Ireland remain only an outside favorite to win the 2023 Rugby World Cup despite an emphatic, potentially era-defining 2-1 series win over New Zealand.
The crushing 32-22 triumph in Wellington – in which they weathered a storm that winger James Lowe said had been brewing for a fortnight – means Ireland have now won five of their last eight games against the All Blacks.
France, however, remain the frontrunners to win their first World Cup on home soil next year. They have perhaps avoided the deepest of scrutiny this summer with a bit-part team playing two tests in Japan, but they are well primed to dominate the autumn internationals, when the World Cup countdown truly begins.
England’s gritty series win in Australia will also boost hopes of a northern hemisphere team winning the Rugby World Cup for only a second time next year.
International rugby’s tour around the southern hemisphere has come to close for another summer – and the impressive results from northern nations have certainly shaken up the list of likely 2023 World Cup winners.
Here are the big talking points from this final round of games, plus scroll down for the latest odds on who will win the 2023 Rugby World Cup:
New Zealand leadership contested?
“They’ve purely outwitted the All Blacks.” That was New Zealand legend Sean Fitzpatrick’s assessment of Ireland’s series victory over his countrymen after Saturday’s result in Wellington.
It was a gripping third test and one that New Zealand would have expected to edge. But, like last weekend, they were a class below the performance that crushed Ireland 42-19 in the first test.
Saturday’s rugby results
The All Blacks are beginning to lose some of their shine – and Ireland are one of the few teams to have exploited that. Rivals – particularly Ireland this summer – have succeeded in matching their intensity over 80 grueling minutes.
And Fitzpatrick is worried about what comes next for head coach Ian Foster, with Joe Schmidt’s presence on the coaching staff this summer not going unnoticed.
“They’ll obviously be hugely disappointed to lose the series. But I suppose the style in which they lose the series will be concerning going forward,” Fitzpatrick said.
“The questions will be asked. Have they the right coaches? Have they the right head coach? We were out-coached, without question. So they need to decide what they’re going to do in terms of going forward.
“Have they got the right players? That’s going to be another question, and have they got a team that’s capable of winning the World Cup? On what we’ve seen in the last two weeks, you would doubt that.
“We do have Joe Schmidt in the wings, he’ll be coming back into the team now when they go to South Africa, so we’ll just wait and see. Let’s not throw the toys out of the cot just yet.”
Another issue Fitzpatrick raised was captain Sam Cane being pulled 15 minutes before time. Cane – described by Peter O’Mahony during the second test as a “s**t Richie McCaw” – may soon start feeling the heat from more than just fellow players.
Discussing August’s Rugby Championship, Fitzpatrick said: “They’re going to be under huge pressure. Sam Cane being substituted at 65 minutes, your captain going off at 65 minutes is not a good look. So we’ll just wait and see.”
Wait indeed. New Zealand still have plenty of games to come before the World Cup. No-one is writing them off yet.
Ireland still third favorites
The question that has been asked ever since Ireland lost their 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final 46-14 to New Zealand in Oita is will they ever put a World Cup-winning team together?
Recent Six Nations results suggest they can’t. One Triple Crown since the Grand Slam of six years ago doesn’t exactly suggest the Irish are kings of the northern hemisphere right now.
But the series win over New Zealand will rightly spark hopes that Andy Farrell’s men are better primed for the challenge of the southern hemisphere – the dominant half of the globe when it comes to the World Cup – and that the Six Nations is merely a distraction.
Beating the All Blacks on Saturday means Ireland now top the World Rugby rankings, overtaking France. Farrell spoke about the need to bring “chaos” to the encounter with New Zealand – and it is the persistence of the Ireland forwards that keeps them in games against the likes of the All Blacks and, they will hope, South Africa.
The bookies cut Ireland’s World Cup odds on the back of the Wellington win. But there remains the worry that a nightmare performance – such as that in the first test this summer – could haunt them in France.
Crucially, Ireland will probably play either New Zealand or hosts France in the 2023 quarter-finals. The draw hasn’t been kind to them, but if Ireland are ever going to win a World Cup this is their best chance.
World Cup 2023 Winner Odds
- France 5-2
- New Zealand 3-1
- England 5-1
- Ireland 5-1
- South Africa 6-1
- Australia 10-1
- Wales 22-1
‘Clunky’ England get lucky
Winning only a second-ever series in Australia cannot be sniffed at. And while Dylan Hartley rightly described England’s third test win over Australia as “clunky”, the result at this stage is arguably as important as the performance.
That’s because England were so woeful in the Six Nations earlier this year that it led to questions about Eddie Jones’ future. Can the man who got England to the World Cup final in 2019 really push them a step further?
