The North might have to wait for their Rugby World Cup moment

Only once in Rugby World Cup history has a team from the Northern Hemisphere lifted the trophy and 2019 could see them frustrated again.

Wales, England and Ireland are all contenders to lift the Rugby World Cup and, apologies for leaning on cliche, but you can never write off France at such events.

The Rugby World Cup struggle for the North

Standing in the way of a northern revolution are the old gods of World Rugby; The All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies.

There is uncertainty as to how the Six Nations teams will shape up against sides from the Rugby Championship.

The Rugby World Cup meant that the South did not welcome any inbound tours in June or July, so the last cross-hemisphere matches were the November internationals. 

During the November Internationals, England, Ireland and Wales all earned victories over southern opponents. Only Joe Schmidt’s Ireland could knock over the All Blacks, though England ran them close at Twickenham.

Those Internationals were nearly a year ago, but for all their relevance could be five years removed. The Rugby World Cup will not be played in conditions teams from Europe are at home on in.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup may technically be taking place in the Northern hemisphere, but the Rugby Championship sides have players with more experience in Japanese conditions.

It is early autumn in Japan, but most of the country is still quite warm, and conditions underfoot are expected to be firm. The bulk of the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks squads have played in Japan fairly regularly so the northern teams will have no advantage in this area.

All the Rugby World Cup squads

Eddie Jones’ England

It was Eddie Jones who masterminded one of the greatest World Cup upsets of all time, Japan’s win over the Springboks in Brighton four years ago. Jones is now at the helm of an England team looking in decent shape. A loss to Wales in Cardiff has been the only blemish, but the Roses still aren’t quite firing on all cylinders.

England find themselves in a group that could potential prove to be tricky to get out of. While the All Blacks and Sprinboks are drawn together their Pool contains insufficient threats to be dubbed the group of death. England’s Pool C is a candidate for that title. England will need to beat either Argentina or France to progress but will be targeting top spot in the group. The USA and physical Tonga round out the group.

The quarterfinals could potentially throw up a meeting with Jones’ home country, provided England finish first in their group and Australia are pipped to first in Pool D or vice versa.

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LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 11: George Ford of England talks with Ben Youngs after the 2019 Quilter International match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on August 11, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Warren Gatland’s Wales

Wales, also under the charge of an antipodean coach in the form of Warren Gatland, reached the summit of the World Rankings earlier this year, reward for the consistently good form of the Six Nations champions over the last year. Wales looked out of sorts in both the warm-up games against England and suffered a loss to Ireland off the back of a hammering at Twickenham. 

Wales play their final warm-up game against Ireland in Dublin and that match should inform hos both teams are shaping up ahead of the Rugby World Cup. Wales have never made it to the Rugby World Cup final, indeed they have been unable to match their third place in the inaugural tournament.

The rugby history of Wales almost demands a Rugby World Cup title and they might lament that the tournament was not conceived during the second golden age of Welsh rugby between 1969 and 1979. Gatland has delivered Six Nations Championships and Grand Slams but a Webb Ellis trophy could spark the beginning of a third golden age. 

Wales are pooled with Australia and as such will be the first of the northern heavyweights to meet one of their southern counterparts. Both sides are expected to progress so the match will almost certainly decide whether they face the winners of Pool C or the runners-up.

Australia showed signs of a revival when they beat the All Blacks in Perth earlier this year but the smart money is on Gatland’s Wales to top the group. They can expect to face France or Argentina if they do but could also meet England in the last eight.

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Rugby World Cup warm up: Leigh Halfpenny of Wales kicks a second half penalty during the Under Armour Summer Series match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland

Ireland looked out of sorts when they faced England in the first warm-up match but the ‘smartest team in world rugby’ will be a threat at the World Cup. 

Ireland returned to winning ways against Wales just before the start of the Rugby World Cup. They are on an upswing again but Schmidt is one of several coaches looking to secure his legacy as his tenure runs out. Schmidt, Gatland and the All Blacks Steve Hansen have all declared they will be moving on after the World Cup.

Like Wales, Ireland have never made a RWC final but they have also never progressed beyond the quarterfinals. Ireland might be tempted to have one eye on that quarterfinal which they know will be against a genuine contender for the Webb Ellis trophy. Ireland do need to ensure they avoid the ignominy of 2007 though when they failed to get out of their group. Scotland pose a real threat of a group stage upset but with Japan, Samoa and Russia rounding out the pool, it is unlikely Ireland will fail to equal their best performance.

Ireland have shown in Test match rugby that they can beat the best but they have never been able to bring it together in the World Cup format.

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Rugby World Cup Squad: Robbie Henshaw of Ireland is tackled by Ben Youngs of England during the Guinness Six Nations between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium on February 2, 2019 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The others

France, Italy and Scotland won’t be too many pundits picks for a long Rugby World Cup campaign but they do offer potential banana skins for their Six Nations rivals and perhaps even the southern superpowers. Italy scored their most recent win over a top-tier nation over the Springboks and meet them again in the group along with the All Blacks. That leaves them with little hope of a quarter-final.

France should progress beyond the group stage but will need to best the Pumas or get one over on England to get the job done. A runners up spot ensures a tough run to the final but France have done that before. France have played in three RWC finals losing in 1987, 1999 and 2011.

Scotland face an arm-wrestle with Ireland for top spot in Pool A and then a tough date against either the All Blacks or Springboks. On their best day Scotland could get one over on the Rugby Championship sides but they would need to play well and their opposition quite badly.

The All Blacks are Rugby World Cup favourites

The All Blacks will start the Rugby World Cup as favourites, and while some of the sheen of invincibility has been rubbed off by recent results it will take something extraordinary to stop them for recording a third successive win. 

The Springboks and Wallabies are teams that could produce that something special but so are Ireland, Wales and England.

Still with six teams realistically vying for the prize the odds favour the three sides with multiple RWC tournament wins in the bag.

Rugby in the Northern Hemisphere has threatened to overrun the dominance of the South for many years driven by the wealth of their professional leagues, draining talent from the South but the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies keep adapting and remain rugby’s most illustrious side’s, for now. 

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