Newshub roundtable: Who will shine, who will flop, what to expect from the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup in France

  • 08/09/2023

After four turbulent years for the All Blacks, the Rugby World Cup is finally here.

On Saturday, Ian Foster's men kick off the 2023 tournament, taking on hosts France at Paris.

This year's tournament is without question the most open in the history of the game, with a handful of sides rightfully carrying contender status into France 2023.

With so much to watch over the coming months, Newshub's sporting experts break down what to expect once that first whistle sounds at the Stade de France.

What is a realistic achievement for the All Blacks?

Tom Bartlett, Newshub head of sport

If the All Blacks reach the semi-finals at this World Cup, they'll have bulldozed their way through either one of the pre-tournament favourites in Ireland or South Africa, or clipped the wings of a high-flying Scotland team. 

I think it's realistic to expect a top-four finish for the All Blacks, but they could easily make the tournament final, if they get to the last four.

For me - it's either an early exit at the quarter-final stage (flop) or they'll play for the trophy on October 28.

William Hewett, Newshub digital producer 

Nothing other than victory. While many people will say the All Blacks have a tough draw, I argue they don't. 

Yes, they play the hosts, who are one of the favourites for the World Cup, in the opening game, but the result isn't critical.  

Whether the All Blacks win or lose to France, they will most likely play South Africa or Ireland - both are tough matches.

Get through that quarter-final, then they'll play a team like Australia, England, Argentina, Japan or Fiji in the semis, and I just can't see the All Blacks losing to any of them.  

Then it comes down to a one-off match in the final and the All Blacks have won three out of four finals they've been in, so as the English like to say, "It's coming home".

Andrew Gourdie, Newshub sport presenter

Winning the World Cup is a realistic achievement for the All Blacks. On their day, they can beat any team in the world.

The question is: will they be able to string together three performances against world-class opponents in the knockout stages of the tournament to lift the Webb Ellis Cup?

On the back of the heaviest defeat in their history and with injury problems mounting before the tournament has begun, I have my doubts.

Stephen Foote, Newshub sport digital producer

It's the All Blacks. No matter their world ranking, winning the World Cup is - and will always be - both realistic and the only satisfactory outcome.

The All Blacks' haka.
The All Blacks' haka. Photo credit: Getty Images

Lisette Reymer, Newshub Europe correspondent

Win the Webb Ellis goldware - if they make it up the mountain and survive the quarter-finals, the Cup is theirs.

Ollie Ritchie, Newshub rugby reporter

Finalists. There's absolutely no reason the All Blacks can't make the final this year and, in many ways, their poolplay finish is irrelevant.

They'll have to get through one of South Africa or Ireland (or Scotland), and they're absolutely capable of doing that.  

From there, it's anyone's bet. 

Mitch McCann, Newshub US correspondent

Champions. It's easy to write off the All Blacks after a difficult year under Ian Foster, but the fact is we remain one of the most experienced teams in the world.

The recent loss at the hands of South Africa doesn't give much confidence, but I'm hopeful it was a one-off and a result we can move on from fast. 

Grant Chapman, Newshub digital sports lead

Bashing the All Blacks has become a popular pastime over the past 12 months, but I can still see them pushing late into the tournament. The record defeat to South Africa may have been the best thing for their preparation, giving the coaching staff plenty to ponder over the two-week run-in to the opening game against France.

Even if they lose to the hosts, seven weeks is a long time to hold form, as they found after beating the eventual winners first-up four years ago and then falling in the semis. Conversely, that's also a decent period to build towards a peak, as long as they don't suffer any more major injuries. 

I don't expect them to win - but I haven't given up hope that they can.

Alex Chapman, Newshub sport reporter

Anything less than a semi-final is an utter failure. Yes, a year ago many - me included - were tipping they wouldn't make it past the quarters and, hey, that could well happen again, given who could await.  

Recent form, bar the Twickenham trouncing at the hands of the Springboks, has me thinking they could in fact go all the way.

'Could' is the keyword though.

Alex Powell, Newshub sport digital producer

Semi-finals. Getting to the last four would genuinely be an achievement for a side that have largely underperformed under this coaching set-up.

Knocking out one of South Africa, Ireland or even Scotland would be a huge feather in the cap for Ian Foster, with a quarter-final victory to at least guarantee the All Blacks a shot at third place or higher.

