Predicting the starting XV of the contenders at the Rugby World Cup 2023

With the Rugby World Cup fast approaching, it seems like a very good time to try to predict the starting XV of each of the contenders. So let’s take a look. 

Ireland Rugby

Andy Farrell has a very set squad, thanks to creating one of the best rugby teams in the world over the last few years. They have also been pretty healthy in the run-up to the tournament. Ireland have almost a fully healthy team to pick from.

There are certainly still a few selection dilemmas. Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher are both brilliant options at hooker. Sheehan offers slightly more pace and versatility around the pitch so I think he will be the preferred option.

Iain Henderson and Ryan Baird could also break into this team, but Ireland’s depth of second rows means it is not easy to pick the starters. The back row are slightly more simple to pick. While Jack Conan might have been a good option before the tournament, his injury status is still unknown and so it makes a lot more sense for Farrell to go with the man who has had a whole pre season camp with the team.

The backs are similarly set and while guys like Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale and Connor Murray are pushing to get into this team, none of them seem likely to start.

1.Andrew Porter- Leinster 
2.Dan Sheehan- Leinster 
3.Tadhg Furlong- Leinster 
4.Tadhg Beirne- Munster
5.James Ryan- Leinster 
6.Peter O’Mahony- Munster
7.Josh van der Flier- Leinster 
8.Caelen Doris- Leinster 
9.Jamison Gibson-Park- Leinster 
10.Johnny Sexton- Leinster 
11.James Lowe- Leinster 
12.Robbie Henshaw- Leinster 
13.Garry Ringrose- Leinster 
14.Mack Hansen- Connacht 
15.Hugo Keenan- Leinster


The hosts are similarly set with their team, however, injuries are hurting France at the time of writing. Up front, Cyril Baille would have been the starter, but injury means his tournament is up in the air at the moment.

Thibaud Flament has a very good chance of starting in the second row, along with Anthony Jelonch at blindside. The heartbreaking news of this French team is that Romain Ntamack is going to miss the entirety of the tournament.

France do have a solid backup option in Matthieu Jalibert, but losing Ntamack is massive for this team. Ntamack’s injury is a major difficulty for this French team, especially as generally this backs group is easy to pick because of how established a team France have.

Damian Penaud’s partner on the wing is the other interesting selection dilemma of this team. Seeing as he has got more minutes than Ethan Dumortier in the warm-up games, it makes a lot of sense for Gabin Villiere to start at this tournament.

1.Jean-Baptiste Gros- Toulon
2.Julien Marchand- Toulouse 
3.Uini Atonio- La Rochelle 
4.Paul Willemse- Montpellier 
5.Cameron Woki- Racing 92 
6.Francois Cros- Toulouse 
7.Charles Ollivon- Toulon 
8.Gregory Aldritt- La Rochelle 
9.Antoine Dupont- Toulouse 
10.Romain Ntamack- Toulouse 
11.Gabin Villiere- Toulon 
12.Jonathan Danty- La Rochelle 
13.Gael Fickou- Racing 92 
14.Damian Penaud- Clermont 
15.Thomas Ramos- Toulouse

South Africa

Similarly to France, injuries have played a massive part in the run up to the tournament for the Springboks. The good news is that the fierce and powerful pack that led South Africa to the title in 2019 is pretty much completely healthy.

It makes the forward pack not easy to pick. Considering the front three below was the last one picked in the Rugby Championship, there is a good chance it is the team that start the tournament. Bongi Mbonambi is the most likely to break up this trio.

Lood de Jager is another name not on this teamsheet due to injury, with Rugby World Cup winning captain Siya Kolisi hoping to be fit when the tournament starts. Kolisi has not been on the pitch since April, which Is why he is not included in this team.

Mannie Libbok is going to have a massive role to play in this tournament without Handre Pollard. Pollard’s injury is huge and could be tournament ending for the Springboks. Lukhanyo Am is a similarly difficult injury, especially as there is not a clear replacement for Am.

