Rugby World Cup 2019 predictions: All Blacks denied a three-peat with Cheslin Kolbe set to steal the show in Japan

The National staff give their predictions for the tournament kicking off in Japan on Friday, September 20

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Who will win Rugby World Cup 2019?

Paul Radley, sports reporter: SOUTH AFRICA. For no more scientific reason than the Springboks win every third World Cup. They gave rugby its most indelible image, winning in front of Nelson Mandela in 1995. In 2007, they added a second title in Paris. Now, a further 12 years on, they have to continue the cycle. If New Zealand win again, we might as well all just agree they have no rivals in the sport anymore, and cancel all future editions of the World Cup.

Steve Luckings, deputy sports editor: WALES. What better gift to give departing coach Warren Gatland than the Webb Ellis Cup? Kiwi Gatland, who has led Wales to four Six Nations Championships including three Grand Slams, is a master of stretching every last sinew of talent out of his squad and will do so again on the biggest stage.

Alan Griffin, head of digital: ENGLAND. After reaching the final by the boot of Elliot Daly, England go on to a surprise final meeting with Ireland. Tokyo covered in red, white and green. It's a nervy final in which Sexton is stretchered off and Farrell seals it with a 78th minute penalty that many think should never have been given.

Stuart James, production editor: WALES. Recently top of the world rankings, capable of beating anyone on their day. They have power, passion, skill and flair to burn. I have an inkling they might finally do it.

Simon Wilgress-Pipe, homepage editor: ENGLAND. Eddie Jones has a depth of talent that is the envy of most of the other nations taking part – and that has to start paying dividends. This is easily the most formidable squad England have fielded since 2003, and, if you combine that with the fact the side has often performed beyond expectatons at previous Rugby World Cups, it might well be their year. Plenty of torpedoes to dodge before they get there though, not least the issue of their own discipline.

Nigel Walsh, chief sub-editor: NEW ZEALAND. Always the side to beat despite a long drought in this tournament. Age may be a factor for some of the squad but generally classy footballers across the park. Their aura is always likely to get them the rub of the green when it comes to close decisions by the officials.

Erica Elkhershi, head of multimedia: IRELAND. As an Irishwoman, obviously I'm biased but with Joe Schmidt's last tournament in charge it's now or never. There's a good mix of experience and youth in the team and the players won't want to let Schmidt down. Being ranked No 1 is bad news for a team that does better as the underdogs but their recent horrendous loss to England should keep them motivated.

Which two sides will be in the final?

Paul Radley: South Africa v New Zealand

Steve Luckings: Wales v Ireland

Alan Griffin: England v Ireland

Stuart James: New Zealand v Wales

Simon Wilgress-Pipe: England v New Zealand

Nigel Walsh: England v New Zealand

Erica Elkhershi: New Zealand v Ireland

Player of the tournament

Paul Radley: CHESLIN KOLBE (South Africa). Maybe this pick is born from an inherent Dubai bias. But having first seen him on the fields of The Sevens ripping it up as a rookie Blitz Bok, his subsequent elevation to rugby's headiest heights has been a delight. And if he was to cement his celebrity with a good show at the World Cup, it would be a win for the little guys in a sport that sometimes seems to be dominated by giants.

Steve Luckings: LIAM WILLIAMS (Wales). The dummy that still has Kieran Read wondering where the ball went to launch an audacious 80-metre try for the British & Irish Lions in the first Test against New Zealand two years ago is both YouTube favourite and a shining example of what the Welsh back can do with ball in hand.

Alan Griffin: TADHG FURLONG (Ireland). The strongman of the tournament, revelling in his role as the "tight-head destroyer". The Leinster man becomes untouchable and nails his place as the British & Irish Lions captain-in-waiting.

Stuart James: ALUN WYN JONES (Wales). He'll be 34 on the eve of the tournament, but the giant lock he's playing the best rugby of his career.

Simon Wilgress-Pipe: KAZUKI HIMENO (Japan). One to keep your eye on.