All Black to watch at this year's World Cup

Will Jordan scores for the All Blacks.
Will Jordan scores for the All Blacks. Photo credit: Photosport

TB: I'll give you two. Shannon Frizell will be a star of the Cup (when he gets on the field), if he channels some of that Jerome Kaino-type silent assassin. He has the ability to set the tone for the pack and if he can be that guy for the All Blacks, it could be special. 

I've been calling for Cam Roigard to play more all season, not because he's better than Aaron Smith or Finlay Christie, but because he's different and no-one in the world knows how the All Blacks could operate if he's at the base of the ruck.

Clearly, he will be a bench player at the Cup, but a very handy one at that.

WH: Cam Roigard might not be locked in as the All Blacks' back-up halfback, but Roigard is breathing down the neck of Finlay Christie, after his impressive cameo against the Springboks.  

The bench will be critical at this World Cup and his x-factor, running and strong kicking game could be crucial in big moments.  

I expect the Hurricanes No.9 to claim the back-up halfback spot with both hands during the World Cup and go on to produce crucial performances. 

AG: Scott Barrett has come of age as a player and a leader in 2023.

His selection at blindside flanker came into sharp focus in the wake of a 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat to England, when Maro Itoje schooled the All Blacks pack. Four years on, Barrett can be that same presence for the All Blacks and the team will need him to be, if they're to succeed in this tournament.

SF: In recent years, the All Blacks have sorely lacked a game-breaking talent of the Blues wing's ilk. 

Mark Telea's explosive, highly industrious play and ability to blow matches wide open against the elite teams' air-tight defences will be priceless to the All Blacks, and potentially a decisive factor to their success.

LR: Will Jordan delivered an underwhelming performance at Twickenham (as did most of his teammates), but that should only serve to fire up the speed demon for France.

He'll deliver pace, x-factor and, crucially, tries.  

OR: Absolutely loved what I saw from Cam Roigard off the bench against South Africa, when his team was being belted from pillar to post. 

He's clearly not fazed by the bright lights of international rugby, his running game adds a vital point of difference off the bench and his bigger frame makes him more of a handful around the ruck.

He's got the No.21 jersey sewn up and I’m really excited to see him get more minutes in a starting role against some of those weaker teams in pool play. 

Ardie Savea
Ardie Savea Photo credit: Getty Images

MM: Ardie Savea is undoubtedly one of New Zealand's most reliable performers and has proven himself a strong leader within the side, occasionally taking the captain's reins. He has the opportunity to cast himself as the 'Jerome Kaino' of the 2015 Cup - an unstoppable force on defence.

Savea's power and leadership could be what the All Blacks need to lift the Webb Ellis trophy again.

GC: After his red card against South Africa, Scott Barrett will want to redeem himself. He has been one of New Zealand's form players this year, but it's still not clear how coach Ian Foster will utilise his three gun locks.

I still expect to see Barrett in a No.6 jersey at some point during the business end of the competition.

AC: 'To watch' is such a broad term.

To watch because of skill and thrill? Will Jordan.

To watch because of how enormous he will be to the All Blacks success? Ardie Savea - he goes down, ABs won't win the World Cup.

AP: Rightly or wrongly, Sam Cane has been a scapegoat for what's been a poor era for the All Blacks.

Cane isn't just playing to add his name alongside David Kirk and Richie McCaw as World Cup-winning All Blacks captains, he's playing to prove he has what it takes to lead this side in 2024 and beyond, once Scott Robertson takes over.

Non-All Black to watch at this year's World Cup

TB: Matthieu Jalibert is France's second choice No.10, but with star playmaker Romain Ntamack out of the tournament injured, Jalibert will take the reins for the hosts. 

He was once touted as the next big thing in French rugby, but injury and Ntamack conspired against that, until perhaps now.

Playing his club rugby at Bordeaux, Jalibert is not half as experienced as Ntamack at the top level, nor does he enjoy the established partnership with French halfback and captain Antoine Dupoint, but if he can guide France around the field and step up in his country's hour of need, he could be French rugby legend by the end of the tournament.

WH: Love him or hate him, Eddie Jones provides entertainment. Just look at his press conferences during the Rugby Championship, how can you not be entertained?  

If the Wallabies continue their losing run, the pressure will mount and he could lose the plot in his press conferences, which could be very interesting to watch.  

Eddie Jones and Ian Foster.
Eddie Jones and Ian Foster. Photo credit: Getty Images

AG - Law interpretations will, as ever, play a big part in this World Cup. Red cards are inevitable and it will be fascinating to see whether the All Blacks fall on the right side of the referees in France.

SF: Fijian wing Selesitino Ravutaumada is must-see TV, absolute appointment viewing. Ravutaumada's jaw-dropping blend of power and pace has been one of the driving forces of Fiji's barnstorming run into the tournament, which has seen them outgrow their tag as darkhorses.

The highlight of that streak was obviously their historic win over England, when Ravutaumada dished out some nightmare-inducing punishment to his opposites. The stage is set in France for the Fijian to showcase his freakish talents to the world.

LR: Once upon a time, a genuine Kiwi, James Lowe has risen to cult hero status on Ireland's wing.

He's already proven his ability to influence the game during the Six Nations Grand Slam win, but Paris is his first World Cup and he'll be out to make an impact.

OR: Okay, hardly an unknown quantity, but can Antoine Dupont be France's hero?

On the biggest stage, at a home World Cup, with his side one of the favourites to go all the way, can the French magician lead his side where they've never been before?

Imagine the scenes if Dupont lifts the Webb Ellis Cup in Paris on October 28. 

MM: Australia are undoubtedly under pressure to perform during the Rugby World Cup. They've lost their last three matches to the All Blacks, France and Argentina - hardly an inspiring start to the tenure of new coach Eddie Jones.

Australia do have the ability to perform at a high level and the experience to make that happen, boasting names like James Slipper, Nic White, Samu Kerevi, and Andrew Kellaway. I would argue the biggest weapon they hold though is veteran cross-code winger Marika Koroibete.

Last year, All Black Will Jordan said Koroibete had "been setting the benchmark for wingers over the last two or three years" and he was recently crowned Australia's best test player. He is fast, powerful, agile and could be the secret weapon to a dramatic Wallabies turnaround in France.

PARIS, FRANCE - AUGUST 27: Antoine Dupont of France in action during the 2023 Summer International rugby match between France and Australia at Stade de France on August 27, 2023 in Saint-Denis near Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

GC: If the Wallabies can't pull themselves out of their death spiral, things will get even more uncomfortable for head coach Eddie Jones, who was brought in to develop a team for the 2027 World Cup in Australia, but may struggle to survive that long without short-term results.

He may need to pull Sir Steve Hansen in fulltime to save his job. 

AC: With the French players dropping like flies, Antoine Dupont will have even more pressure on him.

If the hosts are to live up to local and global expectation, it'll come down to his ability to drive them around the park and potentially to the title.

AP: World Rugby's eligibility changes have opened the door for the Pacific nations to play on even footing with the former elite.

Lima Sopoaga's participation for Samoa will be huge, not just in pushing to reach the quarter-finals, but in inspiring the next generation of players to represent their heritage on the world stage.

Which team will flop?

TB: Plenty of possibilities here. You could look at one side of the draw and make a call, especially glancing towards England and Australia, but it's Wales for me. 

Semi-finalists in two of the last three World Cups, they're all over the shop this time and just don't look up for it. Fiji will stuff them, if they fail to front. 

Note: the All Blacks could easily scoop this prize, if they lose to France first up and are knocked out in the quarterfinals.

WH: For the second time in three World Cups, England won't make it past the group stage. 

England have the draw to go deep, but their form since Eddie Jones left as head coach has been poor.  

They face a tricky draw with Samoa, Argentina, Japan and Chile in their group. Argentina is a tough team to beat, after already picking up away victories against New Zealand and Australia over the last 14 months. 

Japan are a specialist World Cup team, winning at least three pool matches at both of the last two tournaments. Then there are Samoa, who are stacked with talent and ready to pounce on a wounded English side. 

AG - Both England and Australia are an absolute mess. Grab your popcorn and let the Eddie Jones show begin.

SF: Still licking their wounds from their manhandling by the Fijians, England will limp into the tournament on the back of five losses in their previous six games, and without their captain and premier player Owen Farrell for the start of their campaign. 

Remember when England crashed out in the pool stage in 2015 to become the only host nation not to advance to the knockout rounds? I just want to leave that out there.

England have endured a torrid time under coach Steve Borthwick.
England have endured a torrid time under coach Steve Borthwick. Photo credit: Getty Images

LR: I'm losing count of the number of Poms who have bowled up to me declaring early allegiance to the All Blacks to save themselves the embarrassment of backing England.  

OR: I don't even know if it can be considered a flop, the expectations for England are so low.

This team are in all sorts of trouble. They don't know their identity, their gameplan changes week to week, they're without two key players - including their captain - for the start of the tournament.

Do not be surprised to see them exit stage left in poolplay. I see absolutely no reason for optimism about this team. 

GC: England's tournament opener against Argentina - without captain and playmaker Owen Farrell - takes on added significance, but there are other threats lurking among the so-called minnows of their pool.

AC: England... utter shambles, play boring rugby. Not for me.

AP: This might be harsh, but anything other than lifting the Webb Ellis Cup is an underachievement for Ireland.

They've been the best side on the planet for the better part of the past eight years and this World Cup rightfully represents their last chance to prove that at the highest level.

Which team will surprise?

TB: Samoa look really sharp, with some insane athletes, and seem to be playing with real purpose. I like the look of Fiji, but I like Samoa even more, especially with Lima Sopoaga at the helm at No.10. 

I've got them advancing to the quarter-finals from pool D (Argentina to go through with them) and wouldn't surprise me one bit if they make the last four, especially if they face a team like the Wallabies in that first weekend of the knockout stage.

WH: After their upset victory over England, Fiji look ready to pounce at the World Cup and they have the draw to do it. The two 'big' teams in their pool - Australia and Wales - are out of form and come into the tournament on losing streaks. 

I see Fiji producing an upset and qualifying for the quarter-finals. 

AG: Hopefully, the All Blacks.

If not, Fiji have recently demonstrated they are a team capable of upsetting Tier 1 heavyweights and it would be great moment in World Cup history if they could play to their potential on the biggest stage of all.  

SF: Scotland have been formidable over the past 12 months. They pushed the All Blacks close in November, then went on to crush Argentina.

They carried that momentum into the Six Nations, where they recorded wins over England and France, en route to a third-place finish.

Finn Russell of Scotland.
Finn Russell of Scotland. Photo credit: Getty Images

Gregor Townsend's team have embraced a more attacking mindset and it's clearly paying dividends. 

They'll need to beat either Ireland or South Africa to advance from a brutal pool, but with genuinely upper-echelon talent in the likes of halfback Finn Russell and flanker Rory Darge, the opportunity is there to make a tartan-stained statement.

If not, Fiji have recently demonstrated they are a team capable of upsetting Tier 1 heavyweights and it would be great moment in World Cup history, if they could play to their potential on the biggest stage of all.  

LR: After recording their first win over England in the pre-Cup warm-up game, the momentum is behind Fiji to do something special in Paris.

OR: Argentina are quietly flying under the radar in France so far and I suspect that's exactly how they like it.

They've shown immense improvement over the last couple of years and Michael Cheika will have a plan for this group. A semi-final spot should be the bare minimum for Argentina.

They've beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand - nothing fazes them anymore.

Could they punch a ticket to the final in Paris? Do not write it off. 

MM: To the occasional fan, Fiji's rise is remarkable in itself. Ranked seventh, they've jumped nine places and now sit above England, Australia and Wales.

Recently, they dominated Japan, performed strongly in a loss to France and then toppled England. Don't be surprised if Fiji become fan favourites in France.

GC: Not sure you can count this as a surprise anymore, because Fiji won't be sneaking up on anyone, after their win over England at Twickenham.

AC: I mean, everyone's picking Fiji, aren't they? And rightly so, they've been impressive. 

Fiji are being tipped as the team to surprise in France.
Fiji are being tipped as the team to surprise in France. Photo credit: Getty Images

I have a feeling the Aussies could still do something weird, but I also think Argentina have shown over the last 18 months or so that they're capable of upsetting a few bigger names, and the draw falls in their favour as well.

To go with the usual ferocious pack, they've got a backline with plenty of ability to break a game open and a steady back three.

AP: Argentina have twice reached the semi-finals of the World Cup and should do the same again in 2023 from the easy side of the draw.

As we saw with their win over the All Blacks in 2022, they can play the perfect game, when it comes to tournaments - make no mistakes and take your chances.

With the exceptional range kicking of the likes of Emiliano Boffelli, concede penalties at your peril against Argentina. 

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