JOHANNESBURG – World rankings mean nothing to me and never have. What does it matter if you’re ranked third, but win almost every Test, or first, and lose every third or fourth game.
So, I don’t believe the official world rankings should be used in any way to determine who the favourites are going into this year’s World Cup, which kicks off in Japan this weekend.
For what it’s worth, when the tournament starts, Ireland will be ranked No 1, New Zealand two and England three. South Africa are fourth and they’re followed by Wales, Australia, Scotland and France. Then it’s Fiji, Japan and Argentina, who’re down in 11th place.
Now tell me Argentina – despite their dip in form recently – aren’t a better team than Japan and possibly even Scotland, and even France.
For my money, any one of the top six can go on and win the World Cup. So closely matched, I believe, are these teams that I am going to sit on the fence and not make a call of who’ll go all the way.
The thing is that on their day any one of these teams – and even those not in the top six, like Scotland, France and Argentina – can beat any of the other sides. We must remember that this year’s World Cup is taking place on the most neutral ground ever, with very few of the players outside of those running out for Japan, having played much in the conditions and surrounds they’ll be up against. It’s a big leveller.
Some teams, like the Springboks, arrived early in Japan to acclimatise, while others only arrived in the last few days … so we’ll have to wait and see who benefits the most.
Most of the top teams, who’re the serious contenders, will have prepared well and planned accordingly and got all their so-called ducks in a row. They’ve all got top management teams and top players, so man-for-man there won’t be a lot to choose between the leading outfits; there never is.
I believe the matches between the top sides, in pool play and when we get to the knockouts, will be closer than ever before with just a handful of points – and possibly a dubious refereeing decision – separating them after 80 minutes.
For me, Wales and England, and Ireland, and New Zealand and Australia have as good a chance as the Boks do of going all the way. But that the Boks have a great chance of bagging a third Webb Ellis Cup is without question, and it’s no surprise they are being talked up as potential winners.
👍 Boks ready for @AllBlacks challenge
✅ New mindset to eradicate the gap
🗣 "If the individual is better, then the team will be better.”
— Springboks (@Springboks) September 16, 2019
Under Rassie Erasmus the Boks have come good in the last two years. The squad is packed with hard-core experience and youthful flair and, for me, whatever pack Erasmus picks will be stronger and better than anyone the Boks will come up against. That pack and the team’s set-pieces are the best in the game, and then when you add in possibly the game’s best defence right now, you have a team that ticks every box.
There really won’t be too many weaknesses in whatever team Erasmus will field over the course of the tournament, but then those backing the other contenders will feel the same about their teams.
It’s going to be a riveting and enthralling World Cup, and it doesn’t get much better and bigger than the Boks’ opening game against the All Blacks in Yokohama this Saturday. May the best team win this weekend – and on November 2, when the final is staged to bring an end to what should be a thrilling few weeks.