1.Steven Kitshoff- Stormers 
2.Malcolm Marx- Kubota Spears 
3.Frans Malherbe- Stormers 
4.Eben Etzebeth- Sharks 
5.Lood de Jager- Saitama Wild Knights 
6.Kwagga Smith- Shizuoka Blue Revs 
7.Pieter-Steph du Toit- Toyota Verblitz 
8.Jasper Wiese- Leicester Tigers 
9.Faf de Klerk- Yokohama Canon Eagles 
10.Manie Libbok-Stormers 
11.Makazole Mapimpi- Sharks 
12.Damian de Allende- Saitama Wild Knights 
13.Jesse Kriel-Yokohama Canon Eagles
14.Cheslin Kolbe- Toulon 
15.Willie le Roux- Toyota Verblitz

New Zealand

New Zealand have been able to create a pretty solid team. In the last 12 months it seems like Ian Foster has figured out how to use the superstars in this New Zealand team. 
Hooker is an interesting debate. It seemed like Samisoni Taukei’aho had secured that jersey, but Foster has turned back to Codie Taylor in recent games.

There is a very good chance that the combination of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick could be heading into another Rugby World Cup together. But Scott Barrett has been in tremendous form and it would be hard to drop him. We could see that pair run out for New Zealand if Foster wants Scott Barrett at six.

This backs group is pretty set seeing as Foster has found the perfect way to get Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barett and Jordie Barrett into the same team. Jordie has been particularly impressive in his new role at number 12 and there is a huge amount of responsibility on Richie Mo’unga to perform.

New Zealand have four excellent options on the wings. Considering his incredible try scoring record so far, Will Jordan is an almost certain starter.

While Caleb Clarke is the most experienced option of the starters, Mark Telea has been the winger in the best form of recent. He has recently been brought into the team and it seems like Telea will be starting for the All Blacks at this tournament.

1.Ethan de Groot-Highlanders 
2.Codie Taylor-Crusaders 
3.Tyrel Lomax-Hurricanes 
4.Brodie Retallick-Chiefs 
5.Scott Barrett-Crusaders 
6.Shannon Frizell-Chiefs 
7.Sam Cane-Chiefs 
8.Ardie Savea-Hurricanes 
9.Aaron Smith-Highlanders 
10.Richie Mo’unga-Crusaders 
11.Mark Telea-Blues 
12.Jordie Barrett-Hurricanes 
13.Rieko Ioane-Blues 
14.Will Jordan-Crusaders 
15.Beauden Barrett-Blues


Gregor Townsend has an incredibly exciting and deep squad for this tournament. While the backs are pretty settled, the team’s forwards are difficult to pick.

Up front, Zander Fageron’s ban will not affect the Rugby World Cup, although it could push Townsend to turn to the experience of WP Nel.

Johnny Gray’s injury makes it easier to pick the second row starters. 6 and 7 are similarly easy to pick, but Scotland’s number 8 at the tournament is not. Rory Darge, Matt Fagerson and Jack Dempsey are all good options. But I think the experience and power of Fagerson will make him the preferred pick.

The majority of the backs are simple to pick, but the team’s starting scrum half is not as simple. While Ben White has often been the preferred option, Ali Price brings more experience and tends to be a more reliable kicker.

The rest of the Scotland backs are simple to pick considering how successful the same group have been. While Kyle Steyn was the preferred choice over Darcy Graham against France, there is no way that Graham can’t start for Scotland at this tournament.

1.Pierre Schoeman-Edinburgh
2.George Turner-Glasgow Warriors
3.Zander Fagerson-Glasgow Warriors 
4.Richie Gray-Glasgow Warriors 
5.Grant Gilchrist-Edinburgh 
6.Jamie Ritchie-Edinburgh
7.Hamish Watson-Edinburgh 
8.Matt Fagerson-Glasgow Warriors 
9.Ali Price-Glashow Warriors 
10.Finn Russell-Racing 92 
11.Darcy Graham-Edinburgh 
12.Sione Tuipulotu-Glasgow Warriors 
13.Huw Jones-Glasgow Warriors 
14.Duhan van der Merwe-Edinburgh 
15.Blair Kinghorn-Edinburgh


It is not easy at all to pick this Australian team. Injuries, combined with some bizarre squad selections mean Australia will go into this tournament without Quade Cooper, Michael Hooper and Allan Alaalatoa. 
Upfront, the experience of James Slipper is hard to look past, but Angus Bell seems to be a much better option. Taniela Tupou seems a certain starter, but that is based off the idea that he will be healthy for the tournament.

