Sir Clive Woodward’s 2019 Rugby World Cup team-by-team guide:

Sir Clive Woodward’s 2019 Rugby World Cup team-by-team guide: The lowdown on every team in Japan

  • The 2019 World Cup is just a week away and it’s anyone’s guess who will triumph
  • Wales and New Zealand are being tipped as favourites but who is going to win?
  • SIR CLIVE WOODWARD has the lowdown on every team in the tournament 

The Rugby World Cup is just round the corner and Sportsmail has everything you need to know.

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD has the lowdown on every team in the tournament in Japan. 

The Rugby World Cup is just round the corner and Sportsmail has everything you need to know

Coach: Joe Schmidt. 

Captain: Rory Best. 

Most capped player: Best (119).

Best World Cup finishes: QFs in 1987, ’91, ’95, 2003, ’11, ’15. 

Key man: James Ryan, a worldclass young lock and already a talisman for the team capable of inspiring those around him. 

Rising star: Jordan Larmour. We have seen flashes of genius from the exciting Larmour but can he unpick tight, well-organised defences in the heat of Word Cup action? 

Strengths: At their best have a ferocious pack and when Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are buzzing they have world-class half-backs. 

Weaknesses: Have not quite recovered mojo after mauling by England in Six Nations. Picking untested South African Jean Kleyn ahead of Devin Toner could unsettle the squad. Grudge match: QF with All Blacks is a possibility and these two have recent history, with Ireland winning two of their last three games.


Coach: Gregor Townsend. Captain: Stuart McInally. Most capped player: John Barclay (74). Best World Cup finish: SF 1991.

Key man: Finn Russell, a wonderfully gifted attacking player and always a joy to watch. He must remember though that there will be times when the routine or orthodox is what is needed, not a miracle play.

Rising star: Blair Kinghorn, strong and fast on the wing with a nose for tries, also a long-range goal-kicker in the mould of Elliott Daly.

Strengths: Capable of playing the game at an incredible tempo and scoring special tries. But they have to maintain that intensity.

Weaknesses: They must ‘own’ their set-piece ball. You can have all the attacking ability you want but at top level that counts for little unless you can secure your share of possession.

Grudge match: Scotland have lost — often heavily — 10 of their last 11 games against Ireland. Let battle commence!

Some fans arrived at the New Zealand team base bearing gifts for coach Steve Hansen


Coach: Jamie Joseph. Captain: Michael Leitch. Most capped player: Fumiaki Tanaka (70). Best World Cup finishes: 3rd in pool in 2015. 

Key man: Leitch is a world-class openside and skipper. Rising star: Timothy Lafaele, classy NZ-born centre. Strengths: Speed, agility, superb handling, never-say-die attitude.

Weaknesses: Can still struggle at lineout and in close quarters. 

Grudge match: Samoa are bitter rivals from Pacific Nations Cup. 


Coach: Lyn Jones. 

Captain: Vasily Artemyev. 

Most capped player: Yuri Kushnarev (109). Best World Cup finishes: Pool stage 2011. Key man: Ex-Sale lock Andrei Ostrikov. Rising star: Sale prop Valery Morozov. Strengths: Muscular pack. 

Weaknesses: Inexperienced, lacking Test match fitness, pedestrian backs. Grudge match: Would be Georgia but they can only meet them in semis! Samoa Coach: Steve Jackson. Captain: Chris Vui. 

Most capped player: Tusi Pisi (40). Best World Cup finishes: QF in 1991 and ’99. Key man: Tim Nanai- Williams — cousin of All Black Sonny Bill — is their most dangerous back. Rising star: Michael Alaalatoa. Strengths: Enjoy a confrontation. 

Weaknesses: Often underperform against opposition they should beat. Grudge match: If they encounter ENGLAND South Africa it will be high-octane.


New Zealand

Coach: Steve Hansen. Captain: Kieran Read. Most capped player: Read (121). Best World Cup finishes: Winners 1987, 2011, ’15.

Key man: Tempting to say Beauden Barrett, their best player, but actually the man who cements the backs together is Sonny Bill Williams.

Rising star: Richie Mo’unga, a quality new No10 but it’s his goal-kicking New Zealand need most.

Strengths: Capable of playing quicker for longer than any other side. After fraught years in the Nineties and Noughties have also mastered the art of resting key players, just getting the job done.

Weaknesses: Very few, but lost occasional matches through goal kicking, hence spotlight on Mo’unga.

Grudge match: Every match is a grudge match, so they have to match that intensity every time.


