1 New Zealand

Well out in front with 12 months to go, as usual. No one makes opponents pay for mistakes as ruthlessly – and tactically the All Blacks remain the brightest of buttons. Brodie Retallick, Ben Smith, Julian Savea and Beauden Barrett are beginning to rival Richie McCaw and Dan Carter for influence and Kieran Read is the world’s best No 8. Winning a World Cup away from home remains uncharted territory. It gives their rivals a sniff, if only in their imaginations.

IRB ranking 1 World Cup best Winners 1987, 2011

2 South Africa

If the Springboks put their best side out they have the muscle to worry anyone. The question is whether their old stagers can repeat their deeds of 2007; last weekend’s defeat by New Zealand also raised doubts over their composure. A fit Fourie du Preez would make a difference but Willem Alberts, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen offer serious back-row clout. Both Wales and Argentina could have beaten them this year, though, which suggests the Bok management still have work to do.

IRB ranking 2 World Cup best Winners 1995, 2007

3 England

Fourth in the world rankings but home advantage in 2015 will be massive. Their 3-0 series defeat in New Zealand in June should not obscure the progress made under Stuart Lancaster; this autumn will show how far they still have to travel. Three key questions remain: a) what is their best midfield combination? b) who starts on the wings? c) who are the optimum back row to beat Wales, Australia and Fiji in Pool A? Get that right and the final will be a realistic target. They are a growing threat, no question.

IRB ranking 4 World Cup best Winners 2003

4 Australia

They still occasionally flatter to deceive but have lost only one of their past 10 Tests. Ewen McKenzie is certainly in a better place than a year ago, with Quade Cooper, Will Genia and David Pocock still to be welcomed back into a squad of increasing depth. The big wing Henry Speight is about to become eligible, Israel Folau would skip into any team in the world and Will Skelton could be a real force in 12 months’ time. If Toulon’s Matt Giteau were to return as well, England and Wales really would start to twitch.

IRB ranking 3 World Cup best Winners 1991, 1999

5 Ireland

The more you study the 2015 draw the more you wonder if Ireland can break the habit of a lifetime and come good at a World Cup. With France and Italy in their pool they could advance to the semi-finals at least, with a puncher’s shot at the main prize. Joe Schmidt is an outstanding coach and any squad would love a motivated Paul O’Connell at its heart. Jonny Sexton is heading home from France, some of the younger Irish forwards are maturing nicely and last season’s Six Nations title was no fluke.

IRB ranking 5 World Cup best Quarter-finals 1987, 1991, 1995, 2003, 2011

6 Wales

Warren Gatland played it perfectly at Twickenham last week, announcing Wales would not be showing their full hand before the tournament. In one sentence he managed to keep the opposition guessing, cut himself some slack in the event of autumn defeats and advise his own players to assume nothing. If they can finally beat southern hemisphere opponents this autumn it will be another significant psychological plus; the way they finished in South Africa in June showed how dangerous they can be.

IRB ranking 6 World Cup best Semi-finals 1987, 2011

7 Argentina

Unlucky to lose to both South Africa and Australia in this year’s Rugby Championship, they have regrouped well under coach Daniel Hourcade. Their IRB world ranking of 12 does not reflect their scrummaging strength or their improving back line galvanised by Nicolás Sánchez at fly-half, Joaquín Tuculet at full-back and Juan Martín Hernández at 12. The Pumas’ confidence will also soar when their first Rugby Championship victory materialises.

IRB ranking 12 World Cup best Semi-finals 2007

8 France

It has reached the point, surely, where France cannot get any worse, with five defeats in their past six Tests. As New Zealand can testify, World Cups stir something deep inside the Gallic psyche; either that or the extended break from gruelling Top 14 club duties makes a huge difference. The eligibility of the South African-born Rory Kockott will bring much-needed organisation and Wesley Fofana is world class, but if they reach another final it will reflect poorly on their rivals.

