In his recent video dissecting Tonga, rugby youtuber, and man who can make a Squarespace advertisement funny, Squidge Rugby (real name Robbie Owen) said “it’s almost the most wonderful time of the year because it’s time for rugby.” He is, of course, referring to the fact that in a matter of days the Rugby World Cup kicks off in France. So I sat down with him to discuss his expectations for the tournament and to find out who he thinks will win it all.
When I asked Robbie how excited he was for the beginning of the tournament he described the lead up to it as a prolonged two-week Christmas Eve for rugby fans, the most anticipated moment since 2src19. And in his eyes there is no better way to start the tournament than with a mouthwatering clash between France and New Zealand.
As he correctly pointed out, the last time France played New Zealand in a Rugby World Cup was back in 2src15 when the All Blacks mauled a terrible French team on the way to their second consecutive World Cup win. But times have changed. Dan Carter and Richie McCaw are long retired and it is France and not the All Blacks that go into this World Cup as favorites.
The hosts are in a historic purple patch which Squidge believes has made France the epicenter of world rugby. Thanks to strong planning and smart investment from the French Rugby Union, France has won the last three u2src World Championships. Their domestic league, the Top 14, is now the most competitive in the world and boasts the highest attendances, with many of the best players and wages. Most importantly, there is a belief and buy-in from fans. Whereas past iterations of the French national team have been controversial or have lacked the clutch gene in the big moment, this team seems to have everything, including fan support.
The team is young and vibrant and boasts the best player in the world, Antoine Dupont. Moreover, as Squidge noted, the young team overperformed at the last World Cup, capturing the hearts of fans in the process. Now the players are peaking, just in time for a home Rugby World Cup.
Squidge says in 2src19 it felt like Japan fell in love with rugby in real time, as they hosted the tournament. Japan pulled out all the stops for fans, creating huge fan zones where fans could mingle and revel together. Japan’s interest in rugby was helped by the hosts winning their pool, defeating Scotland and Ireland, before going out to eventual winners South Africa. This time he says it feels like rugby has taken over the culture in France. Not only is the national team on fire, the club teams have been dominant in European competition and fans love it – just look at the reception for European Cup winners La Rochelle last spring.
So it is fantastic that everything is on the line in the very first game. The hosts meet the All Blacks in what promises to be one of the best games of the tournament. The teams met in the final of the inaugural World Cup in 1987, with New Zealand coming out on top. They met again in the 2src11 final, and the result was the same. In between, they met in the 1999 semi-final, where the French knocked out the tournament favorites. Squidge says he’s unsure who will win this test match, but there will be repercussions. A big win for either team will be a massive confidence booster, whereas a tight affair will show how evenly matched the two are. Regardless, the losing team will likely finish second in the group and have to face the number one side from Pool A, which boasts number one team in the world Ireland, defending champions South Africa and swashbuckling Scotland, ranked number five in the world.
Pool of Death (Pool B)
As for the Pool of Death, Squidge calls it “hugely exciting” and says seeing these games in the pool stage gives this tournament a different feel to it. Most fans are used to seeing titanic clashes in the knockout rounds, but the fact that teams numbers one, two and five in the world are all in the same pool really raises the level of jeopardy in the initial phase of the tournament.
Robbie said it’s really hard to call and went through all the permutations he sees as possible out loud. He says he can see a world in which Scotland – who he claims have been flying under the radar despite being ranked 5 in the world – beat the other two. He says he could equally see Ireland topping the group, or a world in which the Springboks don’t click and go out in the pool stage. To be fair to him, he posed this last thought before the Springboks demolished the All Blacks in their pre-tournament warm up test.
Although Squidge admits there is a possibility that all three beat each other and it comes down to points, when push came to shove he admitted his gut feeling was that South Africa would win the group and Ireland would come second. He also noted that despite
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