Here’s your team-by-team guide to the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in France on 8 September. Watch all the pulsating action live on ITV
By Sam Rider, Writer
It’s going to be an amazing few weeks for rugby union fans. The 10th instalment of the men’s Rugby World Cup, in the sport’s 200th anniversary year, is upon us. After the resounding success of the tournament in Japan four years ago, the Webb Ellis Cup returns to rugby’s heartland with France hosting all 48 matches – and it promises to be one of the most fiercely contested yet.
Ireland currently top the world rankings, South Africa are defending champions, New Zealand are resurgent, France are back to their effervescent best and Scotland can beat anyone on their day. On the other side of the draw, two from England, Wales, Australia, Japan and Argentina are destined to reach at least the semi-finals.
You can watch all the action unfold in your living room (or on the go via the Virgin TV Go app) live on the ITV TV channels and streaming on ITVX throughout September and October. It all kicks off with a match worthy of the final, when the hosts welcome New Zealand to the Stade de France in Paris on Friday 8 September.
For supporters of the nations on these isles, Ireland start with Romania and England play Argentina on Saturday 9 September, while Scotland tackle the Springboks and Wales meet Fiji on Sunday 10 September. In one of the most wide-open World Cups in memory, get set for fireworks from the first whistle to the last.
Rugby World Cup opening weekend fixtures
Friday 8 September, 6.45pm, ITV1 HD (CH 103)
Italy v Namibia
Saturday 9 September, 11.30am, ITV1 HD (CH 103)
Ireland v Romania
Saturday 9 September, 2pm, ITV1 HD (CH 103)
Australia v Georgia
Saturday 9 September, 4.45pm, ITV1 HD (CH 103)
England v Argentina
Saturday 9 September, 7.15pm, ITV1 HD (CH 103)
Japan v Chile
Saturday 10 September, 2pm, ITV1 HD (CH 103)
South Africa v Scotland
Saturday 10 September, 4pm, ITV1 HD (CH 103)
Wales v Fiji
Saturday 10 September, 7.15pm, ITV1 HD (CH 103) + S4C HD (CH 104/164)
Remember you can follow all the live action wherever you are in the UK, as long as there’s WiFi, 3G, 4G or 5G, at no extra cost thanks to Virgin TV Go. Simply download the free app, which is available to all Virgin TV customers, and start watching.
Now, let’s look ahead to all the runners and riders bidding for World Cup glory. You’ll notice we’ve not followed the world rankings when rating the chances of the teams, but that’s because we’ve taken the difficulty of the pools into consideration. If, say, Scotland or Italy can escape their respective groups of death, all bets could be off…
World ranking: 4 (as of 1 September)
Previous best: Champions of the inaugural tournament in 1987, plus back-to-back winners in 2011 and 2015.
The form book: Mixed, having lost a three-test home series to Ireland last year, yet won consecutive Rugby Championships (equivalent to the Six Nations in the southern hemisphere) in 2022 and 2023.
The key player: Ardie Savea, who was bizarrely overlooked by World Rugby for the governing body’s player of the year shortlist in November. The barnstorming loose forward is an 80-minute menace both in attack and defence.
How far will they go? A shock quarter-final exit. You’d be mad to bet against the most successful rugby team in history, but the Springboks will probably prove their match in the last eight.
World ranking: 3
Previous best: Forever the bridesmaid, Les Bleus were losing finalists in 1987, 1999 and 2011.
The form book: Peaking nicely. After an 11-year drought, France won the 2022 Six Nations – with a Grand Slam no less – and narrowly missed out on another title this year.
The key player: Antoine Dupont. With first choice fly-half Romain Ntamack injured, the stage is set for France’s little general to bring rugby home for the host nation.
How far will they go? France have all the ingredients to end 36 years of hurt. But will home advantage work for them (see: the All Blacks, 2011) or count against them (see: England, 2015)?
World ranking: 1
Previous best: Perennial knock-out chokers, Ireland have reached the quarters seven times – conspiring to lose all seven (plus a quarter-final play-off in 1999).
The form book: Flying high. Andy Farrell’s side became just the fifth touring team in history to earn a test series win in New Zealand last summer, then doubled down on that momentous achievement with a Six Nations Grand Slam this year.