Will Skelton has a big responsibility as the captain of this team. While we will see a Hooper starting in the back row, it will likely be Brumbies 21 year old Tom Hooper, while Fraser McReight has been the preferred option in the run up to the tournament.

Nic White seemed certain to start, but another surprising announcement that Eddie Jones has made is to name Tate McDermott as vice-captain. Therefore it seems he is being set up to start, with Quade Cooper’s experience replaced by the youth of Carter Gordon.

The rest of the backs are relatively set, although no Tom Wright means Andrew Kellaway will be the starter at 15. Izaia Perese could be the option at 13, but Petaia seems to be Eddie Jones choice for that position.

1.Angus Bell-Waratahs
2.Dave Porecki-Waratahs 
3.Taniela Tupou-Reds 
4.Will Skelton-La Rochelle
5.Nick Frost-Brumbies  
6.Tom Hooper-Brumbies 
7.Fraser McReight-Reds 
8.Rob Valentini-Brumbies 
9.Tate McDermott-Reds
10.Carter Gordon-Rebels  
11.Marika Koroibete-Saitama Wild Knights 
12.Samu Kerevi-Urayasu D-Rocks 
13.Jordan Petaia-Reds 
14.Mark Nawaqanitawase-Waratahs 
15.Andrew Kellaway-Rebels


Similar to Eddie Jones Australian selection, there has been a lot of talk about the squad that Steve Borthwick has picked for this English side. Luke Cowan-Dickie’s injury upfront will put Jamie George as the team’s primary starter.

The entire forward pack is pretty difficult to pick, with Maro Itoje one of the few easy picks. While his partner in the second row could be Dave Ribbans who started the final game of the Six Nations, it could also be the returning Ollie Chessum or Leicester Tigers big man George Martin.

The back row is difficult to pick, with four different options at number 7. Having started almost every game in the Borthwick era, Alex Dombrandt’s omission from the squad is a strange one.

Jack van Poortvliert’s injury means it makes a lot of sense for Borthwick to move to the experience of Ben Youngs at 9. Owen Farrell will miss a significant portion of the tournament through his red card ban and Borthwick has been lining up George Ford for a senior role in this team.

Ollie Lawrence has got to be the starter at 12 considering how good he has been in an England shirt recently, with the same going for Joe Marchant. The wings seem simple to pick as well, especially with Borthwick sticking with the players he knows well.

1.Ellis Genge-Bristol Bears 
2.Jamie George- Saracens
3.Kyle Sinckler-Bristol Bears 
4.Maro Itoje-Saracens
5.David Ribbans-Northampton Saints
6.Courtney Lawes-Northampton Saints 
7.Jack Willis-Toulouse 
8.Billy Vunipola-Saracens
9.Ben Youngs-Leicester Tigers
10.George Ford-Sale Sharks 
11.Henry Arundell-Racing 92 
12.Ollie Lawrence-Bath 
13.Joe Marchant-Stade Francais 
14.Anthony Watson-Leicester Tigers
15.Freddie Steward-Leicester Tigers


One of the things which is really going in Michael Cheika’s favour is that there is a huge amount of depth in this Argentinian squad. However that does make it difficult to pick who is going to start for Argentina at this tournament.

The front row features Argentina’s captain Julian Montoya. Outside of him is a huge amount of competition, particularly for the tighthead position, with Eduardo Bello and Joel Sclavi also in the mix.

Pablo Matera and Juan Martin Gonzalez are two of the best players in this team and there is no doubt about them starting. Facundo Isa is the most experienced option alongside those two, but Cheika could opt for Santiago Grondona instead.

Santiago Carreras’ partner is a difficult one to pick, but Cheika will likely look for experience at nine. Argentina have a huge amount of options in their backline which makes it difficult to pick. Cheika could go with an all Newcastle centre partnership, but I think Lucio Cinti is the preferred option over Matias Orlando.

