Rugby World Cup 2019 Power Rankings: All Blacks still start as team to beat

OPINION: Forget everything you've seen before now - well, almost everything.

When the Rugby World Cup kicks off on Friday, pre-tournament 'form' will go out the window, and the winners will likely be whoever can handle the pressure and make the best adjustments over the next six weeks.

Most teams will have used this year's international window to nail down their squads for the event and if they're smart, they won't have shown their full hands - tactically - for rivals to scout.

To some extent that may still apply once the World Cup starts. Such is the power of video analysis these days, victory often goes to whoever can stay one step ahead of their rivals.

Much has been made of official world rankings, which have seen New Zealand lose their decade-long grip on the top spot.

rwc power rankings
Photo credit: Newshub.

But over the past couple of months, perhaps only two results - maybe three - stand out as really significant in the wider scheme of things - the two Bledisloe tests and England v Ireland.

Here's our take on how the top 10 teams rank, heading into the tournament - we'll update each week on form.  

1. New Zealand


World ranking: Second

Opening game: v South Africa, September 21

2019 form: Beat Tonga 92-7, beat Australia 36-0, lost to Australia 47-26, drew with South Africa 16-16, beat Argentina 20-16

OK, this feels a little parochial, but it's hard to ignore the two-time defending champions, coming off an emphatic bounce-back win over the Wallabies. Recent results against Australia, South Africa, England and Ireland show they're vulnerable, if they show up with anything less than their Kapa O Pango haka, but they are consistently better than the rest.

2. England


World ranking: Third

Opening game: v Tonga, September 22

2019 Form: Beat Italy 37-0, beat Ireland 57-15, lost to Wales 13-6, beat Wales 33-19

Hard to read too much into current form, but big wins over recent world No.1s Ireland and Wales suggest England may actually be the All Blacks' biggest threat in Japan. Of course, we've heard that before - now watch them somehow self-destruct.

Joe Cokanasiga scores against Ireland
Joe Cokanasiga scores against Ireland. Photo credit: Reuters.

3. South Africa


World ranking: Fourth

Opening game: v New Zealand, September 21

2019 form: Beat Japan 41-7, beat Argentina 24-18, beat Argentina 46-13, drew with New Zealand 16-16, beat Australia 35-17

The only unbeaten team in the current international window, the Springboks historically have a spotty record against northern hemisphere sides, and face a possible quarter-final crossover with Ireland or Scotland. Their opening clash with the All Blacks will be the tournament's biggest pool match-up and could easily be a prequel to the final.

4. Ireland


World ranking: First

Opening game: v Scotland, September 22

Beat Wales 19-10, beat Wales 22-17, lost to England 57-15, beat Italy 29-10

The current world No.1s are winners over the All Blacks in their last meeting - twice in their last three. Consecutive wins over former No.1 Wales have restored some swagger, but that shellacking at the hands of the English was just too big to ignore.

They'll have time to play into form during pool play, but face a horrible quarter-final crossover with either New Zealand or South Africa.

5. Wales


World ranking: Fifth

Opening game: v Georgia, September 23

2019 form: Lost to Ireland 19-10, lost to Ireland 22-17, beat England 13-6, lost to England 33-19

Current Six Nations champions enjoyed a couple of weeks atop world rankings, but crashed to No.5 with consecutive losses to Ireland. Only one win in the current international window, which also includes a big loss to England, but they have a softish draw through to the semis.

George North leaps to claim the ball
George North leaps to claim the ball. Photo credit: Reuters.

6. Australia


World ranking: Sixth

Opening game: v Fiji, September 21

2019 form: Beat Samoa 34-15, lost to New Zealand 36-0, beat New Zealand 47-26, beat Argentina 16-10, lost to South Africa 35-17

Have the second-best record at World Cups and four years ago, the Wallabies again showed they could turn horrible form around to challenge for the title. Their record win over the short-handed All Blacks last month hinted at their ability, but if Mr Hyde turns up, they could just as easily slip up against Georgia or Fiji.

7. France


World ranking: Eighth

Opening game: v Argentina, September 21

2019 form: Beat Italy 47-19, lost to Scotland 17-14, beat Scotland 32-3

Still sends a shiver through All Blacks fans, whenever they cross paths at a World Cup, because you just never know which French team will turn up from one game to the next. They've struggled in recent years, but are still capable of producing a sublime rugby from nowhere.

8. Scotland


World ranking: Seventh

Opening game: v Ireland, September 22

2019 form: Beat Georgia 36-9, beat Georgia 44-10, beat France 17-14, lost to France 32-3

Scotland claims lineout ball against Georgia
Scotland claims lineout ball against Georgia. Photo credit: Reuters.

Split a home-and-away series to France, including a 29-point defeat. Hard to see them progressing any further than quarter-finals, where they'd likely crossover against New Zealand or South Africa - they've never beaten the former and last defeated the latter nine years ago.

9. Argentina


World ranking: 11th

Opening game: v France, September 21

Beat Randwick 74-0, lost to South Africa 24-18, lost to South Africa 46-13, lost to Australia 16-10, lost to New Zealand 20-16

Needed an outing against a Sydney club team to achieve their only pre-World Cup win, but may have suffered a hangover from the Jaguares' Super Rugby run. They've reached the knockout stages at the last three tournaments - including two semis - and could easily topple France for another visit this time.

10. Japan


World ranking: 10th

Opening game: v Russia, September 20 

Lost to South Africa 41-7, Beat United States 34-20, beat Tonga 41-7, beat Fiji 34-21

Much has been made of their home advantage and many still remember their shock win over the Springboks four years ago. This is a big chance for the 'Brave Blossoms' to climb up the world rankings and they'll likely need to topple Scotland to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

Grant Chapman is Newshub online sports editor.

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