The key player: The hopes of a nation rest squarely on the broad shoulders – and fitness – of fly-half, captain and talisman Johnny Sexton.
How far will they go? To win it they’ll almost certainly have to overcome the Springboks, the All Blacks and the host nation. A more plausible outcome is quarter-final heartbreak yet again.
World ranking: 2
Previous best: Winners in 1995, 2007 and 2019. Can you spot the pattern?
The form book: Frightening. Since beating a strong England team in the final four years ago, the defending champions have somehow strengthened further, winning a British & Irish Lions series in 2021 and, more recently, dismantling the All Blacks at Twickenham.
The key player: Scrum-half Faf de Klerk. While captain Siya Kolisi is the Springboks’ inspirational leader, the man with the golden locks is its beating heart.
How far will they go? Losing finalists. The Boks prefer to peak every 12 years – it’s someone else’s turn.
World ranking: 8
Previous best: Champions in 2003, thanks to Jonny Wilkinson’s famous extra-time drop-kick. England are the only northern hemisphere nation to have won the World Cup.
The form book: Inconsistent – but they did come from behind to beat Wales in August despite being down to 12 players at one point, demonstrating a crucial battling spirit. And they got back to try-scoring ways with three in their final warm-up match.
The key player: Captain Owen Farrell is always in the thick of the action on the pitch but he’ll be missing for the first two matches, so deputy fly-half George Ford will need to step up. In the skipper’s absence, experienced leaders like 67-cap forward Maro Itoje will have a vital role against Argentina and Japan.
How far will they go? A favourable pool draw makes the semi-finals eminently achievable – and then anything is possible.
World ranking: 10
Previous best: Third in 1987. Coach Warren Gatland’s side narrowly lost at the semi-final stage in 2011, after a controversial straight red card for Sam Warburton, and again in 2019, to eventual winners South Africa.
The form book: Sketchy. Having stepped down after the 2019 World Cup, Gatland is back at the helm with a young squad that have suffered nine losses in their past 12 test matches.
The key player: Winger Josh Adams, who was the leading try scorer at Japan 2019 with seven. If he gets anywhere near that tally again, the men in red will have had a terrific tournament.
How far will they go? Like England, their route to the quarters or semis is wide open – and Wales always save their best for the big occasions.
World ranking: 9
Previous best: Winners in 1991 and 1999.
The form book: Eddie Jones joined Australia shortly after being let go by England but has not managed to turn their fortunes around. Since returning for his second stint in charge of the Wallabies, the Tasmanian has lost five out of five.
The key player: Man mountain Will Skelton has been installed as Australia’s new captain. You can't miss him. He’ll be the 2.03m-tall feller stomping about in size 19 boots.
How far will they go? A quarter-final implosion at the hands of England is almost inevitable.
World ranking: 6
Previous best: Third, beating France – in France – in 2007.
The form book: Quietly confident. Under former Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika, Los Pumas have beaten the All Blacks, England and Australia (twice) in the past 12 months, and arrive in France as the form team on their side of the draw.
The key player: Goal-kicking winger Emiliano Boffelli is metronomic with the boot. If he’s on song, there’s every chance he kicks his country through to the knockout stages.
How far will they go? The semi-final beckons, along with a history-repeating third-placed finish.
World ranking: 5
Previous best: Fourth in 1991.
The form book: Inconsistent. Scotland have stolen France’s mantle as the most unpredictable nation in world rugby. They can beat anyone on their day… just probably not New Zealand, having never registered a win over the All Blacks in 117 years of fixtures.
The key player: Enigmatic, mercurial, audacious, Finn Russell is a magician with ball in hand. If Scotland are to upset the odds, it’ll be thanks to his box of tricks.
How far will they go? The best Scottish side in a generation is sat squarely between a rock (Ireland) and hard place (South Africa). The draw has not been kind.
World ranking: 14
Previous best: The last eight, on home soil in 2019. Not forgetting the historic 34-32 defeat of the mighty Springboks in 2015.
The form book: One win in nine does not bode especially well for the Brave Blossoms, yet commendable showings against France and New Zealand offer cause for optimism.
The key player: Instrumental former captain Michael Leitch brings a treasure trove of experience, now in his fourth Rugby World Cup.
