Australia (World Ranking 2nd)
History – Say what you like about the Aussies but they usually turn up when it matters. The two time champions will have been disappointed to have been bundled out at the Quarter Finals to the Old Enemy last time and are hurting.
Players to Watch – Only one place to start, their New Zealand born (not so funny losing rather than stealing players is it AB’s!) Quade Cooper. The man with the golden touch and along with coach Robbie Deans would love nothing more than to stick it to their birth nation. Stripping Rocky Elsom of the captaincy just before the tournament will be the catalyst he needs to have a big tournament.
Predictions – Will breeze through their group. Wales and England may lie in the road to the final but they should be up to the challenge and then the big showdown with the All Blacks should cap this tournament off in style. Sadly for them probably ending in defeat.
Ireland (World Ranking 8th)
History – The darlings of the neutrals. Usually labelled the plucky underdogs (God we hate that phrase!) but this time they turn up to the tournament a shambles. Escaped some embarrassing results last time, they may not be so lucky this time round.
Players to Watch -Paul O’Connell at second row is one of the few men to challenge for world class status these days. Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy’s stock are on the wane and the squad is over the hill.
Predictions – This is our possible upset for the group stage. 3rd place and a lot of Guinness to be consumed.
Italy (World Ranking 11th)
History – Never got out of the group stages previously and barely justify their inclusion in the Six Nations year after year. That said they produce some pretty talented individuals and a favourable draw might help them out. Nick Mallett is a top coach.
Players to Watch – Simple. Sergio Parisse. The Argentinean born number 8 would get into ANY other team in the world and is the real stand out. Sadly the supporting cast tends to fluff their lines too often. Castrogiovanni upfront allied with several New Zealand expats looking to impress on old stomping grounds might cause a shock or two though.
Predictions – Going to stick our necks out here and suggest that they might sneak 2nd place. The South Africans or Welsh will probably prefer them to the Irish in the QF’s so will be hoping that is the case.
USA (World Ranking 18th)
History – Tough. In a country where you get to be called ‘World Champions’ by being the best in America (seriously guys – cut that shit out!) rugby has struggled to register against the NFL. Competitive sides in the past have given way to cannon fodder for the top nations.
Players to Watch – Todd Clever. Was impressive during his time playing provincial rugby in South Africa. Also some of you may remember Zimbabwean born speedster Takudzwa Ngwenya from 2007. 4 years older now, he has added skill to raw pace.
Predictions – 4th in the group. Although might be able to push the Irish (USA coach Eddie O’Sullivan led Ireland in 2007) or the Italians hard for 60 minutes.
Russia(World Ranking 19th)
History – The only newcomers to this year’s Rugby World Cup. The Russians, like Georgia are improving markedly but this tournament will be about avoiding embarrassment and hopefully that will be achieved.
Players to Watch – Northampton winger Vasily Artemiev is probably the highest profile name. As you would expect, the Russians will be big and physical but with most playing domestically, they will lack stamina.
Predictions – 5th in the group. They will hoping that Roman Abramovich is watching, enjoys the game, invests and create a super team for the future
By Conan Jal