This depth continues into their back three. Emiliano Boffelli is a crucial part of this team and has started all but one of the games that Cheika has been in charge. Mateo Carreras has been a similar mainstay and is the sort of player who could light up the entire tournament with his incredibly fast feet.

1.Thomas Gallo-Benetton 
2.Julian Montoya-Leicester Tigers 
3.Francisco Gomez Kodela-Bordeaux Begles
4.Matias Alemanno-Gloucester 
5.Tomas Lavanini-Clermont 
6.Pablo Matera-Mie Honda Heat 
7.Facundo Isa-Toulon 
8.Juan Martin Gonzalez 
9.Gonzalo Bertranou-Dragons 
10.Santiago Carreras-Gloucester 
11.Mateo Carreras-Newcastle Falcons 
12.Lucio Cinti-Saracens 
13.Matias Moroni-Newcastle Falcons 
14.Juan Imhoff-Racing 92 
15.Emiliano Boffelli-Edinburgh


Wales have a very difficult squad to pick considering the changes that the team has gone through in the past 12 months.

Up front, Dewi Lake’s recent captaincy makes it seem likely he will start for this team. There is a huge amount of change in the rest of this side. The second row was supposed to be the easiest positions to pick on this team, but with Alun Wyn Jones pulling out of the tournament, it is hard to pick whether it will be Will Rowlands or Dafydd Jenkins partnering Adam Beard.

Their flankers will likely be two of the most exciting players in this team, with Christ Tshiunza being one of the young standouts of this Welsh side. Taulupe Faletau will need a big tournament if Wales are to have any success at all.

The centres are similarly difficult to pick, although the experience of George North will not be looked past. With Rio Dyer and Tom Rogers exciting prospects on the wings, Gatland seems most likely to go with the experience of Josh Adams on the wing alongside the electric Louis Rees-Zammitt.

1.Gareth Thomas-Ospreys
2.Dewi Lake-Ospreys
3.Tomas Francis-Provence
4.Adam Beard-Ospreys 
5.Will Rowlands-Dragons 
6.Christ Tshiunza-Exeter Chiefs 
7.Tommy Reffell-Leicester Tigers 
8.Taulupe Faletau-Cardiff 
9.Tomos Williams-Cardiff 
10.Dan Biggar-Toulon 
11.Louis Rees-Zammitt-Gloucester 
12.Nick Tompkins-Saracens 
13.George North-Ospreys 
14.Josh Adams-Cardiff
15.Liam Halfpenny-Scarlets


Despite not being one of the top teams in the world, Fiji have a pretty set team. There are a few interesting selection dilemmas within this team.

Up front, the most experienced prop in the Fijian squad is Peni Ravai and he could start, but the power that Eroni Mawi brings is difficult to pass on. Losing Api Ratuniyarawa is a big loss for this team and so there is not a huge amount of experience in this Fijian second row.

The back row features plenty of experience. Levani Botia is arguably the first name on the team sheet at seven, with Viliame Mata one of the players who could break into this squad.

One of the surprises of the squad selection is the omission of experienced fly-half Ben Volavola. Caleb Muntz has a huge responsibility at this tournament, but he was very impressive in the recent Pacific Nations cup. It makes sense to pair him with the experience of Frank Lomani.

The Fijian backs are insanely exciting and will likely light up the tournament. Tuisova and Radradra have to start for this team and then it become a little bit more difficult to pick who will start and where. Tuisova could be pushed to the wing as Waisea Nayacalevu has been named captain of this side.

1.Eroni Mawi-Saracen’s 
2.Sam Matavesi-Northampton Saints 
3.Luke Tagi-Provence
4.Isoa Nasilasila-Fijian Drua
5.Temo Mayanavanua-Lyon 
6.Lekima Tagitagivalu-Pau 
7.Levani Botia-La Rochelle 
8.Albert Tuisue-Gloucester 
9.Frank Lomani-Fijian Drua 
10.Caleb Muntz-Fijian Drua 
11.Kalaveti Ravouvou-Fijian Drua 
12.Josua Tuisova-Lyon 
13.Semi Radrada-Bristol Bears 
14.Jiuta Wainiqolo-Toulon 
15.Sireli Maqala-Bayonne

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