Ireland and South Africa meet in a crucial pool game on 23 September. INPHO

How far will Ireland go? Best pool game? The Rugby World Cup key questions

The42 writers look ahead to the tournament.

1. Call it – how far will Ireland go in the tournament?

Murray Kinsella: To the final. It will take plenty of luck on the injury front but Ireland have a good enough team to make history. It’s a tough pool and a tough quarter-final awaits if they advance, but Andy Farrell has done all he could to help this team be unburdened by Ireland’s history of World Cup disappointment.

Ciarán Kennedy: This is the strongest Ireland team that has ever gone to a World Cup, but they’ll still need a bit of luck to fall their way. If they come through the pool stages in decent shape, they’ll get to the final. Pick up a few injuries and that quarter-final draw could be a problem.

Gavan Casey: I’ll say a semi-final, for now. Injuries being such a key factor at every World Cup, it’s in the lap of the gods beyond that and, in truth, even before that. Andy Farrell’s Ireland are better fixed to cope with losing players than past sides but their reserves at prop are more sparse than those of France or South Africa. With Cian Healy already out — and with the path to World Cup success entailing five successive fixtures against top-tier opposition — the health of Andrew Porter, Tadhg Furlong, Finlay Bealham and Dave Kilcoyne will go a long way towards determining Ireland’s success or otherwise.

andrew-porter Andrew Porter. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

2. Which leading side is under the most pressure?

MK: England. Their form has been poor, there are clearly major structural issues in the English game, and while Steve Borthwick is only at the start of his tenure, a pool-stage exit would be a massive blow. They should still have the quality to get into the quarter-finals but their supporters must be worried.

CK: There’s a few ways you can look at this…France have been planning for this tournament for years and bringing through young players ahead of schedule in order to have them primed for a World Cup on home soil. The expectation will be huge and anything other than winning it will be viewed as a disappointment. 

There’s also pressure on Ireland to crack that quarter-final barrier but England look the most likely to bomb. There’s been nothing over the last year to suggest they can deliver in France and even though they are on the kinder side of the draw, it could be an ugly tournament for them.

GC: France, simple as. This will be the closest thing to the 1998 football World Cup that any French national team has experienced since, and a weight of expectation the likes of which Fabien Galthié and even The GOAT at scrum-half have never borne. And I expect them to wear it extremely well.

fabien-galthie Fabien Galthie. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

3. Pick one pool game you can’t wait for?

MK: France v New Zealand. Sorry to be so obvious but this should be a cracking opener. Can les Bleus handle the pressure? Will the All Blacks bounce back from their hammering by the Springboks in their last warm-up game. It should be spicy.

CK: Well the opener, France v New Zealand, is just a blockbuster way to kick things off. Otherwise there’s scope for some big results in Pool C, where Fiji will be aiming for a scalp against Wales in their first game on Sunday. They could prove to be the story of the tournament.

GC: Jaysus, there are a few. At the moment, I’m most excited to watch South Africa-Scotland without having any skin in the game. We’ll learn a lot about Ireland’s path through the pool — and hopefully beyond it — when the Boks light the beacons and the Scots start slinging the ball around to beat the band on Sunday.

duhan-van-der-merwe-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-finn-russell Duhan van der Merwe and Finn Russell. Craig Watson / INPHO Craig Watson / INPHO / INPHO

4. Name a player everyone will be talking about when the tournament ends?

MK: Davit Niniashvili. The Georgian flyer is an attacking genius and despite his relative lack of size, he’s a tough competitor too.

CK: In Ireland, Johnny Sexton. He’s so important to Ireland’s hopes and he’ll be the central figure one way or another. We’ll either be talking about his glorious send off or ruing his injury/suspension-disrupted lead-in to the tournament. Otherwise it’s all about Antoine Dupont really, but I also think South Africa’s Canan Moodie might have a big tournament.

GC: Dupont will transcend the tournament and infiltrate the social media feeds of even non-rugby fans. Those of us who follow the game day to day might find ourselves chatting more about Canan Moodie than we are currently.

antoine-dupont-celebrates-after-the-game France's Antoine Dupont. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

5. Who’s going to be top try scorer?

MK: Damian Penaud, who may beat the most defenders as well.

CK: I was also going to go for Damian Penaud, but I’ll throw James Lowe’s hat into the ring.

GC: Damian Penaud.

6. What team is going to be the biggest disappointment?

MK: Wales. Warren Gatland is a legendary coach who deserves huge respect but Welsh rugby hasn’t been in a great place and they could struggle to get out of Pool C.

CK: It might be England, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Wales don’t make it out of their pool.

GC: It was devastating for Fiji — and for the tournament — to lose Caleb Muntz. It would be unfair to brand the Fijians a disappointment should they fail to emerge from their pool in that context, but I fear the out-half’s absence might leave their World Cup story a couple of chapters short.

warren-gatland-speaks-to-the-media-after-the-game Warren Gatland. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

7. And the winner of the World Cup will be?

MK: France. They’ve got home advantage, a clever coaching team, a strong squad, the best player in the world, and they’ve enjoyed a well-thought-out build-up over the last few years. It’s time they finally won the World Cup.

CK: France were my pick until Romain Ntamack was ruled out, and while I’m not as convinced now, I’ll stick with them. Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll be backing Ireland. Or New Zealand.

GC: France have been my favourites for the past three years but they’re as beholden to the injury Gods as everybody else. Yes, they have unparalleled depth in their 33-man squad and at 14 top-flight clubs around the country — but ultimately, you need not merely ‘talent’ but players with significant test-match reps in key positions to keep the show on the road. In reality, I haven’t a bull’s notion who’s going to win it. I can’t wait.

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