Nigel Walsh: MALCOLM MARX (South Africa). Time for the big bruiser to reignite the form he showed in the Southern Hemisphere in 2017 when many pundits rated him the best player in the world, and not just at hooker.

Erica Elkhershi: JACOB STOCKDALE (Ireland). The winger is young but a try machine.

After standout performances at the 2013 Dubai Rugby Sevens, a move to Toulouse to play XVs rugby then put in train a sequence of events that saw Cheslin Kolbe called up to Rassie Erasmus’ Boks squad for the 2017 Rugby Championship. Getty Images
After standout performances at the 2013 Dubai Rugby Sevens, a move to Toulouse to play XVs rugby then put in train a sequence of events that saw Cheslin Kolbe called up to Rassie Erasmus’ Boks squad for the 2017 Rugby Championship. Getty Images

Most tries

Paul Radley: SEVU REECE (New Zealand). South Africa aside, New Zealand have a relatively flat track in pool play. Canada, Italy and Namibia will struggle to shackle the All Blacks, and Reece, the Crusaders wing, could be best placed to profit. If Beauden Barrett does, as has been widely forecast, play at full-back for New Zealand, he could push Reece in the try-scoring stakes, too.

Steve Luckings: SEVU REECE (New Zealand). The All Blacks will rack up, well, rugby scores against Namibia and Canada and most likely Italy, too in a walkover Pool B. With a potential quarter-final against Scotland, Crusaders wing Reece should have plenty of chances to finish off New Zealand attacks.

Alan Griffin: RIEKO IOANE (New Zealand). Racks up six tries in the pool stages before dropping a potential match winning pass in the semi final to crush Kiwi hearts.

Stuart James: SEVU REECE (New Zealand). A deadly finisher.

Simon Wilgress-Pipe: JACOB STOCKDALE (Ireland). Winger could be in with a chance if Ireland go deep in the tournament.

Nigel Walsh: CHESLIN KOLBE (South Africa). Although I expect the Boks to fall short of the final, I'm banking on the livewire winger to run in a few in pool games against weaker opposition. RWC knock-out stages are rarely try fests, so not making the final should not damage his chances.

Erica Elkhershi: REIKO IOANE (New Zealand). Some easy pickings in the pool and plenty of opportunities to cross the whitewash.

Most points

Paul Radley: HANDRE POLLARD (South Africa). The fly-half was the leading point scorer as South Africa won the Rugby Championship for the first time in 10 years back in August. At 25, Pollard is now reaching the heights predicted for him when he was a prodigy in age-group rugby, having had a run of consistent form and fitness leading in to this World Cup.

Steve Luckings: JONNY SEXTON (Ireland). More reliable off the kicking tee than Beauden Barrett and Handre Pollard. England's Owen Farrell could be a contender, too.

Alan Griffin: JONNY SEXTON (Ireland). Metronomical with his kicking. Sexton's boot should string a series of games together to get Ireland to their first Rugby World Cup final.

Stuart James: LEIGH HALFPENNY (Wales). Mr Reliable.

Simon Wilgress-Pipe: BEAUDEN BARRET (New Zealand). Will have more kicks at goal than any other player.

Nigel Walsh: OWEN FARRELL (England). Tipping England and New Zealand to go all the way my pick is Farrell, and not just because he's unerringly accurate. Possible rivals with similar game time will be New Zealand playmakers Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett. But with New Zealand likely to swap kicking duties between the two, Barrett may need to run in a few tries to keep up.

Erica Elkhershi: JONNY SEXTON (Ireland). If he can stay clear of injury.

Surprise package

Paul Radley: SCOTLAND. A team who in the past have often been decidedly "meh" will be anything but this time round. They could bomb in spectacular fashion in the first round – or they could make it through and take a big gun with them, even if winning the whole thing is beyond them. Gregor Townsend as coach, and Finn Russell at No 10 should make for a fun team to watch.

