Rugby World Cup: Will France win their first title?

Rugby Monday October 9, 2023 By: Harry Howes

We’re approaching the business end of the Rugby World Cup and the eight teams left will all secretly be thinking they’ve got a real shot at lifting the famous Webb Ellis Cup later this month.

The tournament has more than lived up to the hype so far, with plenty of top-class rugby, shocks (sorry Australia!) and everything in between.

Australia crash out in pool stage

Despite concerns over their prospects prior to the tournament, England can breathe a sigh of relief that they weren’t this year’s Rugby World Cup surprise early exit. That honour goes to Australia, who have failed to reach the knockout stage for the first time in their history.

Coach Eddie Jones reached the final with England last time out but he failed to repeat history for the four-time world champions. The Wallabies got off to a strong start as they beat Georgia in their opening game but consecutive defeats to Fiji and Wales left their tournament in jeopardy.

Despite winning their final game, they missed out on a quarter-final place after Fiji gained a losing bonus point in their shock defeat to Portugal. With the World Cup heading down under in four years’ time, the Aussies may need a major overhaul in order to re-establish themselves as contenders.

Who will reach the semi-finals?

Following a month-long pool stage, we’ve finally reached the knockouts and eight hopeful sides are vying for a place in the final four. The quarter-finals take place this weekend and ahead of the action, we’ve taken a closer look at the teams involved and how they’ve done so far.

2023 Rugby World Cup Hospitality

Wales v Argentina – Saturday 14th October, 4pm

Having finished fifth at this year’s Six Nations, pre-tournament expectations weren’t particularly high for Wales. Yet they’ve proved any doubters wrong so far, winning all four of their matches in France.

A resounding 40-6 victory over Australia proved they meant business in this tournament as they finished top of their pool ahead of Fiji. Wales have reached the semi-finals in two of the last three World Cups and they’ll be looking to get there again as they come up against Argentina.

The two sides met last year, with Wales narrowly coming out on top, but Argentina beat them and forced a draw over two games in Cardiff in 2021. Michael Cheika’s side also beat England at Twickenham last autumn and they’ll have every confidence of progressing this weekend.

They finished second to England in their pool, beating Samoa and Chile before winning a decisive clash against Japan on Sunday to book their place in the last eight.

Ireland v New Zealand – Saturday 14th October, 8pm

The winner of Wales v Argentina faces the daunting task of meeting Ireland or New Zealand in the semis. Ireland have more than justified their position at the top of the world rankings with a dominant tournament so far, topping their pool ahead of South Africa with four consecutive wins.

They’ve never reached a World Cup semi-final but they’ll fancy their chances this year, particularly considering their recent history against the Kiwis. Ireland beat New Zealand twice last summer, becoming the first touring side since 1994 to beat the All Blacks on home soil.

For New Zealand though, those results are in the past and with a fourth World Cup title in their sights, they’ll have every faith of toppling the world number one side.

They’re not the dominant force they once were, proved by a 27-13 defeat in their opening match against hosts France. But they’ve found their form and they stormed through the rest of their pool matches, including a stunning 96-17 thrashing of Italy.

England v Fiji – Sunday 15th October, 4pm

After losing three of their four World Cup warm-up matches, there were fears that England were set for a disappointing time in France under new coach Steve Borthwick. An early red card for Tom Curry against Argentina in their opening game against Argentina threatened to derail their tournament before it had begun.

But the 2019 finalists got the job done before seeing off Japan and thrashing Chile 71-0 thanks to five tries from debutant Henry Arundell. England delivered a lacklustre performance against Samoa in their final group game but a late try from Danny Care maintained their 100% record going into Sunday’s clash with Fiji.

Captain Owen Farrell, who broke Jonny Wilkinson’s points record at the weekend, made it clear that their display against Samoa wasn’t good enough and they’ll need to step it up a level if they want to reach another semi-final. And they face a Fiji side that are licking their wounds following their defeat to Portugal on Sunday.

The Portuguese side upset the odds to claim their first ever World Cup win, edging the contest 24-23. Yet it wasn’t enough to stop Fiji finishing second ahead of Australia, despite losing two of their four group games.

While England will feel they have enough to overcome the South Pacific nation, memories of their warm-up game in August will be fresh in their minds, where Fiji ran out 30-22 winners at Twickenham.

France v South Africa – Sunday 15th October, 8pm

Hosts France went into the tournament as favourites and it’s clear to see why. Fabien Galthié’s side have won all four of their matches so far, including a convincing opening game triumph over New Zealand.

Having lost three finals, they’ll see this as their chance to finally win their first World Cup and they’ll be looking to continue their strong form against holders South Africa this weekend.

They’ll be boosted by the news that star player Antoine Dupont could return from injury. The scrum-half broke his cheekbone during France’s 96-0 thrashing of Namibia, missing their final pool match against Italy.

Three-time winners South Africa finished second to the imperious Ireland in their pool and there aren’t many tougher tests in world rugby at the moment than France. They met last November, where France came out on top for the first time since 2009 with a narrow 30-26 win.

If England overcome Fiji, they’ll be watching this clash in anticipation as they’ll face the winners in a semi-final clash in Paris next weekend. The Rugby World Cup final takes place the following week on Saturday 28th October.

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