The Rugby World Cup is set to take place in September and October of 2023. This is the normal time of the Rugby World Cup as the sport aims to stay away from the particularly hot temperatures of the summer. The tournament is around 7 weeks long, with the group stage taking up the most time in the schedule.
Below is the schedule for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, split into sections based on the different Pools that the teams are put into. The schedule shows that there are certainly some more difficult groups than others.
Friday 8th September- France vs New Zealand
Saturday 9th September- Italy vs Namibia
Thursday 14th September- France vs Uruguay
Friday 15th September- New Zealand vs Namibia
Wednesday 20th September- Italy vs Uruguay
Thursday 21st September- France vs Namibia
Wednesday 27th September- Uruguay vs Namibia
Friday 29th September- New Zealand vs Italy
Thursday 5th October- New Zealand vs Uruguay
Friday 6th October- France vs Italy
Saturday 9th September-Ireland vs Romania
Sunday 10th September- South Africa vs Scotland
Saturday 16th September- Ireland vs Tonga
Sunday 17th September- South Africa vs Romania
Saturday 23rd September- South Africa vs Ireland
Sunday 24th September- Scotland vs Tonga
Saturday 30th September- Scotland vs Romania
Sunday 1st October- South Africa vs Tonga
Saturday 7th October- Ireland vs Scotland
Sunday 8th October- Tonga vs Romania
Saturday 9th September- Australia vs Georgia
Sunday 10th September- Wales vs Fiji
Saturday 16th September- Wales vs Portugal
Sunday 17th September- Australia vs Fiji
Saturday 23rd September- Georgia vs Portugal
Sunday 24th September- Wales vs Australia
Saturday 30th September- Fiji vs Georgia
Sunday 1st October- Australia vs Portugal
Saturday 7th October- Wales vs Georgia
Sunday 8th October- Fiji vs Portugal
Saturday 9th September- England vs Argentina
Sunday 10th September- Japan vs Chile
Saturday 16th September- Samoa vs Chile
Sunday 17th September- England vs Japan
Friday 22nd September- Argentina vs Samoa
Saturday 23rd September- England vs Chile
Thursday 28th September- Japan vs Samoa
Saturday 30th September- Argentina vs Chile
Saturday 7th October- England vs Samoa
Sunday 8th October- Japan vs Argentina
Saturday 14th October- Winner Pool C vs Runner-up Pool D
Saturday 14th October- Winner Pool B vs Runner-up Pool A
Sunday 15th October- Winner Pool D vs Runner-up Pool C
Sunday 15th October- Winner Pool A vs Runner-Up Pool B
Friday 20th October- Winner QF1 vs Winner QF2
Saturday 21st October- Winner QF3 vs Winner QF4
Saturday 28th October- Winner SF1 vs Winner SF 2
What makes this tournament so interesting is that it is not the normal favourites heading into the competition. This is not like 2015 where there was one very clear best team in the world. While you would say that Ireland are the best rugby team in the world at the moment, they are not obvious World Cup winners.
It makes sense to have a look at the number one team in the world first. Ireland head into the 2023 Rugby World Cup as the number one ranked side in the world according to the official World Rugby rankings. This is for good reason.
Over the last 12 months, Ireland have produced two particularly incredible performances. It began with the team’s tour of New Zealand last year. They managed to do the impossible, winning a series in New Zealand with a comprehensive win in the final test.
The Six Nations at the start of 2023 was a big test for Ireland, as the game between them and France was really to determine the best team in the world. In front of their home fans, Ireland were able to show that they are the best rugby team in the world, blowing France out of the water with a fast start.
They did not struggle much in any other Six Nations game and shot to the top of the World Rugby standings, as well as winning another Grand Slam. Ireland continue to look overpowering against pretty much everyone, with massive wins against fellow contenders France, New Zealand and South Africa in the last 12 months.
This is a star studded team where ever you look. World Rugby Player of the Year Josh Van Der Flier is the headline star in the front pack, with Tadhg Furlong, Dan Sheehan and Andrew Porter forming one of the best front lines in the world.
Their backs are heavily reliant on a soon to be 38 year old Johnny Sexton, but the backs are able to play at an unbelievably high level. Guys like James Lowe, Robbie Henshaw, Mack Hansen and Hugo Keenan are all world class. Ireland have a complete squad that lacks a lot of depth.
However, there are a few things to worry about with Ireland despite likely being the favourites for the tournament. For one thing, the struggles of Leinster will be a concern. The majority of the Irish starting team play for province Leinster. What will concern Irish fans is that Leinster lost in the Champions Cup final as well as the URC Semi-Final.