How far will they go? A valiant third in their pool, running England close and surprising Samoa.
World ranking: 7
Previous best: The Flying Fijians reached the quarter-finals in 1987 and 2007.
The form book: Riding high after a superb performance at Twickenham in their final warm-up game and reaching their highest ever spot in World Rugby’s rankings.
The key player: Bristol Bears centre Semi Radradra is a proven world-class operator in midfield, while wing Selestino Ravutaumada had a scorching season for club side Fijian Drua in Super Rugby Pacific.
How far will they go? The Fijians are fancied to spring a major upset and knock Australia or Wales out, but set piece-specialists Georgia could prove to be their kryptonite.
World ranking: 11
Previous best: Third in their pool at RWC 2015 in England, beating Tonga and Namibia.
The form book: The clamour for Georgia to join the Six Nations reached fever pitch after they beat Wales and Italy in 2022. The Lelos have since played four times against potential RWC opponents, beating Romania twice and Portugal once, while losing to Scotland.
The key player: Despite their famed front-row prowess, it’s the counter-attacking threat of Davit Niniashvili in the back three that could catch their Pool C rivals sleeping.
How far will they go? Similarly to Fiji, Georgia could earn a major scalp by beating Australia or Wales, but escaping their group is unlikely.
World ranking: 13
Previous best: Ever-present at the RWC, but yet to make it past the pool stage.
The form book: Back-to-back wins over Romania and Japan have given the Azzurri some much-needed momentum on the eve of the tournament.
The key player: Full-back Ange Capuozzo was the breakout star of 2022, inspiring wins over Wales and Australia. He may be diminutive but he’s deadly in open field – expect fireworks whenever he gets the ball.
How far will they go? Two wins and two losses are virtually inked in, but Uruguay could spring an upset.
World ranking: 12
Previous best: Reached back-to-back quarters in 1991 and 1995.
The form book: Ran world No1 nation Ireland close, succumbing 17-13 in their final RWC warm-up match. Argentina and England, you have been warned.
The key player: Following an eligibility law change, three former All Blacks and an ex-Wallaby will be lining up for Manu Samoa. Former Kiwi No8 Steven Luatua could prove a thorn in the side for higher-ranked teams.
How far will they go? Another progression to the quarter-finals is up for grabs, and the matches against England and Japan will be crucial.
World ranking: 15
Previous best: The minnows of the Pacific Island trio, Tonga are yet to emerge from their pool at a World Cup, despite winning two matches in both 2007 and 2011.
The form book: Soundly beaten 79-28 over two legs by Samoa in their preliminary play-off, but booked their place in a ninth RWC thanks to a 54-10 aggregate triumph over Hong Kong.
The key player: Former All Blacks Charles Piutau, George Moala and RWC 2015-winner Malakai Fekitoa will bolster Tonga’s powerful running game, each capable of causing their opponents some serious headaches.
How far will they go? The Sea Eagles are on a hiding to nothing. A comprehensive victory over Romania will be offset by one-sided defeats to the Springboks, Scotland and Ireland.
World ranking: 17
Previous best: Los Teros have never won more than one game at the RWC – most recently a 30-27 victory over a much-fancied Fiji side in 2019.
The form book: Qualified as the best nation from the Americas region, ahead of the USA and Canada. Recently beat fellow Pool A opponents Namibia 26-18 in their final warm-up match.
The key player: Thirty-two-year-old Felipe Berchesi, who scored the highest kicking accuracy at the last World Cup with 85.71% (12 out of 14 in four matches).
How far will they go? Victory over Namibia would cement Uruguay’s status as RWC stalwarts. Victory over Italy would send shockwaves right across the Atlantic.
World ranking: 16
Previous best: Qualifying for the RWC in 2007, the last time France were hosts.
The form book: Os Lobos earned the 20th and final place at France 2023, and arrive in fine form with five wins from their past seven matches (including a 38-20 triumph over fellow World Cup nation Romania).
The key player: Star winger Raffaele Storti, who marked a return from injury to score in Portugal’s final warm-up match against Australia B.
How far will they go? The wait for a World Cup match victory will go on, but their unpredictability could present Georgia and even Wales with some puzzles to solve.
World ranking: 19
Previous best: Ever-present at the RWC bar 2019, they’ve earned six victories in seven tournament appearances – most notably a 17-15 win over Fiji in 1991.
The form book: Chastening. Romania arrive at France 2023 on the back of five losses out of eight this year, including heavy defeats to Georgia and Italy.
The key player: Injury has cruelly denied former captain and cap centurion Mihai Macovei another RWC run-out. Instead, the Oaks will hope former Tonga sevens player Tevita Manumua can unlock his former nation’s defences.
How far will they go? Restricting the Springboks and Ireland to fewer than 50 points and running Tonga and Scotland close would represent a job well done.
World ranking: 21
Previous best: Narrowly missing out on a maiden RWC win as they lost 17-16 to Georgia in 2015. The Welwitschias will line up for their seventh consecutive tournament in France.
The form book: Underwhelming. Two wins – albeit including one over fellow tournament opposition Chile – from their past six matches is far from ideal preparation. Then again, Africa’s second best nation have come a long way since losing 142-0 to the Wallabies in 1995, the biggest defeat in RWC history.
The key player: At 2.01m tall, towering lock Tjiuee Uanivi is a nightmare for opponents at line-outs and a constant threat around the park.
How far will they go? Having been denied a shot at Canada thanks to Typhoon Hagibis at Japan 2019, Namibia will be desperate to bank their first RWC match win when they meet Uruguay in late September.
World ranking: 22
Previous best: Los Cóndores make their RWC bow, having overturned a 20-point aggregate deficit to beat the USA and qualify in July 2022.
The form book: Under Uruguayan coach Pablo Lemoine, Chile have climbed to their highest ever World Rugby rankings, but they head to France off the back of a run of five losses in six.
The key player: For Chile to leave their mark on this tournament, versatile back Santiago Videla will need to remember his kicking boots. And his tee, of course.
How far will they go? Lemoine will be targeting the opening match with Japan as Chile’s best shot at RWC immortality. Stranger things have happened.
Rugby World Cup dates for your diary
All kick-off times BST. All England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales matches are live on ITV1 HD (CH 103) and streaming in Apps & Games > ITVX. All other matches are on ITV1 HD, ITV3 HD (CH 117) or ITV4 HD (CH 118) and streaming in Apps & Games > ITVX. All Wales matches, the opening game, a game from each knock-out round, the third-place match and the final are also on S4C HD (CH 104/164).
England’s pool matches
England v Argentina
Saturday 9 September, 8pm
England v Japan
Sunday 17 September, 8pm
England v Chile
Saturday 23 September, 4.45pm
England v Samoa
Saturday 7 October, 4.45pm
Ireland’s pool matches
Ireland v Romania
Saturday 9 September, 2.30pm
Ireland v Tonga
Saturday 16 September, 8pm
Ireland v South Africa
Saturday 23 September, 8pm
Ireland v Scotland
Saturday 7 October, 8pm
Scotland’s pool matches
Scotland v South Africa
Sunday 10 September, 4.45pm
Scotland v Tonga
Sunday 24 September, 4.45pm
Scotland v Romania
Saturday 30 September, 8pm
Scotland v Ireland
Saturday 7 October, 8pm
Wales’s pool matches
Wales v Fiji
Sunday 10 September, 8pm
Wales v Portugal
Saturday 16 September, 4.45pm
Wales v Australia
Sunday 24 September, 8pm
Wales v Georgia
Saturday 7 October, 2pm
Saturday 14 October, 4pm
Friday 20 October, 8pm
Saturday 28 October, 8pm
TV channels: Channels, content and features available depend on your chosen package. Channel line-ups and content are subject to change at any time and to regional variations.
HD: HD TV set, V HD Box, TiVo® box, Virgin TV V6 box or Virgin TV 360 box connected with HDMI cables required for HD channels. Number of inclusive HD channels depends on package.
Catch Up TV: Catch Up TV content available for up to 7 days or up to 30 days after broadcast, depending on content.
On Demand: Content available to view depends on TV package. Time limits apply for viewing chargeable On Demand content – see virginmedia.com. Once purchased, all chargeable On Demand content must be viewed within 48 hours. Premium channels and upgrades must be kept for at least 30 days.