IRB ranking 7 World Cup best Final 1987, 1999, 2011

9 Scotland

Independence or not, Scotland need fresh impetus on the rugby field. Their Kiwi coach Vern Cotter could just be the man to provide it and Glasgow are possibly the most improved side in – ahem – the United Kingdom in recent times. Adam Ashe, Jonny Gray and Stuart Hogg should all develop further over the next 12 months and three wins from Cotter’s first four games made a welcome change. Unfortunately for the Scots, their Pool B opponents – South Africa, Samoa, Japan and the United States – are all improving, too.

IRB ranking 8 World Cup best Semi-finals 1991

10 Samoa

Fiji’s first-choice back line could be spectacular but Samoa are probably the Pacific nation best equipped to dent reputations next autumn. It remains to be seen what their squad will look like, but next year’s historic home Test against the All Blacks will lend an extra edge to their preparations. They have already beaten Italy 15-0 in June and Northampton’s Kahn Fotuali’i and George and Ken Pisi add a touch of class behind the scrum.

IRB ranking 9 World Cup best Quarter-finals 1991, 1995

Contributor

Robert Kitson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Rugby World Cup 2015 power rankings: England plummet, Australia climb | Gerard Meagher
England slip five places after defeat to Wales but Wallabies move up to second, while New Zealand stay top and Ireland are upwardly mobile too

Gerard Meagher

02, Oct, 2015 @10:15 AM

Article image
Rugby World Cup 2015 power rankings: New Zealand on top at kick-off | Gerard Meagher
The All Blacks are a surprise early leader, whose greatest threat might be complacency. Australia and England are the sides most likely to challenge them but it looks nasty for Uruguay

Gerard Meagher

18, Sep, 2015 @9:25 AM

Article image
How are the contenders shaping up for the 2011 Rugby World Cup? | Shaun Edwards
Shaun Edwards: With less than a year to go until New Zealand 2011, here's my take on the world's 10 best teams

Shaun Edwards

05, Nov, 2010 @12:05 AM

Article image
Rugby World Cup 2015 power rankings: France up to second, Boks plummet
All Blacks remain top despite vulnerability against Argentina, Les Bleus climb three places after two regulation wins and South Africa fall to ninth after shock loss to Japan

Gerard Meagher

25, Sep, 2015 @11:13 AM

Article image
Rugby World Cup power rankings: breaking down all 20 teams in Japan
England, Ireland and Wales are among the throng pushing to challenge New Zealand as the World Cup enters crunch time

Michael Aylwin

16, Oct, 2019 @9:00 AM

Article image
Rugby union power list: ruthless All Blacks still the team to beat | Robert Kitson
Robert Kitson: Brodie Retallick and New Zealand look formidable before the Rugby World Cup 2015, and the scoreboard makes Ireland the world’s second-best team

Robert Kitson

01, Dec, 2014 @11:22 AM

Article image
Rugby union: talking points from the first round of autumn internationals
Eddie Jones missed his pillar players against Argentina, while Wales got off to a typically slow start and Scotland showed the risks attached to their open rugby

Paul Rees

13, Nov, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Rugby World Cup 2015: Tom Jenkins's photographic highlights
After six weeks and filing around 2,000 images from 19 matches, we present a selection of the Guardian and Observer’s Tom Jenkins’s favourite shots from the tournament

Tom Jenkins and Steven Bloor

02, Nov, 2015 @1:11 PM

Article image
Rugby World Cup 2015 power rankings: Ireland and Argentina climb | Gerard Meagher
The teams who meet in Cardiff on Sunday confirm their status as dark horses while Australia and the All Blacks remain unchanged at the top

Gerard Meagher

16, Oct, 2015 @10:10 AM

Article image
Rugby union: 10 things to look out for in autumn internationals | Gerard Meagher
Courtney Lawes must be at the top of his game for England, Scotland will miss Nel in revenge mission, Italy poised for ‘Black-lash’ and Ireland reap rewards

Gerard Meagher

11, Nov, 2016 @9:59 AM