The tournament – Four pools, 20 teams and, ultimately, one winner

The tournament – Four pools, 20 teams and, ultimately, one winner
Samu Kerevi of the Wallabies (Australia) runs with the ball during the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup match against New Zealand's All Blacks at Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia on 29 July 2023. (Photo: Mackenzie Sweetnam / Getty Images)

The line-up of coaches and captains; rankings and records.


New Zealand

Coach: Ian Foster

Captain: Sam Cane

Ranking: 4

World Cup Best: Champions 1987, 2011, 2015

One of the first images, if not the first, that comes to mind when one thinks about rugby is New Zealand and their famous haka. Of course, the All Blacks have backed up their pre-match war dance by often laying waste to their opponents on the pitch as well. The three-time world champions head into the tournament with a team that is not as intimidating as previous iterations. However, they still boast collective talent that many nations can only dream about.


Coach: Fabien Galthié

Captain: Antoine Dupont

Ranking: 3

World Cup Best: Runners-up 1987, 1999, 2011

France have been regular bridesmaids on the biggest stage in rugby, despite playing in every tournament and reaching three finals.

On home soil in 2023, Les Bleus will be looking to set the record straight and go all the way. They head into the tournament boasting three consecutive victories, the mo­mentum they will need when they face the All Blacks in their opening game.


Coach: Kieran Crowley

Captain: Michele Lamaro

Ranking: 13

World Cup Best: Pool stage

In spite of a lengthy history with the Rugby World Cup, having appeared in the first edition in 1987 (and every subsequent tournament since), the Italians are still in pursuit of securing a maiden knockout spot. One the team’s most memorable moments include centre Oscar Collodo scoring the first World Cup drop goal during the inaugural tournament in 1987.


Coach: Esteban Meneses

Captain: Andrés Vilaseca

Ranking: 17

World Cup Best: Pool stage

Uruguay have come a long way from their 111-13 World Cup humiliation at the hands of England 10 years ago in Australia. However, the nation is still in pursuit of more than one victory at the global rugby extravaganza. Their task won’t be easy in Pool A, in which they have to contend with New Zealand, France, Italy and Africa Cup 2022 winners Namibia.


Coach: Allister Coetzee

Captain: Johan Deysel

Ranking: 21

World Cup Best: Pool stage

Namibia are the team from which other nations will be looking to earn as many points as possible in Pool A. The Africans have yet to win a World Cup game, despite appearing in every tournament since 1999. An unlikely victory would be a highlight.



South Africa

Coach: Jacques Nienaber

Captain: Siya Kolisi

Ranking: 2

World Cup Best: Champions 1995, 2007, 2019

South Africa are one of only two teams, alongside New Zealand, to have won the Rugby World Cup three times. They head into France 2023 stacked with quality, despite missing some key players.

“We have the luxury of naming a squad that features a big group of players who know what it takes to win a World Cup and who will enter the tournament with vast international experience,” coach Jacques Nienaber said.


Coach: Andy Farrell

Captain: Johnny Sexton

Ranking: 1

World Cup Best: Quarterfinals 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2011, 2015, 2019

The mystery of why Ireland perennially underperform at World Cups is right up there with some of the biggest mysteries of the universe. So mind-bending is it, it would make for an outstanding philosophy paper.

Seven-time quarterfinalists Ireland have struggled to convert the undoubted talent at their disposal into positive World Cup outcomes. Will this generation buck the trend?


Coach: Gregor Townsend

Captain: Jamie Ritchie

Ranking: 5

World Cup Best: Semifinals 1991

The Scots managed to play until the last four during the second World Cup in 1991. Since then, they have struggled to emulate that generation, only managing to get to the quarterfinals.

In 2019, they fell at the pool stage. This marked just the second time they had not made it into the knockouts. They will be desperate to make amends in France.


Coach: Toutai Kefu

Captain: Sonatane Takulua

Ranking: 15

World Cup Best: Pool stage

Of the three Pacific Island nations to compete at the Rugby World Cup, Tonga are the only one not to progress beyond the pool stages, something they will hope to put right in France.

