Paris, Dublin, London (12/9 – 27)
As New Zealand destroyed themselves in the first game of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, it may have been an omen that men’s rugby union will finally have their new world champion by the end of the tournament, on 28 October 2023. The Rugby World Cup was first held in 1987, and down all those years only four countries have taken home the trophy.
New Zealand won the Webb Ellis Cup three times, in 1987, 2011, and 2015, giving way to South Africa in 1995, 2007, and 2019. Australia won it twice, in 1991 and 1999, and England once in 2003. With New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia winning a total of 7 out of 8 tournaments, it’s arguably safe to say that rugby union is a “Southern Hemisphere sport”. Still, the first round of the pool stage in the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the 9th tournament in history, glimmers with a prospect of change.
This year’s Rugby World Cup, hosted by France, seems to be destined to rest in the Northern Hemisphere, for only the second time in history after England in 2003. At least two countries show that they are ready to become the new champion. Those two countries jousting for it are France and Ireland. For the first time, France heads into a home World Cup as the favorite. Fabian Galthie’s team looks promising.
During the tenure of Galthie, the French team broke its record for consecutive victories (14) and has beaten every major nation at least once. Some of their players are the world’s best in their position: Antoine Dupont, Julien Marchand, Thibaud Flament, Gregory Alldritt, Thomas Ramos and Damian Penaud.
Over the last two years, their progress has been remarkable. The French rugby team recorded a perfect season in 2022, having won all 13 matches. This year they recorded 7-2 before the World Cup. France became runner-up in the Six Nations Championship in 2021 and 2023 and won it in 2022. For the first time, France became World Number One in July 2022.
In Pool A, they stopped the three-time champion New Zealand’s unbeaten run in the Rugby World Cup pool stage with a 27-13 win.
A first World Cup title looked within reach for the world number 3, after an impressive opening game. “The fact is they had won all of their 31 previous pool games,” Galthie said. “We’ve ticked a box. It’s incredible to think that you’ve put nearly 30 points on the All Blacks,” said France captain Antoine Dupont. We have gained a collective confidence.”
Ireland never got past the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup in their history. But they are now the strongest team on the planet based on the world rugby ranking. Since 16 July last year, Ireland claimed the top spot following victory in their summer tour to New Zealand.
Ireland has dominated world rugby for several seasons now, having just completed the grand slam in the Six Nations Championship.Since 2019, Irish team coach Andy Farrell boasts an 82%-win percentage, the highest in the history of the team. Ireland opened their 2023 Rugby World Cup campaign with their biggest-ever win at a Rugby World Cup, beating Romania 82-8 in Pool B on Saturday.
“It was very important for people that we got off to a good start,” said Farrell. “Sixty thousand Irish homes have registered with World Rugby for tickets. Irish people coming from the UK, Europe, or USA, what a journey it will be, I am more pleased for them. I hope the Irish people coming in the next few weeks can enjoy themselves. The journey has just started and I hope it will get a little bit better as well.”
With strong shows from France and New Zealand and an awful start for New Zealand, maybe it’s about time that the Northern Hemisphere are able to taste glory.
Martin Rino (686)