It is safe to say that all rugby fans start looking forward to the next World Cup soon after the previous tournament has finished. 

Other competitions keep you going, and provide wonderful entertainment during the four-year hiatus, but nothing can beat the excitement and anticipation of all the top nations coming together in one country to play for the Webb Ellis Cup. 

So, with just six months to go until the big kick-off in Paris for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, we thought it was time to get out our oval-shaped crystal ball and give you an idea of what you can expect to see, and some of the potential highlights. 

1. The opening game is a mouth-watering prospect

Rugby predictions can be fraught with danger, but it is safe to say that the tournament will start with a bang. 

On Friday 8 September in the Stade de France, the highly fancied hosts will face the All Blacks in a match that would make a worthy final at the same venue seven weeks later.

In reality, defeat will not be the end of the world for either side. It is hard to see Italy, Uruguay, and Namibia proving too troublesome so both should qualify for the quarterfinals, where further mouth-watering matches against Ireland and South Africa are lined up.

But both sides will want to start with a signature win, so it really does promise to be a great match. 

2. The crowds will be massive

France proved in 2007 that they know how to host a Rugby World Cup.

A favourable geographic location at the heart of Europe means that hundreds of thousands of rugby tourists will make the journey. 

The excellent French transport links mean that many of the visitors will travel round following their team, or just taking the chance to watch a series of top quality rugby matches.

The signs are that the tournament will be a sell-out. The first venue and team packs that went on sale 30 months before the first match were sold out within 48 hours, and later ticket tranches were snapped up just as quickly.

Even matches such as Samoa against Chile and the Georgia/Portugal battle are likely to be played in packed arenas. 

3. The hosts rightly fancy their chances

One thing that always adds to the success of any World Cup is a successful host. 

The whole nation, in particular the southern half, will be fully invested in the event, and visiting supporters will get a warm welcome.

The intensity will be dialled up to boiling point for the French matches. They, rightly, fancy their chances, matching an immovable pack with the usual Gallic flair and inspiration in the backs. 

They are peaking at the right time, and there is a very good chance that you could see a new name on the trophy. 

4. Ireland have the best chance of the 4 home nations

The perennial criticism of Irish sides is that they tend to peak a year before a World Cup, rather than at the event itself. 

Yet this time, all the signs are that this iteration seem to have got their timing about right.

Although a lot depends on the fitness of their talismanic leader, Jonny Sexton, the All Blacks in 2011 proved it is not impossible for tightly knit teams to win the trophy without their first-choice fly-half. 

The Irish have depth, experience, and masses of self-belief after recent big wins over France, South Africa, and the All Blacks.

Their fans always travel well, so their team can be guaranteed huge support at all their matches. 

5. One of the lesser fancied teams could spring a surprise

Just a glance at the four pools shows that there is the potential for an upset in all of them.

In pool A, for example, while you would expect the All Blacks and France to progress, Italy could well give one of them a scare, based on their recent performances.

Ireland against South Africa is the big game in pool B, but both of them, and Scotland, will face a strong challenge from Tonga. 

In pool C, neither Wales or Australia will relish facing Georgia or even Fiji, and the Japan against Argentina match-up in pool D could easily be one of the best matches of the first stage. 

Our pick of three matches that may be worth keeping an eye on in terms of possible upsets are:

  • Georgia v Australia in Paris on 9 September
  • Wales v Fiji in Bordeaux on 10 September
  • Argentina v Samoa on 22 September in St Etienne.

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