Leinster are likely the most talented club side in the world. They have Irish internationals at pretty much every position, so the losses were not a good sign. The other thing that might worry Irish fans is the health of their Fly-Half Johnny Sexton.
A groin injury has meant Sexton has not seen the field since the final game of the Six Nations. He will be completely healthy for the competition, but his health is still a concern. There seems to be a pretty big drop off in performance for Ireland when anyone other than Sexton is starting for Ireland.
Relying that heavily on a 38 year old is a risky game. Ireland will need to manage Sexton very carefully if they want to win the World Cup.
Being the host nation, it should be no surprise that France are one of the favourites for the Rugby World Cup title. Playing in front of your home fans gives you a massive advantage and France will see this is their best shot at a World Cup title. They have lost in the final three times, so there is no better opportunity for France to win the World Cup.
France are currently ranked as the second best team in the world, close behind Ireland. This is likely accurate, with Ireland and France being by far the best two teams in the world over the last 12 months. France really showed themselves as one of the best teams in the world in 2022, when they claimed their first Grand Slam title since 2010.
France also have an impressive record against the Southern Hemisphere in the last 12 months. They beat South Africa, Australia and Japan in the Autumn internationals in 2022. Much like Ireland, they have an incredibly talented squad all around.
Antoine Dupont is by far the star of this team and arguably the best rugby player in the world. At times he can single hadedly carry France through games. When it is not Dupont, guys like Damian Penaud, Romain Ntamack, Julien Marchand and Uini Atonio are making big plays across the pitch.
They have had some class calls over the previous 12 months, including their loss to Ireland in the 2023 Six Nations. With the expectations so high on this team, France certainly have a lot to prove this Autumn. The home advantage will be key for this French side.
How could the reigning world champions not be considered one of the favourites for the tournament. The Springboks have had a mixed time since winning it all in 2019. They have big series victories over the British and Irish Lions in 2021 and then beating Wales in 2022.
However, it is not all good results in that time, with losses to France, Ireland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand and England in the past 24 months. So it has been quite a mixed bag for South Africa recently. What they will be encouraged with is that a lot of the World Cup winning team from 2019 will once again be available in 2023.
It is likely that almost the entire World Cup winning team will be available, including superstars like Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonambi, Handre Pollard and Cheslin Kolbe. There are also a lot of new X-factor players in brilliant from at the moment, with guys like Jasper Wiese, Mannie Libbok and Kurt-Lee Arendse all likely to make an impact this tournament.
Fitness is going to be a big factor for South Africa, particularly as they still have the Rugby Championship to come. At the moment, captain Siya Kolisi and Eben Etzebeth are both in danger of missing the tournament through injury. South Africa will hope that injuries are not what holds them back.
The advantage of this team is that they can match up with anyone physically. They have some exciting X factor players in the backs who could make a real difference at this World Cup. We will have to see whether South Africa can defend their title.
This is one of the few Rugby World Cup’s where New Zealand are not the consensus favourite heading into the tournament. In fact, I think there would be a few rugby fans surprised if New Zealand claim their fourth Rugby World Cup title later this year.
The All Blacks are in a very strange time at the moment, coming into the World Cup in mixed form. The last 18 months does feature wins against Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Ireland. But there are also some historic losses the team has faced recently.
Losing the series against Ireland was the first time that New Zealand have lost a series against a touring side since 1994. There was also the loss to Argentina which was the first time that Argentina had beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand. Even some of the team’s wins have been concerning.
They have come incredibly close to further losses against Australia, England and Scotland in the past 18 months. There is however still a huge amount of talent in this New Zealand squad. All 3 of the Barrett brothers are in very good form and their lock pairitng of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are looking to have a strong tournament.
Guys like Samisoni Taukei’aho, Will Jordan and Dalton Papalii have all been in great form recently. So New Zealand should still have a good chance of competing at this tournament. They have an incredibly difficult run to the final, likely needing to beat two of Ireland, France and South Africa to make it there.
Players with High Hopes
There might not be a man with more pressure to perform at this tournament than France superstar Antoine Dupont. France have never won the Rugby World Cup and considering they are hosting the tournament, France have a great chance of winning their first title.
So Antoine Dupont being by far the best French player in this team means he has a lot of pressure to perform. There have been games in the past that Dupont has pretty much single handily dragged the French side to victory. He will often be expected to do the same in this tournament.