Coach: Phil Davies. Captain: Johan Deysel. Most capped player: Eugene Jantjies (67). Best World Cup finish: Never won a game!

Key man: Deysel is a quality experienced centre. Rising star: Janco Venter, young raw-boned flanker. Strengths: Gnarly old pack. Weaknesses: 80-minute fitness, no X-factor behind the scrum.

Grudge match: Always feisty against African neighbours.


Coach: Conor O’Shea. Captain: Sergio Parisse. Most capped player: Parisse (140). Best World Cup finish: Never advanced beyond pool stages. Key man: Flanker Jake Polledri is a top player and a bit left field. Italy badly need somebody like him to lift the mood.

Rising star: Matteo Minozzi took the 2018 Six Nations by storm with four tries but has been injured ever since.

Strengths: For me Italy now have no areas of strength as in past years. They have been trying to play a game currently beyond their capabilities. Rein it in a little, guys.

Weaknesses: Have lost the art of hanging tough and stopping good teams going on scoring rampages. Grudge match: Excellent rivalry with Scotland but unlikely to meet them unless they beat Kiwis.


Coach: Kingsley Jones. Captain: Tyler Ardron. Most capped player: Ciaran Hearn (69). Best World Cup finish: QF in 1991.

Key man: Ardron, a quality backrower with Waikato.

Rising star: Evan Olmstead. Versatile former Newcastle back five player. Strengths: Experienced campaigners who are often at their best in World Cup. Weaknesses: Overall fitness, lack of craft at half-back. Grudge match: Pool match against Boks in 1995 was probably dirtiest of all time.

South Africa

Coach: Rassie Erasmus. Captain: Siya Kolisi. Most capped player: Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira (110). Best World Cup finishes: Winners 1995, 2007. Key man: Eben Etzebeth. The world’s best lock, a phenomenal player. If he fires, South Africa can beat anyone.

Rising star: Faf de Klerk might not be a rising star but this is his first World Cup and the Sale scrum-half is a gem. They have another cracker in back-up scrum-half Cobus Reinach, probably the world’s quickest No9.

Strengths: Strength, physicality, power. Their DNA never really changes, but they do also have some magicians out wide with Willie le Roux and Toulouse wing Cheslin Kolbe.

Weaknesses: Can be slow to adapt to challenging game situations. But this is a mighty squad, and I expect them to go a very long way.

Grudge match: The rivalry above all others is New Zealand. Fireworks! 



Coach: Eddie Jones. Captain: Owen Farrell. Most capped player: Dan Cole, Ben Youngs (88). Best World Cup finishes: Winners 2003, finalists 1991, 2007.

Key man: Owen Farrell. A winner through and through and I sense the squad are now performing in his image. Obviously his world-class goal-kicking could be vital. Rising star: Tom Curry. Hard to believe he’s just 21. I look forward to his combo with fellow ‘Kamikaze kid’ Sam Underhill.

Strengths: Power, terrific all-court game, much improved fitness, top skills from one to 15. Strength in depth. Weaknesses: Discipline. Marler, Sinckler, Itoje, Kruis, Genge and Farrell are fiery players operating on the edge. That’s great but step just the wrong side we are looking at yellow and red cards. Need to be careful and controlled.

Grudge match: Look no further than Le Crunch.


Coach: Jacques Brunel. Captain: Guilhem Guirado. Most capped player: Louis Picamoles (79). 

Best World Cup finishes: Finalists 1987, ’99, 2011. 

Key man: Louis Picamoles. If fit and in right mood, a force of nature at No8 and France badly need an inspiring figure. 

Rising star: Scrum-half Antoine Dupont is the real deal and I look forward to his pairing with Toulouse clubmate & No10 Romain N’tamack. 

Strengths: Sublime handling skills and some exciting new outside backs like Damien Penaud and Thomas Ramos. 

Weaknesses: Mental attitude. I spend a lot of time in France and all the talk is of building on their exciting golden generation — they have won the past two junior World Cups — to produce a winning team in 2023. That’s a dangerous mindset, they need to concentrate on the present.

Grudge match: Two! Le Crunch, and the Pumas — their meetings are normally X-rated! 


Coach: Mario Ledesma. Captain: Pablo Matera. Most capped player: Juan Manuel Leguizamon (88). Best World Cup finishes: SF in 2007 & ’15. Key man: A team of moods and passion and when their former skipper Gus Creevy is fired up they tend to play well. Terrific hooker and competitor. 

