With the long-awaited Rugby World Cup finally upon us, the question is who’s hot and who’s not in unofficial power rankings now the warm-up matches are done and dusted?

With the long-awaited Rugby World Cup finally upon us, the question is who’s hot and who’s not in unofficial power rankings now the warm-up matches are done and dusted?

While France, Ireland and South Africa all seem to be coming good in the final weeks before the tournament kicks off, England, New Zealand and Australia all need a little help.

Read more: Rugby World Cup warm-ups results

Who did well in the Rugby World Cup warm-ups


Host nations don’t usually win World Cups. In nine editions, the home side has lifted the trophy twice – three times, including the dual-hosted inaugural tournament in 1987.

But everything seems set fair for France. They haven’t lost at home, to anyone, since March 2021. They have only lost to Scotland, with a ‘hopefuls’ side in Edinburgh, and Ireland, in Dublin, since July the same year. They have won 31 of 39 matches since February 2020, and lost by more than a single score just twice. 

Losing Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont’s fly-half, was a shock. But Matthieu Jalibert is, arguably, a better attacking 10, who adds something tellingly different to Les Bleus’ axis.

Related: Why the All Blacks should fear France’s Dupont-Jalibert axis

In Damian Penaud, they have an untackleable try-scorer who’s bagged seven in his last four outings, taking his total to 29 in 44 internationals. Serge Blanco’s record is very much in sight.

Much is currently being read into an underpowered forwards performance against Australia. Ignore it. France have got the better of every pack assembled to beat them. They have options and depth in every position, and a coaching team leaving nothing, literally nothing, to luck.

France have reached three finals in nine World Cups to date. A fourth is very much a possibility – and they have the squad to do what their predecessors could not. They’re one of three sides heading in the right power rankings direction ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

South Africa

The World Champions just inflicted a worst-ever defeat on New Zealand at Twickenham. And, while it’s physically untrue, they metaphorically did it pretty much without breaking sweat. Yes, Scott Barrett’s red card made things easier, but there’s no way the All Blacks were winning that match.

Related: How the Springboks lineout defence works

That should worry opponents. South Africa’s forwards unit is, quite rightly, is the most feared in world rugby – not even the supremely well-endowed French have anything that can quite match ‘the bomb squad’ for potency.

Meanwhile, behind the scrum-eaters in the pack, are try-hungry backs waiting to feast on the errors and fatigue their opponents feel in the face of the power and the fury in front of them.


You can’t ignore the world number one side. Forget the narrow win-in-the-rain over Samoa in Bayonne last week. You can’t ignore a side that won a series in New Zealand last summer, and followed it up with a Six Nations Grand Slam. Rugby historians could point out, for example, England did pretty much the same en route to the 2003 title.

And yet, rugby historians could also issue a reminder of Ireland’s well-documented quarter-final hoodoo, or the fact that then-coach Joe Schmidt led them to world number one status before the 2019 tournament in Japan, then could only watch as they suffered a record Rugby World Cup loss to New Zealand in the last eight.

Related: Ireland Rugby World Cup squad 2023

Crucially, this is not history, though Andy Farrell will be sure to remind his side of it – and point out they have wrongs to right. Johnny Sexton, for one, on his Ireland swansong, won’t need much persuading.

Against them: the draw. Ireland face two more of the top five in South Africa and Scotland in the pool phase; then probably one of either hosts France, the number three-ranked side in the world, or fourth-placed New Zealand in the quarter-finals. If Ireland do win the World Cup, it will be the hard way.

Who did badly in the Rugby World Cup warm-ups

New Zealand

There is, for Ian Foster’s All Blacks, the period Before Twickenham and, now, they’re in the period After Twickenham. 

Related: Superb South Africa hand New Zealand worst ever defeat

In the BT era, things looked pretty good for New Zealand. A dodgy time, up to August 2022, appeared consigned to ancient history. They beat South Africa and Argentina, Wales and Australia, Scotland and Japan.

And then Twickenham happened and all that had gone on before was wiped out in an instant. The Springboks-Twickenham boundary is a clear and very present event in New Zealand’s rugby geology. 

In the AT period, suddenly, the problems that plagued the All Blacks when they were losing at home to Ireland and Argentina, have bubbled back to the surface. And the haka just isn’t scary right now.


Regret is a funny thing. Some pundits and fans openly question whether England were right to part with Eddie Jones in December 2022 because replacement Steve Borthwick hasn’t instantly set them back on the road to World Cup-winning rugby righteousness.

It’s an argument. As is the one about England’s absence of original or even coherent thought out there right now. And then there are the questions of player fitness – which will get answered, one way or another, sooner rather than later. Have their S&C people pulled a blinder on the rest of us. We don’t know.

Related: Danny Cipriani: England backs would be scoring if I was playing

The fact is, it’s hard – looking in – to see what, if anything, is in England’s locker. They appear both unfit and undercooked at the same time. Borthwick has had nine matches to offer some food for thought since taking charge. It’s not impossible he’s getting ready to unveil something special with a flourish. But that would be very unBorthwick-like. 

Without anything much to work on from the Borthwick play-book, the most effective plan has to be a return to first principles. Iron-hard, unremitting, unexciting, points-based rugby. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it might – at least – be effective. 


The data will tell you that the Wallabies enjoyed most of the possession and a large territorial advantage against France in their final World Cup warm-up in Saint-Denis. The data will tell you that they spent more time in France’s 22 than France did in theirs, that they made numerous linebreaks, resulting in three tries.

Related: France flex their muscles against Australia

The scoreline will tell you that Australia conceded four tries to lose 41-17. Which tells you a lot about data without context, because – for a start – it fails to mention that France gave their ‘dispossession’ game a run-out, and won pretty much without the ball.

Eddie Jones, for it is he, has now lost five from five. Time wasn’t on his side when he accepted the Australia job. It’s definitely not on his side now. There’s plenty of all-out power in the Wallabies’ squad. But it needs direction if they’re to avoid sliding further in the Rugby World Cup power rankings. Fast.

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