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World Cup in depth with George Chuter
By George Chuter
1. Winner - New Zealand. Difficult to look past the twice reigning champions. Whilst they have been beaten lately, that makes around 10 losses in the last 100 test matches, give or take a few games. Not exactly the stats of a bad team! I think South Africa and England are the nearest threats. England look like they will face NZ or SA in a semi-final. SA and NZ will be on opposite sides of the draw after their group clash. I think we’ll see an NZ v SA final.
2. Player of the tournament - Beauden Barrett. If NZ are to win, they need this guy to be on top form. He has the ability to create and score tries, and, although he has played full-back throughout the Rugby Championship, he will be the starting fly-half for NZ.
3. Top try scorer - Reiko Ioane. No disrespect to Italy, Namibia and Canada, but this is the weakest pool on paper. Ioane is a prolific try-scorer and should have plenty of opportunities if NZ progress all the way to the final.
4. Top points scorer - Owen Farrell
5. Underperforming team - Ireland. The Irish have never won a knock-out World Cup game. Incredible when you think of some of the squads they have had. But they tend to peak in between World Cups, and I feel they may have done so again. No so much the ‘friendly’ game performances, but the fact that they have precious little depth at half-back and hooker. And some of their key players look on their last legs. 12 months ago, Ireland would have been many people’s pick for glory. I see them falling some way short of that.
6. Breakthrough player of the tournament - Tom Curry. Although already pretty established in the England set up, the World Cup could provide him with the stage to become a global name in the sport. England look like they are trying to play a much quicker-tempo game than previously, and Curry could be the ideal link man in this. Speed to burn, and a great engine.