If you believe the bookmakers, the winner of the 2011 Rugby World Cup will come from one of three teams, hosts New Zealand are the favourites to win whilst two times winners Australia and defending champions South Africa are second and third favourites respectively.
Therefore, the question is which Six Nations team will perform best in New Zealand when the tournament kicks off on 9th September?
The key to answering this question is to study the draw where it will be seen that there is every chance that England will face France in the Quarter Final and Ireland and Wales both face tough assignments in their groups to avoid playing one of the Southern Hemisphere heavyweights in the final eight.
France has been drawn in Pool A along with New Zealand, Japan, Canada and Tonga, a group they look certain to qualify from. Tonga may put up some resistance but France heads to New Zealand in good form after defeating Ireland twice in warm up matches, they have high hopes and know that they are one team in the world who the All Blacks fear. After all, it was France who knocked the New Zealand out of the competition four years ago in the quarter finals before going out themselves against England in the last four. It should also be noted that in five of the past six World Cups, “Les Bleus” have made it to the semi final, making them one of the most consistent sides in the tournament.
England’s record at recent World Cups is equally as impressive, having reached the semi final four times, including back to back finals, in 2003 they went on to beat Australia in the final and in 2007 finished runners up to South Africa.
Martin Johnson’s side has been drawn in Pool B where they should be good enough to finish top, although they will have huge challenges to overcome from both Argentina and fellow Six Nations rivals, Scotland. Having got the edge over Argentina in recent internationals, Scotland will certainly fancy their chances of reaching the last eight along with England but should they do so they will almost certainly be up against the All Blacks, the result of which is almost certain to send them home. If the unlikely happens in Pool A and France defeat New Zealand and win the Pool, then Scotland could be in the frame to play their Six Nations rivals. A game that would be equally as tough but would give the Scots a better chance of reaching the Semi Finals of the competition for the first time since 1991.
Both Ireland and Italy have been drawn in Pool C along with Australia, Russia and the USA. Clearly the Russians and the Americans do not pose a serious threat to the chances of either Ireland or Italy but neither team would be fancied to defeat the Wallabies. This makes the match between them on 2nd October, which is the final match in the Pool a vital one with the winners making the last eight and the losers heading home.
This would probably mean that either Ireland or Italy will face a quarter final match against South Africa who are clear favourites to top Pool D, while the runners up in Pool D will take on Australia. Wales of course are the Six Nations representatives in Pool D and they know that they will have to be at their absolute best to qualify. In addition to the “Boks”, they will face Fiji the team who defeated them at the Pool stage in the 2007 World Cup which knocked them out of the tournament. Wales will also be up against Samoa a team with a big reputation and who have reached the last eight on two previous occasions.
Clearly therefore England and France are the only two teams from the Six Nations who have a realistic chance of reaching the last four or even the final, but it is almost impossible to believe that they both will.
The bet therefore of which team will be top Six Nations team will probably all come down to the expected quarter final match between the England and France which if based on recent head to heads then England should win.
Top Six Nations Team in the 2011 Rugby World Cup: England @ 13/8 with Paddy Power