Coach: Warren Gatland
Captain: Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake
World ranking: A lowly 10th.
World Cup pedigree: Thrice semi-finalists. First up in 1987 when they lost by 43 points to the New Zealand hosts then in 2011, also in New Zealand, when they lost by one point to France, following Sam Warburton’s red card, and then Japan in 2019, when they lost narrowly to eventual champions South Africa.
Missing out: Veterans Alun-Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb all retired to make Gatland’s task a little easier. The latter is now being investigated thanks to a non-negative doping test. Ken ‘the Sheriff’ Owens is injured.
Bolters: Flyh-alf Sam Costelow failed to impress against South Africa but he wasn’t the only one, while up front Henry Thomas has been forgiven for turning out for England seven times way back in the 2013-14 season. He was first capped by Wales in the warm up game against England that they won, which was nice.
Foreign legion: Thomas was born in England but so too was George North, Nick Thompkins, Josh Adams and plenty of others. Gareth Anscombe is a Kiwi. Christ Tshiunza was born into a French family in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but moved to Wales as a young boy. Corey Domachowski’s great grandfather survived Auschwitz. Domachowski himself was born in Gilfach Goch, Wales, which puts a smile on my face for no real reason.
Achilles heel: This Welsh side is young, horribly inexperienced and, if we are honest, not very good, at least not yet. However, there is a smattering of vets to stiffen the spine (Taulupe Faletua, Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Biggar, George North). Wales beat England in a warm up but we now know that that is nothing to boast about. They were humiliated by South Africa but so too were the All Blacks. Still, this young Welsh squad will do well to get out of the pools where they face Australia, Fiji and a Georgian team that beat them last November.
Superpower: Wales are sticky, they know how to stay in a tight fight, they don’t give up easily (except when the Springboks blast them clean out of the water), they dig in, hold on for dear life and hope. It meant that after years of good Welsh teams beating Scotland, ordinary Welsh teams carried on beating Scotland just because of that sticky habit. The teams in their group, Australia, Fiji and Georgia, are much of a muchness, so having a dog willing to stay in the fight until the tide turns their way is going to prove mighty useful in what is sure to be a tightly fought contest.
Key players: This Welsh squad is not about individuals, they will sink or swim as a unit but, that said, the twin captains Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake have to keep spirits high as the squad will likely face (further) setbacks.
Best guess: With Gatland steering the ship and the (wholly unrealistic) expectations of the fans back home, this young Welsh squad may surprise us and make an appearance in the quarter-finals.
Coach: Eddie Jones
Captain: Will Skelton
World ranking: 9th….just TWO places above Georgia, their first opponents
World Cup pedigree: Astonishingly good for a country where ‘rugby’ invariably means the 13 man code. Winners in 1991 and 1999, the Wallabies also lost two other finals, 2003 and 2015.
Missing out: Veterans Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper were deemed surplus to requirements, An odd move after the flanker captained the Wallabies in the opening game of the Rugby Championship this year.
Bolters: Jones has gone for youth over experience, with some suggesting that he is picking a squad with 2027 in mind rather than this year’s boondoggle. 18-year-old winger Max Jorgenson (he turns 19 on 2nd September), prop Blake Schoupp and scrummy Issak Fines-Leilewasa were all up-capped when the squad was announced, while the only specialist fly-half in the squad, Carter Gordon, had one cap to his name. In fact the Wallabies’ average number of caps is just 20. (Scotland 31).
Foreign legion: Taniela Tupou was born in Tonga and played his schoolboy rugby in Auckland before crossing over to Australia. Jordan Uelese was born in Wellington but moved as a child. Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete and league convert Suliasi Vunivalu were all born in Fiji. Lalakai Foketi was born a Kiwi and qualifies on residency.
Achilles heel: The Wallabies keep losing, which is a difficult place to be when you are just days away from RWC’23. Jones has a perfect record since taking over from Dave Rennie … played five lost five. In fairness to Jones and Australia, these defeats were all against top class opposition (and Argentina if you don’t already consider them elite) but losing every week is exhausting. It undermines squad morale, becomes habitual and is a momentum killer. Oh, and Gordon is a bit hit-and-miss off the tee, just one from five in Paris, which may prove costly in a tight pool?
Superpower: Australia produces good athletes and good rugby players even if we may never have heard of them and they tend to come together pretty well when the big brawl kicks off. Jones can reach down the back of a sofa and magic up game changers from the back of beyond like Mark Nawaqanitawase and league convert Suliasi Vunivalu. Despite the dismal final score (41-17), Australia were the better team in Paris for the opening 50 minutes. In addition, the Wallaby front-row won two scrum penalties against France! When did that last happen? Loosehead Angus Bell did much of the damage, at just 22 years old, go on you good thing!
Key players: The twin giants in the row, Will Skelton and Richie Arnold, can do a fair amount of damage when they put their minds and bodies to it.
Best guess: For all his bluster, Jones has a good record at RWC, as do the Wallabies and they could top Pool C, ahead of Wales and Fiji, despite their less than sparkling form. That would have them facing England, Argentina or Samoa in the quarters so a place in the semi-finals is not impossible despite their complete lack of recent success.
Coach: Simon Raiwalui
Captain: Waisea Nayacalevu
World rankings: A high of 7th! One place above England, two above Australia, three above Wales.