Dupont does certainly have all of the skills to take this French side past any opposition. His combination of size, speed, passing, kicking and tackling is what makes him one of the best players in the world. As the leader of this French side, there will be a huge amount of pressure on Antoine Dupont to perform this tournament.
It is going to be difficult for Dupont because usually, this sort of pressure would be placed on a much more experienced player. This will be his second Rugby World Cup, but it is still a lot of pressure to put on a 26 year old.
Johnny Sexton may be 38 years old when the Rugby World Cup starts, but he is still the most important part of the Irish squad. Ireland are a very talented team, but we have seen that Ireland have a big drop off in performance whenever Sexton is not available. One of the reasons Leinster came up empty handed was Sexton’s absence.
The attack just does not seem to function as well without Sexton. It is dangerous rely so heavily on a man towards the end of his career who will be coming off the back of a groin injury which kept him out for three months. Ireland need Johnny Sexton to stay healthy for them to have any chance of claiming their first Rugby World Cup title.
While Richie Mo’unga might not be the most important person in the All Blacks squad, the way he is used in this tournament could determine how far New Zealand go. There has been a debate in New Zealand about who should be the starting Fly-Half in the Rugby World Cup later this year.
Beuaden Barrett is a phenomenal player, but it seems like New Zealand play at their highest level when Mo’unga is at number 10 and Barrett is playing 15. Mo’unga is incredibly creative in attack and he is likely to get the best out of the New Zealand attack. We have seen him be the difference maker in the past and can play that exact role.
Mo’unga is in good form with the Crusaders and the Rugby Championship in the summer of 2023 will be the perfect time for New Zealand to set up their attack. I think they can create a strong back group with Richie Mo’unga at 10, Jordie Barrett at 12 and then Beauden Barrett at 15.
While England are certainly not one of the favourites for this tournament, they have been massively helped out by a fortunate draw. To reach the World Cup Semi-Final, they need wins over Argentina, Japan and either Australia, Wales or Fiji. This is definitely do able for this England side.
While it is a new coach in charge, many fans will be hoping that a similar recipe can be followed to 2019, when England reached the Final. One of the key pieces in that run to the final was Maro Itoje. Itoje took over the tournament, producing an monstrous display against New Zealand in the semi-final.
Since that point, it feels like we have rarely seen Itoje play at the world class level we know he can. England don’t really have a difference maker in the front pack like Itoje and so he needs to be at his best if England want a chance of surprising a few people and making it far in this tournament.
Stories to watch
There are quite a few interesting storylines heading into this Rugby World Cup. Here are a few of them to keep your eye on.
Who goes out early?
As the draw for the World Cup happened in 2020, it has led to one side of the tournament being very top heavy. The top four teams in the world are all in either Pool A or B. This means that only two teams out of New Zealand, Ireland, France and South Africa will progress through to the Semi-Final stage.
This means two teams are going to be very disappointed about their tournament, as all four are aiming to win the title. The placing of the groups will of course decide who plays against who, but no matter where they finish, the World Cup is going to throw up some interesting Quarter-Final matchups.
On the other side of the draw, Australia, Argentina, Japan, England and Wales will be thrilled that they have an easier road to the Semi-Final. This is a great opportunity for two teams to over achieve and reach the final. It is going to make things very interesting in the knockout stages.
Who could cause an upset?
While there are teams who expect to progress through the group stages, there are quite a few teams who could be surprise Quarter-finalists.
You would have to say that in Pool A or Pool B it would be surprising to see any team outside of the worlds top 4 progress through to the knockout stages. Scotland and Italy will hope to cause an upset, but it would be very difficult for them to do so.
However, in Pool C and D, there are definitely some teams who could cause an upset. Fiji and Georgia will be licking their lips as Wales and Australia are both in poor form heading into the tournament. Fiji have also been able to bring in a lot of new players thanks to the change in World Rugby’s eligibility rules
Guys like Semi Radradra, Juita Wainqolo and Albert Tuisue will be incredibly difficult for the top teams to handle. Georgia will also be encouraged by the fact that they defeated Wales recently, so could do the same thing in the World Cup later this year.
Pool D is particularly interesting as only two teams out of England, Argentina and Japan can advance to the knockout stages. All three of them are in mixed form and it is incredibly difficult to say which one of those teams misses out. But there is a team people aren’t talking about in Pool D
Samoa might be the country helped most by World Rugby changing the eligibility rules. Guys like Theo McFarland, Steven Luatua and Michael Ala’alatoa will all be difference makers in this tournament. Samoa certainly have the power and talent to surprise one of the top teams in Pool D.