They will have to do this without centre George Moala, who was suspended for five matches for the red card he received for a lifting tackle during the warm-up game against Canada. He will miss three World Cup games.


Coach: Eugen Apjok

Captain: Christian-Marian Chirica

Ranking: 19

World Cup Best: Pool stage

Despite the nation’s failure to make it out of the group phase, only twice have they not succeeded in winning at least one game at the tournament. These misfirings were in 1995 and 2011.




Coach: Warren Gatland

Captains: Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake (co-captains)

Ranking: 10

World Cup Best: Third 1987

Wales reached the final four of the previous Rugby World Cup; however, the Dragons were knocked out by eventual champions South Africa in the semifinals.

Wales enter the 2023 edition having won only two out of the eight matches they have played this year.


Coach: Eddie Jones

Captain: Will Skelton

Ranking: 9

World Cup Best: Champions 1991, 1999

Head coach Eddie Jones has been at Australia’s helm for five matches in his second stint in the job. Australia have lost all five fixtures, with the most recent being the 41-17 bashing by Rugby World Cup hosts France.

“We’re not a bad team but we’re not a good team yet,” Jones said recently.


Coach: Simon Raiwalui

Captain: Waisea Nayacalevu

Ranking: 7

World Cup Best: Quarterfinals 2007

Fiji enter the Rugby World Cup high on confidence after defeating England 30-22 at Twickenham in their final warm-up match.

The exciting Fijians are the highest-ranked team in Pool C and have an excellent opportunity to exit the group stage for only the second time in their history.


Coach: Levan Maisashvili

Captain: Merab Sharikadze

Ranking: 11

World Cup Best: Pool stage

Georgia have continually been one of the best tier-two rugby teams in the world – winning the past five second-tier Rugby Europe Championships proves this. But they have stepped it up a notch in recent years with impressive victories over Italy and Wales last year.


Coach: Patrice Lagisquet

Captain: Tomas Appleton

Ranking: 16

World Cup Best: Pool stage 2007

This is only the second time Portugal will feature at a Rugby World Cup and coach Patrice Lagisquet has vowed not to be “pushovers” this time around.

“The idea will be to be competitive and above all not to be pushovers, which was slightly the case in 2007,” Lagisquet said.




Coach: Steve Borthwick

Captain: Owen Farrell

Ranking: 8

World Cup Best: Champions 2003

In Steve Borthwick’s first season in charge of England, the national side have only registered three victories in the nine matches they have played in 2023. Despite their poor recent form, England usually perform well at the quadrennial event – with three runners-up medals (1991, 2007, 2019) and one title (2003).


Coach: Jamie Joseph

Captain: Michael Leitch

Ranking: 14

World Cup Best: Quarterfinals 2019

In 2019, Japan shocked the world when they reached the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup, as hosts, for the first time. They have, however, failed to kick-on from that success, having only secured victories against Portugal, Uruguay and Tonga since that tournament.


Coach: Michael Cheika

Captain: Julián Montoya

Ranking: 7

World Cup Best: Third 2007

Argentina’s best performance at a Rugby World Cup came the last time the tournament was held in France, in 2007. Head coach Michael Cheika is quietly confident his side can repeat that performance.

“I feel really good about our preparation,” said Cheika. “We’ve been low key. We’ve had no distractions.”


Coach: Seilala Mapusua

Captains: Chris Vui and Michael Alaalatoa (co-captains)

Ranking: 12

World Cup Best: Quarterfinals 1991, 1995

Samoa nearly pulled off an almighty upset in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up match when No. 1-ranked Ireland only just edged them 17-13. It bodes well for the island nation, who have failed to get out of their World Cup group for close to 30 years.


Coach: Pablo Lemoine

Captain: Martin Sigren

Ranking: 22

World Cup Best: Debut tournament

Chile will make history when they take the field on 10 September to face Japan and make their debut at a Rugby World Cup tournament.

“The World Cup is a chance to show we can compete at that level and validate ourselves,” Chilean captain Martin Sigren said recently. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    it is really dumb that the way the pool draws and tournament works, only two of the best four teams (SA, NZ, Ire, Fra) can be in the semifinals, no matter what.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

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