New Zealand are still the favourites but there less between them and the rest of the world.
New Zealand are still the favourites but there less between them and the rest of the world.

‘Farcical’ joke exposes wide open World Cup

THE Rugby World Cup is less than a week away and Aussie rugby legends believe this tournament will be one of the closest in recent memory.

Speaking at the launch of Kayo Sports' Rugby World Cup coverage late last week, four former Wallabies - Drew Mitchell, George Smith, Owen Finegan and Greg Martin - have given their tips.

But the wide open nature of the upcoming edition of the tournament has seen four different teams - Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa - put forward as the Aussie legends' favourites.

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It's added to the confusion around the world rankings on the eve of the World Cup with New Zealand dethroned as World No. 1 after a decade on top by Wales last month.

The All Blacks then reclaimed their mantle only to lose it again to Ireland, who will enter the tournament as the World No. 1 by 0.07 rankings points. Wales have dropped to fifth in the world behind England and South Africa.

Australia's most prolific World Cup try scorer turned Fox Sports rugby commentator Drew Mitchell said the rankings are ridiculous at the moment.

"The World Rankings are farcical at the moment," Mitchell said.

"Two weeks ago it was Wales who hadn't beaten the All Blacks in 50 years. The All Blacks have lost one game in how long and they're knocked off the number one, it makes zero sense.

From Six Nations Grand Slam winners and World No. 1 to fifth.
From Six Nations Grand Slam winners and World No. 1 to fifth.

"It's really something for fans to get behind but really the only rankings that mean anything will be after the first week of November and probably not again until two years out before the next World Cup when they use the rankings to help lock in the draw for the next World Cup. Players don't really look at it, it's something for the fans to get behind."

But Mitchell added the gap has closed between top teams, leaving it wide open.

"There's not as big a gap between New Zealand and the rest of the world and it's a pretty open field," he said. "I think we'll start to see some pretty big results as early as the opening week of matches. South Africa play New Zealand and you can start sort of looking how teams will be paired up from pretty much the opening round."

Former Wallabies fullback turned broadcaster Greg Martin agreed and said the All Blacks were still the favourites, regardless of what the ranking ladder says.

"New Zealand - I'm sort of disregarding Wales as a real threat - I like the look of Ireland as long as they've got (Johnny) Sexton at 10, South Africa and Australia, they're my four semi-finalists," Martin said. "Then anything can happen on the day. We can beat the All Blacks on one day, we know that."

Ireland are on top of the world — if you can believe the rankings.
Ireland are on top of the world — if you can believe the rankings.

1999 World Cup winning forward Owen Finegan said the rest of the world could take plenty out of belief out of Ireland's performances against the All Blacks in the past four years, including a win in Chicago and the side's first ever win over New Zealand in Dublin.

"When you take it over to more neutral territory in Japan, it's a wide open World Cup," Finegan said.

"New Zealand go into every World Cup as favourites but history will show they haven't won them all."

111-Test great George Smith said he could even see Japan pulling off an upset with the home crowd behind them.

A member of the Wallabies who finished runners up at the 2003 World Cup in Australia, Smith said teams can't underestimate the power of a home crowd.

"(In 2003, we had) so much fierce support for the Wallabies, it was like having a 16th man on the field," he said. "Home crowd support is such a huge thing and I think the Japanese are going to experience that at a different level."

WHEN IS IT?

The Rugby World Cup starts Friday September 20 with Japan opening the tournament with a game against Russia.

The Wallabies launch their World Cup campaign on Saturday September 21 at 2.45pm.

The quarterfinals begin October 19 and 20 with the World Cup Final to be played on Saturday November 2nd.

KEY MATCHES (ALL TIMES AEST)

Saturday, September 21

2.45pm: Australia v Fiji at Sapporo Dome

5.15pm: France v Argentina at Tokyo Stadium

7.45pm: New Zealand v South Africa at International Stadium, Yokohama

Sunday, September 22

5.45pm: Ireland v Scotland at International Stadium, Yokohama

Sunday, September 29

5.45pm: Australia v Wales at Tokyo Stadium

Saturday October 5

3.15pm: Australia v Uruguay at Oita Stadium

6pm: England v Argentina at Tokyo Stadium

Wednesday October 9

8.45pm: Wales v Fiji at Oita Stadium

Friday October 11

9.15pm: Australia v Georgia at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa

Saturday October 12

3.45pm: New Zealand v Italy at City of Toyota Stadium

7.15pm: England v France at International Stadium, Yokohama

Sunday October 13

9.45pm: Japan v Scotland at International Stadium, Yokohama

Saturday October 19 & Sunday October 20 - Quarterfinals

Saturday October 26 & Sunday October 27 - Semi-finals

Friday November 1 - 3rd v 4th Playoff

Saturday November 2 - World Cup Final

HOW CAN I WATCH?

Kayo Sports, Australia's multi-sport streaming service, will deliver customers live and on demand coverage of all 48 matches.

In addition to all the LIVE action, Kayo will deliver every match of the tournament on demand, meaning customers can catch up anywhere, anytime, on their TV or favourite device.

'Kayo Minis' are a condensed highlights package for those who miss the full game and will be available for all 48 matches shortly after the final whistle.

Fans can also warm up to the action with a suite of special Rugby World Cup programming, including classic matches, documentaries, and a dedicated tournament carousel, available on Kayo now.

With Kayo, fans can instantly stream every match of the Rugby World Cup, plus over 50 other sports, live and on demand from just $25 per month.

Fox Sports will also delivering all 48 games live and ad break free on two dedicated, 24 hour channels - in HD on Fox Sports 503 and in 4K Ultra HD on RWC 4K (Channel 499).

Channel 10 will have all Wallabies group matches as well as select matches in later rounds.

The Wallabies have shown they can defeat the All Blacks.
The Wallabies have shown they can defeat the All Blacks.

POOLS (RANKINGS)

Pool A: England (3), France (8), Argentina (11), USA (13), Tonga (15)

Pool B: New Zealand (2), South Africa (4), Italy (14), Canada (22), Namibia (23)

Pool C: Ireland (1), Scotland (7), Japan (10), Samoa (16), Russia (20)

Pool D: Wales (5), Australia (6), Fiji (9), Georgia (12), Uruguay (19)

 

THE PREVIOUS WINNERS

1987: New Zealand

1991: Australia

1995: South Africa

1999: Australia

2003: England

2007: South Africa

2011: New Zealand

2015: New Zealand

News Corp Australia

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