The Rugby World Cup is upon us and this year’s renewal of the sport’s most prestigious event, which is being held in France for the first time since 2007 from September 8 to October 28, looks wider open than perhaps ever before.
Three-time winners New Zealand are the slight favourites in the Rugby World Cup odds, followed by hosts France, defending champions South Africa and World No.1-ranked outfit Ireland. It’s contrasting storylines for the Southern and Northern Hemisphere sides, as the All Blacks and the Springboks are seeking record-breaking fourth wins, while Ireland and France are out for their first titles.
With very little to separate those four sides, both in the world rankings and in the betting market, it could come down to the performances of the respective nations’ star players in France. That said, let’s take a look at one player from each who could make a difference for their side at the World Cup.
Antione Dupont – France
Where better to start than with the hosts? Antione Dupont has been at the heart of Les Bleus’ meteoric rise under Fabien Galthie in recent years, helping France end their 12-year wait for the Six Nations title when they won the Grand Slam in 2022, and he is now arguably one of the best players in world rugby.
The 26-year-old scrum-half makes the game look easy as he dictates the play from the breakdowns. He does the basics of his role incredibly well, including breaking lines, off-loading at the right time, passing with consistency and kicking with pinpoint accuracy. In doing these things incredibly well, Dupont keeps his side’s attacks flowing and the opposition defenders on the back foot.
Will Jordan – New Zealand
It’s unlikely that Will Jordan is going to get the chance to play his preferred position at fullback in France, as he is regularly deployed on the wing for New Zealand, but he can be just as influential for the All Blacks out there as he can be in the No.15 role that he usually occupies at club level for Crusaders.
The 25-year-old, who was the recipient of the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award in 2021, has scored 23 tries in 25 appearances for the All Blacks. Jordan was one of the standout players in New Zealand’s 35-20 Rugby Championship win over South Africa earlier this summer, and while he wasn’t at his best when they met again in the build-up to the World Cup, he’ll be up for it in France.
Cheslin Kolbe – South Africa
From one winger to another, Cheslin Kolbe is the main danger man for defending champions South Africa. The versatility he offers the Springboks cannot be overlooked either, as he can also play fullback and even scrum-half, but it is on the wing that he is the biggest threat.
Kolbe scored the try that sealed victory against England and thus South Africa’s record-equalling third World Cup and his stock has risen massively in the four years since. The defending champions are in a difficult pool with Scotland, Ireland, Romania and Tonga, so need to be at their best and Kolbe will be the beating heart of the Springboks.
Josh van der Flier – Ireland
As a flanker, Josh van der Flier might not be as idolised as some of the other players on this list who play far more glamourous positions at fly-half, wing or fullback. However, the 30-year-old is the reigning World Player of the Year and he is going to play a huge role for the boys in green at this tournament.
Van der Flier, like many of his teammates out in France, was part of the Ireland squad that was disappointing in Japan four years ago. But it is easy to put a line through that as the Leinster No.7 made his international debut that year and should see a completely different version of the 30-year-old four years on.