Can anyone really lift the Webb Ellis Cup this autumn?

What makes a World Cup great? Usually those moments in sport that make you feel like the ground has shifted beneath your feet: the drama of close calls and shock upsets. As the Rugby World Cup 2023 comes into focus later this year, you can look around the world and feel the rumblings already.

There is no doubt that Test rugby is extremely competitive right now. Italy’s rise, Wales’ fall, New Zealand slipping down the rankings, and the advancement of the Northern Hemisphere all tells us this World Cup will host the closest battles yet.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan had its fair share of earthquakes. The home side themselves pulled off a classic upset against Ireland, who are now the highest ranked team in the world, to progress to the knock-out stage for the first time.

Meanwhile, England defeated two-time defending champions New Zealand, and the Springboks’ Siya Kolisi, a man born into apartheid, lifted the Webb Ellis Cup as the country’s first black captain. The close contests, shock upsets and realisation of hope in 2019 laid the platform for the current state of world rugby.

Read more: Rugby Fixtures

Rugby World Cup competitive

South Africa’s flanker Siya Kolisi lifts the Webb Ellis Cup as they celebrate winning the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup final (Getty Images)

Four years later, the aftershock of these efforts is still being felt. #Hope-core is the latest stylised aesthetic for online videos doing the digital rounds. In rugby, the trend usually shows a compilation of the sport’s greatest feats accompanied by Frank Sinatra’s My Way or the rousing climax of Test Drive from the How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack.

These videos tap into the heart of what makes sport great – the comebacks, the David and Goliath battles and the dramatic wins.

Jonny Wilkinson’s unforgettable drop goal at the death of the 2003 RWC final, Japan defeating the Springboks in 2015, Paolo Garbisi writhing on the floor in Italian bliss after Italy beat Wales in the 2022 Six Nations. Hope-core signifies that on any given day the unthinkable can happen and anybody can beat the topped ranked teams in the world.

But in the last few years hope-core seems to have become the norm for rugby. The plates have been shifting. Ange Capuozzo slicing down the wing to work magic for Italy? Now a familiar sight. It’s no longer shocking that many of these lower-ranking teams are competitive.

Read more: Italy coach Kieran Crowley teases new exciting era

The Azzurri, for example, have hit their stride and look to be more dangerous in this Six Nations than ever before. Their victory against Wales in last year’s tournament that ended the nation’s 36-Test losing streak was no one-hit wonder. In the Autumn Nations Series, they repeated the trick against Australia – their first ever triumph over the Wallabies.

Tier 2 Georgia have also given their fans plenty of hope after not only beating Italy in the summer in Batumi but by showing their fight by beating Wales last autumn, barely 18 months since Wayne Pivac’s side had won the Six Nations.

Beyond hope-core, though, there is an equally exciting battle playing out at the top of world rugby. Nearly every game on the international stage is hotly contested at the moment. If a top side’s form slips, others will beat them. In the opening round of the Six Nations, Scotland secured yet another win against England.

It was their second successive triumph away from home, the last in 2021 ended their 38-year Twickenham drought but came inside an empty stadium amid the pandemic.

France, who sit second in the world, looked shaken while holding off a 12th-placed Italy in Round 1 with a winning margin of only five points.

Outside of the Six Nations, the Southern Hemisphere has been alight with some unexpected upsets too. The All Blacks can usually be relied upon for dominance amid the rise and fall of other nations but even they enter the end of the World Cup cycle off the back of a bumpy year, to put it lightly.

They dropped to their worst ever World Rugby ranking of fifth last summer following a 26-10 defeat to South Africa in the Rugby Championship.

Read more: Scotland up to highest world ranking of fifth

Argentina are gathering momentum and emerged from 2022 having thumped Australia 48-17, their biggest win over the Wallabies, and with victory against England in their own back yard in the Autumn Nations Series.

Rugby World Cup competitive

South Africa sealed their victory over the All Blacks last year in the Rugby Championship (Getty Images)

The global scene is such a far cry from 2019 that the 2023 World Cup pools, which were drawn in 2020, now place three teams in the world’s top five in one group. Pool B features South Africa (4th), Ireland, (1st) and Scotland (5th).

Related: World Cup Pools re-drawn with current world rankings

If this international turbulence continues to the autumn, the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France will be the most competitive yet. This can only be good news for rugby. The ground is already shifting and hope-core is here to stay.

Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.