World cup pedigree: Not too much but the islanders did stun a very strong Welsh side in 2007 in Nantes, winning 38-34 to get to the quarters. They should have beaten Scotland in 2003 but for a maul try from the late Tom Smith that saved everyone’s blushes.
Missing out: The experienced fly-half Ben Volavola, still only 32, was deemed surplus to requirements.
Bolters: Jone Koroiduadua, a prop forward for the Drua Super Rugby side, is the only uncapped player in the squad.
Foreign legion: The Northampton Saints hooker, Sam Matavasi, was born in Cornwall! A serviceman with the Royal Navy who announced his promotion to ‘Leading Hand’ only last month. Good work fella, whatever it means.
Achilles heel: It used to be set-piece and fitness but I am not sure either is applicable to this squad. Raiwalui insisted his side were well conditioned and they seemed to last the pace at Twickenham well enough as well as winning a couple of scrum pens. Perhaps this side will be burdened with expectations to perform, especially given the latest world rankings which place them above rivals Australia and Wales; something that has never happened before. We know Fiji can play brilliantly well, we don’t know whether they can do so consistently, week after week, in the marathon of a RWC?
Superpower: I could wax lyrical about the sublime offloading of the Fijians, how they flood a channel in attack and always find a way to keep the ball alive, but you know all that stuff. Instead Fiji’s superpower is the Drua. Simple. Finally, World Rugby is supporting a Super Rugby side that keeps Fiji’s best talent in Fiji. Hallelujah! Playing Super Rugby together is key to this squads’ transformation. 18 of their 33 strong squad come from the Drua squad who, let’s not forget, beat the Crusaders back in March.
Key players: Jings, take your pick! Semi Radradra, Sarries prop Eroni Mawi, Edinburgh’s Viliame Mata, Levani ‘Demolition Man’ Botia who plays flanker, centre or wing for La Rochelle and used to be a prison warder. All the above will make their mark in this tourney. That said, omitting Volavola was controversial and his replacement at fly-half, the Drua’s 23 year old playmaker Caleb Muntz, has a lot on his plate.
Best guess: I have a sneaky feeling that Wales, Australia and Fiji will all win one game against each other and lose one. If so it will come down to bonus points. Fingers crossed.
Coach: Levan Maisashvili
Captain: Centre Merab Sharikadze
World ranking: 11th
You have to feel for Georgia who are ranked 11th in the world, one place below Wales, two places above Italy, but still can’t beg or buy a Six Nations invite for any money. They comfortably beat Romania and the USA in August and were leading Scotland at half-time last month until the hosts found their rhythm to score five tries after the break. Although famous for their forward power, this Georgian side’s best players may all be ‘piano players’ rather than ‘shifters’ like scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze and full-back Davit Niniashvili who showed some deft touches in that Murrayfield match. Meanwhile, centre Tornike Kakhoidze played for the Georgian 20s side in the recent World Champs and now appears in the real thing which is swift promotion by any measure. 16 of the squad play in France, two in England and the remainder turn out for Black Lion, a pro team in Georgia that will compete in the European Challenge Cup next season. (Georgian Rugby motto: “A lion is destined to be free”.) All Georgians will be looking for at least one big upset against the leading three teams in Pool C and all neutrals will hope they get it.
Coach: Patrice Lagisquet … the former French flyer.
Captain: Midfielder Tomas Appleton
World ranking: 16th
If you thought that Argentina gave the national anthem big licks, wait until you see these guys put heart and soul into theirs. A spot on ‘Portugal’s Got Talent’ is only a matter of time. Almost half of this squad play their rugby in France even if, for many, that means the ProD2 rather than the top flight. They last qualified in 2007 when they scored 13 points against NZ! (NZ scored 108 against Los Lobos). Back then, Portugal were stuffy and forward orientated, now they offer free-flowing rugby with an exceptional back three: Raffaele Storti (signed to Stade Francais, he spent last season on loan to Beziers and scored 13 tries in 15 games) has wheels, Rodrigo Marta (Colomiers, Portugal’s record try scorer) and the two Pinto’s in the squad (Vincent and Manuel play a similar classy style but are not related). To accommodate everyone ,Marta has been playing in the 13 shirt alongside the charismatic skipper Appleton. Can Portugal win their first RWC match? Possibly, possibly not, but they will light up this tournament all the same with their ambition, speed, skill and the sheer joy of showing the world what Portuguese rugby is all about.
Pool C fixtures –
- Saturday 9th September: Australia v Georgia (5pm, Stade de France, Paris)
- Sun 10th September: Wales v Fiji (8pm, Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux)
- Saturday 16th September: Wales v Portugal (4.45pm, Stade de Nice, Nice)
- Sunday 17th September: Australia v Fiji (4.45pm, Stade Geoffroy Guichard, Saint-Étienne)
- Saturday 23rd September: Georgia v Portugal (1pm, Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse)
- Sunday 24th September: Wales v Australia (8pm, Parc OL, Lyon)
- Saturday 30th September: Fiji v Georgia (4.45pm, Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux)
- Sunday 1st October: Australia v Portugal (4.45pm, Stade Geoffroy Guichard, Saint-Étienne)
- Saturday 7th October: Wales v Georgia (2pm, Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes)
- Sunday 8th October: Fiji v Portugal (8pm, Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse)