With the warm-up games out of the way and the final squad selections confirmed, we take a look at the Opta supercomputer’s predictions for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. We then compare them to the expert opinions of some of the leading rugby journalists in the northern hemisphere.
In short, it’s the supercomputer versus the experts. Let battle commence.
Firstly, we are delighted to introduce our experts who have contributed to this article.
Charlie Morgan – The Telegraph, Senior Rugby Writer, @CharlieFelix
Will Kelleher – The Times, Deputy Rugby Correspondent, @willgkelleher
Murray Kinsella – The42.ie, Rugby Journalist, @Murray_Kinsella
Alex Bardot – L’Equipe, Associate Editor
Clément Dossin – Le Parisien/Aujourd’hui en France, Head of Sport, @ClementDossin
Who Will Win the Rugby World Cup? The Supercomputer Results
Opta’s tournament predictor has taken thousands of data points and run them through an AI supercomputer to simulate the Rugby World Cup 10 million times, giving a percentage chance of each team winning the tournament.
The predictions take into account recent form, historical success, pool and fixture difficulty and much more.
There are four sides that sit clear of the rest based on our predictions, and there is almost nothing to split them. Triple champions New Zealand were our favourites before their drubbing by South Africa in their final warm-up game. That honour now sits with Ireland. Despite having never reached a semi-final, their form and depth of talent gives them the edge (21.7%), just ahead of France (21.4%), South Africa (20.5%) and the All Blacks (20.2%).
As well as predicting the overall winner, the model has also predicted the finishing positions for each pool.
The model has France edging out New Zealand into first place for Pool A, while Ireland and South Africa will top Pool B. Australia will emerge from Pool C as victors, while England’s recent torrid form sees them only finish second in Pool D behind Argentina.
We showed the results of the tournament simulation to our panel of experts to get their takes on the predictions. We also asked them a few curveball questions of our own.
Who Do You Think Will Win the Tournament and Why?
South Africa. Know-how, intensity and a strong set-piece… plus I predicted that they’d do it last December and can’t switch horses now. (Charlie Morgan)
France. Because of the smart Fabien Galthié, the explosive Antoine Dupont, the fantastic Thibaud Flament, the crazy French crowd. I think they’ll do it with a late try by Antoine Hastoy in the final, just like Romain Ntamack did in the Top 14 final. But you know, I’m French, so maybe I’m not all that impartial… (Alex Bardot)
France. They’ve got a deep squad, the best player in the world, and home advantage. Their long-term preparation has been smooth and it feels like their time. (Murray Kinsella)
France. As long as they can handle the pressure, they should win the World Cup with the talent they have. It won’t be easy, mind. (Will Kelleher)
France. They are at home, full of confidence and it is high time they win it! (Clément Dossin)
Who Do You Think Will Win Pool A and Why?
New Zealand. They’re hitting form with beautiful timing, and I expect them to edge France on the opening night. (CM)
New Zealand and not France, because since 2019 we know that the eventual World Cup winner loses its first game of the competition against the All Blacks. (AB)
France. I think they’ll beat New Zealand in the opener and secure top spot. (MK)
France to beat New Zealand on the opening night and go through as top seeds. (WK)
Who Wins Pool B?
South Africa, although Scotland will attempt to work over their blitz defence during the first match. Even if Handré Pollard does not return, I expect the Springboks to thrive as they often do in big tournaments. (CM)
South Africa. So much power, so much speed, and more variation than in 2019. (AB)
Ireland. They’ve beaten all the best teams in the world in the last two years and bring great momentum into the tournament. (MK)
South Africa. I think they’ll successfully blast Ireland at the breakdown in that middle pool game, and set up a tie against New Zealand in the quarters. (WK)
South Africa because they will outpower Ireland (CD)
How About Pool C?
Fiji. They have a typically potent fleet of runners and seem to have solidified up their mauling and scrummaging, which might just be enough to navigate the most open and intriguing group. (CM)
Australia because Wales are far from where they were in 2019. (AB)
Australia. There’s the core of a good team in Eddie Jones’ squad. This prediction is made with little confidence as this pool looks wide open. (MK)
So difficult to pick, but I will say Wales… just. It could easily be Australia, though, and I would love to see Fiji go through. (WK)
Fiji for the biggest upset in World Cup history. (CD)
You Can Guess Where This One Is Going… Pool D?
England, though this is still based more on faith in Steve Borthwick and Aled Walters rather than the evidence of performances to date. Argentina, their chief rivals, are still pretty inconsistent. (CM)
Argentina. Because England are also miles off from where they were in 2019. (AB)
Argentina. Consistency has been their biggest issues but I think the layout of their fixtures lends itself well to them producing more than one big performance. (MK)
Argentina. At the moment it is hard to see England beating them, as they have been so poor recently. Both to go through, though. (WK)
Argentina because England just aren’t very good! (CD)
Which Team Is Most Likely to Cause a Shock and When?
Georgia’s games against Wales and Australia will be fascinating, particularly given the latter two are compromised by front-row injuries. (CM)
Japan, against England. (AB)
Fiji. They’ve got cohesion in the squad on account of the Drua’s rise, while they have stars capable of winning any game. They could feature in the knockout stages. (MK)
Scotland have the ability to win a big game in their pool of death, but I don’t think they will. Japan are not the team they were. I can see Georgia or Fiji beating Australia, though. Argentina to beat England in the opening round, too, but that is less of a shock. (WK)
Fiji will beat Wales and Australia (CD)
Which Team Will Have the Most Disappointing Tournament and Why?
Whoever out of Ireland, Scotland or South Africa does not get out of pool B, although Japan’s four-year cycle has been extremely underwhelming given their excellence in 2019. (CM)
Ireland or South Africa, because as favourites, it will be tough for them when they lose in quarter-finals… against France. (AB)
England. They’re struggling to make progress after a tough couple of years and look vulnerable even with a relatively kind draw. (MK)
Ireland. Their currency is winning it, and I think they will be knocked out at the quarter-final stages again. It is brutal they have been drawn in such a stacked half. (WK)
England because they won’t qualify for the quarters after losing to Argentina and Samoa. (CD)
Who Will Be the Top Try Scorer?
Will Jordan (CM, AB, MK)
Damian Penaud (WK, CD)
Who Will Be the Top Points Scorer?
Richie Mo’unga (CM)
Thomas Ramos (AB, MK, WK, CD)
Which Player That We’ve Not Heard of Are You Most Excited to See Play?
You’ll have heard of them, but Rodrigo Fernández of Chile and Santiago Arata of Uruguay. (CM)
You’ve heard of Antoine Dupont, right? In all seriousness, Pita Ahki (Tonga) is new at the international level but has performed brilliantly for Toulouse in recent seasons, and Davit Ninashvili (Georgia) who is a spectacular full-back. (AB)
Manuel Ardao (Uruguay) (MK).
Rodrigo Marta (Portugal), who is a scoring machine. (CD)
We also made our picks, one for each team because we couldn’t just pick one.
Which Player Will Beat the Most Defenders in the Tournament?
Duhan van der Merwe if Scotland get through Pool B, Mark Telea if they do not. (CM)
You know Antoine Dupont, right? (AB)
Damian Penaud (MK)
Antoine Dupont, unless New Zealand go deep, and then it will be Will Jordan. (WK)
Canan Moodie (CD)
Our pick? Mark Telea who has been unstoppable in Super Rugby this year: