Rugby World Cup
ESPN's rugby reporters deliver fearless Rugby World Cup predictions
ESPN Staff
September 18, 2015
Ruck'n Maul: who will win the world cup?

ESPN's team of reporters will cover every game at the Rugby World Cup, which starts when England take on Fiji at Twickenham on Friday, and each has offered who they believe will go on to win and reach the final, as well as players to watch, leading try-scorer, and dark horses.

Tom Hamilton

Champions and losing finalists: New Zealand to win their third World Cup. Ireland to see off England in the semi-finals before losing to the All Blacks.

Player to watch: Tim Nanai-Williams. His versatility means he could play anywhere across the Samoa backline. Samoa have been using him at full-back but he could slot in at fly-half. In a land of giants, the diminutive back offers something different.

Leading try-scorer: Nehe Milner-Skudder. His ability to sidestep past anyone is remarkable; in a pool where New Zealand should rack up some cricket scores, Milner-Skudder will be on the end of some of them.

Dark horses: It has to be France. They are a team of cliches but they will do well if they can replicate their performance against England in Paris throughout the tournament.

© (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
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Andy Withers

Champions and losing finalists: Australia to defeat England in the decider and thus replicate their 1991 success and remain undefeated in UK finals. It's hard to be dogmatic, of course, but I like the way Australia have progressed under Michael Cheika and there was so much to like about their performance to beat New Zealand in Sydney. They've been given a brutal fitness regime, seem to get better as a game develops, and I'm a believer.

Player to watch: Uini Atonio could easily become a Chabal-like cult hero given his tremendous beard and monstrous stature. The France international is New Zealand-born with Samoan heritage so he's going to get a bit of coverage.

Leading try-scorer: David Pocock. I'm tipping the tournament will be dominated by rolling mauls and lineout drives, and he should be the bloke at the back of what I'm tipping is the final-winning pack; he scored eight in Super Rugby, including two hat-tricks. If not him, think of players the likes of Bismarck du Plessis, Sean O'Brien and others who steer their respective mauls.

Dark horse: I'm thinking Fiji will cause some damage in Pool A, and Scotland have reason to fear Samoa in Pool B, but I really like the prospects of Tonga in Pool C. I've been underwhelmed by Argentina this season, and Tonga have won six of their past eight, against lesser teams, having gone a year without a win; the battle to progress from Pool C is a straight-up shootout in Leicester as neither will beat the All Blacks and neither will lose to Georgia or Namibia.

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Tristan Barclay

Champions and losing finalists: Sorry Northern Hemisphere fans, but it's going to be an Australasian final between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. Despite suffering defeat at the hands of Australia during this summer's Rugby Championship, New Zealand are still the strongest side out there.

Player to watch: It has to be Sam Burgess, doesn't it? The cross-coder's selection raised more than a few eyebrows among England fans, but his impact from the bench could be something special.

Leading try-scorer: Julian Savea. The All Blacks wing has a fearsome international record and should run riot in a tame Pool C.

Dark horses: Ireland. Joe Schmidt's men have the right blend of experience and youth, and a phenomenal leader in Paul O'Connell. England will enjoy home advantage but the Irish could represent Europe's best hope of a finalist.


Sam Bruce

Cricket legends give their thoughts on who they think will win the Rugby World Cup

Champions and losing finalists: There is just too much quality in this All Blacks squad not to win, and any doubts over the form of Dan Carter and Richie McCaw have been put to bed. I believe England will ride the wave of home support and top a tough Pool A; but their push for a second Webb Ellis crown will fall one win short.

Player to watch: It's got to be Nehe Milner-Skudder. The rookie Hurricanes winger was superb during the Super Rugby season and he repaid the faith of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen with a double on his Test debut. Northern hemisphere fans won't have seen feet like his since England great Jason Robinson.

Leading try-scorer: Julian Savea. The All Blacks powerhouse already boasts an incredible try-scoring record and with Argentina the only side likely to offer the defending champions some resistance in Pool C, Savea should have plenty of opportunities to touch down out wide.

Dark horses: Tonga. While Fiji will offer up plenty of opposition in Pool A, the Tongans have an excellent opportunity to progress to the quarter-finals for the first time from Pool C. If they get the right conditions and can avoid an abundance of set-piece battles with the Pumas in Leicester, then it may well be the Pacific Islanders progressing behind the All Blacks.

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Greg Growden

Champions and losing finalists: Straight to the point with each answer: New Zealand to beat England in the decider

Player to watch: Nehe Milner-Skudder.

Leading try-scorer: Ben Smith.

Dark horses: France.

Ma'a Nonu
Ma'a Nonu© Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Brett McKay

Who will win the Rugby World Cup?

Champions and losing finalists: New Zealand to beat Australia in the final. All roads seem to be heading for the All Blacks going back-to-back, and it's hard to see who might stop them once they get into the groove. I like Ireland and Australia's chances of topping their pools and ultimately meeting in the other semi-final.

Player to watch: Nehe Milner-Skudder is an obvious choice, but I'm be really keen to see who wins the No.10 battle for South Africa out of Patrick Lambie and Handre Pollard. Either is capable of leading the Springboks, but Heyneke Meyer needs to pick one and let him shine.

Leading try-scorer: Something tells me Ma'a Nonu. He's an excellent finisher and support player in his own right but strong enough to get over with brute force, too. He won't play against all four of Argentina, Namibia, Georgia, and Tonga in Pool C, but he could bag big numbers against whoever he does face.

Dark horses: It might just be France. Right now, they feel just as likely to make the semis as to not get out of Pool D at all, and that might just make them the most dangerous team going. And if France get on a roll, the only team that might topple them is France.

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Brittany Mitchell

Champions and losing finalists: New Zealand and Ireland. With a fairly easy run into the finals, I don't think many people would bet against the All Blacks with the firepower they have in their squad. They're clear favourites to become the first back-to-back champions. But I also like Ireland's chances. Everyone has been focusing on England's home ground advantage, but Ireland continue to prove they are a side to contend with and could finally get through to the grand final; but only if they top their pool to avoid a quarter-final against New Zealand.

Player to watch: David Pocock has struggled with injury the past few years, but he is crucial for the Wallabies - whether starting or coming off the bench - and he shapes as key if they are to get through the 'Pool of Death'.

Leading try-scorer: Julian Savea is hard to stop and he is now leaner and meaner after shedding the kilos. A great finisher, Savea has busted his way over the line 30 times in 35 Tests and he is likely to face little resistance in Pool C.

Dark horses: France. Their own worst enemies, France are not a side to be taken lightly. They sometimes look a shambles but can easily turn it on and turn a game on its head, which they have proven again and again at previous World Cups.

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Martyn Thomas

Champions and losing finalists: New Zealand and Australia. It's difficult to look past the All Blacks as they are simply superior to the other teams in the tournament. Add to that the fact that their semifinal will likely be against an Australia, England or South Africa (or possibly Wales) side coming off an attritional quarterfinal, and the logic seems sound. I'm backing Australia to top Pool A and beat France in the last four before coming unstuck against their old enemy on the biggest stage.

Player to watch: Nehe Milner-Skudder. It may be the obvious choice but the elusive back-three should get ample opportunity to rack up the tries as New Zealand travel deep into the tournament. Milner-Skudder's ability to side-step opponents has become the stuff of internet legend, and this World Cup looks set up for him to make the kind of impact that Jonah Lomu did 20 years ago.

Leading try-scorer: This could easily be Milner-Skudder again, but in the spirit of fairness I will plump for Jesse Kriel. South Africa will fancy their chances of putting on big scores against all four Pool B opponents, and the young centre has already contributed two tries for the green and gold in just four appearances.

Dark horses. It seems odd calling the 2011 finalists dark horses, but such has been their form since that tournament in New Zealand. France have been written off among the clamour to predict a last-four spot for Ireland, yet Les Bleus save their best for the big stage and a win against Joe Schmidt's men would set them up nicely. If you're looking for an outside bet for a quarterfinal berth, look no further than the USA.

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Rob Bartlett

Champions and finalists: New Zealand to beat Ireland in the final. Both have good paths to the showpiece - and, despite their warm-up loss at Twickenham, I believe Ireland will do it against England when it matters most.

Players to watch: Everyone will be looking at the big boys, but plenty other nations have tangible objectives in England. Georgia are aiming for third spot in Pool C and will showcase the youngest player in World Cup history against Tonga on Saturday. Teenage scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze looked comfortable in their warm-up defeat to Japan. A special mention must also go to Merab Kvirikashvili - the first Georgian to play in four World Cups and the only Georgian to play in every one of his nation's World Cup matches.

Leading try scorer: The All Blacks have two showstopping finishers in Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder but whether they play every minute in what is relatively easy pool will be a different matter. David Pocock has credentials in the 'Pool of Death' as does England's Jonathan Joseph - but the Springboks come alive at World Cups so expect Bryan Habana to be up there.

Dark Horse: If all goes to plan, Ireland should have a clean run through the pool stages and won't have to face a southern hemisphere side until the semifinal. And you would be a fool to underestimate France - if they get it right, they will be dangerous.

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