Steve Luckings: FIJI. There is no finer sight in world rugby than Fiji with the ball in hand. A good deal of them were part of the sevens squad that won a historic Olympic gold medal in Rio three years ago. A tank that can sidestep is a sight to behold. Keep an eye out for Semi Kunatani and Viliame Mata, previously seen dazzling delighted Dubai crowds before moves to Europe to play XVs.

Alan Griffin: JAPAN. They have a chance to get out of the pool by beating Scotland and warming every English heart.

Stuart James: FRANCE. They have the talent, are starting to gel and are due a big tournament.

Simon Wilgress-Pipe: FRANCE. Despite some poor form, France have got to start performing. Like England, they're the only northern hemisphere team who've been capable of mounting surprise take downs on stronger southern hemisphere opposition and might do so here.

Nigel Walsh: ARGENTINA. I expect a grinding performance with flashes of running brilliance to deny France the runner-up spot in the pool behind England. They'll be brave in defeat but won't have the physicality to see off Wales in the quarters.

Erica Elkhershi: JAPAN. Everyone's second favourite team, although I want them to finish in second to Ireland in Pool A of course!

Biggest disappointment 

Paul Radley: JAPAN. There is much riding on the performance of Jamie Joseph's team at their home World Cup. If they fail to beat one of Ireland or Scotland, they will likely become the first host team to fail to make it out of the group stage since, er, last time. England's failure at the last World Cup was miserable for all concerned. Less might be expected of Japan this time around, by they still need to make the knock out stages for them to be a success.

Steve Luckings: ENGLAND. Eddie Jones threw a sackful of curve balls with his squad selections, with several established names being overlooked for raw meat such as Jack Singleton, Lewis Ludlam, Willi Heinz and Ruaridh McCoonochie, who have nine Tests between them. No one better than Jones can walk the tightrope between arrogance and astonishment, and the Australian knows what it takes to go deep at a World Cup, having guided Australia to the 2003 final, where the Wallabies were beaten by England, and as part of the coaching staff that guided South Africa to victory in Paris 12 years ago, with England the losing finalists that time. Sadly, I think Jones will be left with egg on his face with a quarter-final exit, though that would still make it an improvement on four years ago for England.

Alan Griffin: SOUTH AFRICA. so many Springboks fans travel in hope, only to be disappointed by flat performances that are capped by an early exit.

Stuart James: ENGLAND. Ireland, in spite of their world ranking, are past their best too.

Simon Wilgress-Pipe: THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE. England, Ireland, Wales all have a habit of underperforming at the most crucial moments.

Nigel Walsh: IRELAND/WALES. Despite see-sawing at the top of the world rankings in the past month, I expect the rigours of tournament play to be too much for either squad to handle. Ireland to fall in the quarters and Wales in the semis.

Erica Elkhershi: ENGLAND. Sorry, guys!

Talking point from the tournament

Paul Radley: THE WEATHER. Imagine if New Zealand and Namibia share the points from their pool match, or if England are given a draw against United States because their match is cancelled because of a typhoon. Many of the venues could be subject to severe weather. As per the tournament playing conditions, pool matches will not be rescheduled in the event they cannot be played, with both teams being awarded two points each with no bonus points available.

Steve Luckings: HOW ENGLAND GOT IT WRONG. As mentioned previously, Jones' decision to omit battle-hardened Ben Te'o, as well as the likes of Mike Brown, Brad Shields, Harry Williams and taking only two recognised scrum-halves will backfire.

Alan Griffin: MATCH OFFICIALS. It's going to be a referee decision that creates anger and disbelief.

Stuart James: CLIMATE. High temperatures could affect some matches.

Simon Wilgress-Pipe: NARROWING THE GAP. The days of smaller teams being hammered by 100 points will (hopefully) now be a thing of the past.

Nigel Walsh: OWEN FARRELL. The England captain not being carded for his umpteenth late/illegal hit on some unsuspecting opponent.

Erica Elkhershi: HOW CLEAN JAPAN IS. It really is, you know.