup promises to be the most open competition since inception in 1987.
Japan and Russia are both in Pool A with Ireland, Scotland and Samoa. Ranked outsiders to win the tournament, Japan under Kiwi coach Jamie Joseph have aspirations to reach the last eight.
Personally I'd go with New Zealand as favourites followed by England, South Africa, Ireland, Wales and then Australia. The All Blacks will be aiming high with their sights set on a hat-trick.
They won the inaugural 1987 tournament along with 2011 and 2015 editions with an astounding 84 percent winning rate. Their recent drubbing of Tonga reinforced that they had shut down for this years southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship which was won by the vastly improved Springboks under genius rugby coach Rassie Erasmus.
New Zealand and South Africa are in Pool B with Canada, Italy and Namibia. England are under wizard coach and Australian native, Eddie Jones, who coached Japan when they beat South Africa 34-32 in the last World Cup. Jones knows the physicality needed on the gain line and in the tackle area coupled with angles run by big loose forwards, Maro Itoje and big running centres like Manu Tuilagi have been groomed for this tourney.
England are in Pool C with Tonga, USA, Argentina and France. Wales coach Warren Gatland and Ireland's Joe Schmidt have both taken their teams to respectful heights however they'll be vacating their posts after the World Cup.
Wales are in pool D with Australia, Fiji, Uruguay and Georgia. Players recommended to watch are: Beauden Barrett - New Zealand, Johnny Sexton - Ireland, Eben Etzebeth - South Africa, Leone Makarawa - Fiji and Billy Vunipola - England.
The Springboks certainly have enough depth in their World Cup squad to be the winners but Coach Erasmus will need continued top performances from his form players to make this a reality.
The Boks meet their arch rivals, New Zealand in their opening encounter on Saturday.