Right now it doesn’t seem like it. England have the better half of the World Cup draw, but as Will Greenwood said in his analysis of the third test, they “didn’t cause Australia enough problems”.
It is arguable that England beat one of the worst Australia teams the country has ever produced. It was a lineout mistake that led to Marcus Smith’s match-winning try. And were it not for Wallabies handling errors the hosts could have been out of sight for half time.
What will have pleased Jones, however, is the performance of a few individuals. Twenty-one-year-old Tommy Freeman now has two impressive test caps under his belt, while Ellis Genge spearheaded the forwards’ drives.
There’s a feeling England have enough depth and youth to challenge for the World Cup. But they’ll need a much more dominant Six Nations performance next year to prepare them for what’s to come.
Australia concerns ahead of ‘golden decade’
Australia “battered England in the first test, but butchered their own chances” in the second and third. That was Greenwood’s assessment after another defeat for the Wallabies, who could well have swept the series here.
While the country has been captivated by another eye-wateringly intense State of Origin series in the “other” code, Australia’s rugby union scene is in a slump.
And this should be of concern for Rugby Australia. Its chairman Hamish McLennan has described the next 10 years as a “golden decade” for the sport. The Lions arrive in 2025, Australia hosts the 2027 and 2029 men’s and women’s World Cups, and the 2032 Olympics are heading to Brisbane.
A series loss to England, coupled with a chastening tour of the northern hemisphere last autumn, and Australia’s rugby team really cannot afford to get much worse.
Meanwhile, threatening to withdraw the country’s clubs from Super Rugby from 2024 might do more harm than good.
McLennan says “all bets are off” on that front, and the idea that exiting from Super Rugby will improve domestic competition and thus create a stronger national team is questionable.
What isn’t in doubt is that Australian rugby will change over the next 10 years. However, that change won’t come quick enough to create a World Cup-winning unit in 2023.
France test strength in depth
This summer’s two-match series in Japan was never going to be the fullest test of France’s first XV strength, considering so many of their Six Nations players weren’t on the plane east.
But two wins in Japan earlier this month hints at a growing strength in depth across this blue side.
On both occasions Fabien Galthie’s replacements were needed to seal victory against a spirited Japan. Errors were easy to come by in the 20-15 second test win a week ago – yet we cannot base our World Cup assumptions on displays like these.
A full-force France, like seen in the Six Nations, is a clinical machine. Head coach Galthie said of the Japan tour: “The objective with this team was to win the matches we had on the program and that we did. That was the important thing for us, the staff. If we take young players on tour with an eye on development, we had to succeed in bringing them to this level of performance and that is why the objective was achieved.”
The fact France host next year’s World Cup and won the Grand Slam this spring rightly puts them as favorites to conquer the world. All this tour has served, though, is to widen Galthie’s reserve options. The true test will come in the autumn.
Green shoots for Pivac’s Wales
In the end Wales came up short in the third-test decider against South Africa on Saturday, losing 30-14. But there is plenty Wayne Pivac and the players can take away from this tour. A first ever win in South Africa, a gallingly narrow defeat in the first test in Pretoria. Yes, they ran out of steam in Cape Town but a first ever test win in South Africa is impressive enough – especially for a team in transition.
Indeed, Wales needed that second-test win following their miserable Six Nations campaign. On Saturday the heart and spirit on display in the first two tests was on show again, but South Africa – the world champions let’s not forget – had the brunt at the breakdown to control proceedings.
According to Warburton, this tour has “rectified the hiccup” of the Six Nations.
“The day was lost because they didn’t win the kicking or collision battle,” Warburton said. “But Wales can play that tough game, they are physical and territorial and confrontational. Looking at the World Cup it could put us in good shape.”
The big test now for Wales is keeping the machine motoring into the autumn, where they face both the All Blacks and Australia. Few are giving Wales much of a chance at the World Cup next year.
Don’t write off South Africa
Always the team that is overlooked when it comes to World Cup predictions, South Africa still boast the characteristic muscle and doggedness that personifies the country’s rugby dogma.
The drive from a line-out resulting in Siya Kolisi crossing the line and putting the game beyond Wales on Saturday was a perfect example of the Springboks’ brawn working at its best.
Head coach Jacques Nienaber was able to name eight players in his VX on Saturday who featured in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final. Kolisi said before the test it was this sort of experience that helped grind out results at times of need.
And assistant coach Mzwandile Stick even admitted the team is “still in a building phase to the World Cup”.
What a phase to be in. With experience across the team, the Springboks will certainly rival Ireland in Pool B of the World Cup. It may well be the 5 November test at the Aviva acts as a prelude of things to come in France.