Rising star: Emiliano Boffelli is a languid and dangerous back-three runner and can kick long-range goals. Strengths: Two semi-finals and quarter-final in the past three World Cups show that they know how to produce their A game.

Weaknesses: That A game is currently not enough to make serious progress. A little bit predictable; their dynamism and energy seems to have gone. Grudge match: Pumas always reserve something special for France where so many of them used to learn the game.

United States 

Coach: Gary Gold. Captain: Blaine Scully. Most capped player: Scully (50). Best World Cup finishes: Pool stages every participation. Key man: Sale fly-half AJ MacGinty. Rising star: Joe Taufete’e. Dynamic try-scoring hooker. Strengths: Much fitter than in past years. Weaknesses: Inexperienced against Tier One teams, not enough dangerous runners. Grudge match: Argentina, longtime rivals in the Americas Championship. 


Coach: Toutai Kefu. Captain: Siale Piutau. Most capped player: Piutau (39). Best World Cup finishes: Third in pool in 2007. Key man: Telusa Veainu has shown his class at Leicester. Rising star: Massive 24st prop Ben Tameifuna. Strength: Naturally combative, usually have one big game in them. Weaknesses: Not enough game time together, little cohesion under pressure, one-paced backs. Grudge match: France, who they famously beat in 2011.

Eddie Jones says England’s pre-World Cup ‘heat camps’ will give them an edge in Japan



Coach: Michael Cheika. Captain: Michael Hooper. Most capped player: Adam Ashley-Cooper (118). Best World Cup finishes: Winners 1991 & ’99. Key man: David Pocock. Hopefully fit after injury, bosses the breakdown with Hooper and takes Australia to another level. Rising star: Izack Rodda is an athletic lock who has made an immediate impact. A real find.

Strengths: Brilliant World Cup operators — four finals in eight tournaments. Clever players, shrewd coach, frightened of nobody as befits a team who meet the All Blacks and South Africa so often.

Weaknesses: Goal kicking could be a problem if Bernard Foley stays out of favour. Grudge match: Huge modern-day rivalry with Wales, and they hold the upper hand with just one defeat in their last 14.

Australia possess an immensely talented squad but appear to lack team cohesion and unity


Coach: Warren Gatland. 

Captain: Alun Wyn Jones.

Most capped player: Alun Wyn Jones (128). Best World Cup finishes: 3rd in 1987, 4th in 2011. 

Key man: Alun Wyn Jones. Amazing — consistently world class in everything and an inspiring leader. His example has raised the whole tone in the squad. Rising star: I really like their unheralded flanker Josh Navidi. He makes a huge impact with his tackles and carrying and has something different about him. Could really blossom in Japan.

Strengths: Superb fitness, strong defence organised by Shaun Edwards, consistent excellence and calm under pressure. All backed up by Gatland’s canny tactics. Weaknesses: Can be a little predictable. Have so much ability and fire-power you sometimes want them to go up a gear sooner.

Grudge match: Probably Fiji, given the hangover of their defeat in 2007!


Coach: Milton Haig. Captain: Merab Sharikadze. Most capped player: Merab Kvirikashvili (115). Best World Cup finish: 3rd in their pool in 2015.

Key man: The surprise return of Mumuka Gorgodze is huge, a personality to draw the best out of others. Rising star: Livewire scrum-half Gela Aprasidze.

Strengths: Massive scrummaging power. Weaknesses: Lack Test class skills and pace behind the scrum.

Grudge match: Wales — Georgia felt robbed of a draw in Cardiff last year.


Coach: John McKee. Captain: Dominiko Waqaniburotu. Most capped player: Campese Ma’afu (58). Best World Cup finishes: QF in 1987 & 2007. Key man: Leone Nakarawa, world-class mobile lock and lineout ace. Rising star: Centre Semi Radradra, strong and fast.

Strengths: Unbelievable running and off-loading ability. Weaknesses: Can be shut down and contained by opponents with powerful packs.

Grudge match: Any match against a fellow Islands team, while France are another side who manage to raise their hackles.


Coach: Esteban Meneses. Captain: Juan Manuel Gaminara.

Most capped player: Diego Magno (90).

Best World Cup finishes: Pool stage 1999, 2003, 2015.

Key man: Goal kicker Felipe Berchesi. Rising star: Santiago Arata. Razor sharp scrum-half.

Strengths: Improved fitness thanks to their new performance centre. Weaknesses: Lack real power up front, no strong midfield runner, no speedster.

Grudge match: Will dig very deep against Georgia, who they beat at RWC2003.

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