Sports fans, get excited! The Rugby World Cup is coming to Asia for the very first time, with Japan taking on hosting duties from 20 September. We’ve got some of the key details you need to know below, including who we think will make it through the group stage, plus six players to keep an eye on, notable quotes on the game, and links to some great travel stories for exploring more of Japan.
About the event
What: The ninth Rugby World Cup (RWC)
Where: 12 stadiums around Japan
When: Over six weeks, from 20 September to 2 November
Number of nations: 20
Defending champions: New Zealand
Info and tickets: rugbyworldcup.com
Which pool is your team in, and will they win?
The first three weeks of the tournament is made up of the group stage, where teams are separated into four pools of five teams. Each team plays all the others in its pool, with the top two teams from the pools going through to the Quarter Finals. We’ve run our eye over the groups to see how things might unfold…
Ireland / Scotland / Japan / Russia / Samoa
Pool summary: This is the only pool with no former World Cup champion in it. As we go live with this piece, Ireland are ranked number three – ahead of the likes of South Africa, Australia and England – and can beat anyone on their day. However, they have a poor record in previous Cups. Scotland are former RWC semi-finalists (2011) – and who can forget how Japan stunned South Africa in the 2015 tournament?
Teams to advance: Ireland and Scotland
How they’ll fare after that: Probably quite badly, as they’ll be facing New Zealand and South Africa in the quarter finals!
New Zealand / South Africa / Italy / Namibia / Canada
Pool summary: Normally, we would just lock in the All Blacks as a heavy favourite to win a fourth World Cup. But a recent draw against South Africa, followed by a big loss to Australia – admittedly with a man down – has at least raised a small element of doubt about their form. They’ll still sail through this pool though, and they remain favourites for the Cup.
Teams to advance: New Zealand and South Africa
How they’ll fare after that: There’s a chance with the way the draw is laid out that these two teams will meet each other again in the Final on 2 November
England / France / Argentina / USA / Tonga
Pool summary: Will England’s Cricket World Cup win earlier this year inspire the rugby team to victory in Japan? It’s not out of the question. First though, there’s a tricky pool to navigate, with both France and Argentina more than capable of an upset. And you can expect Tonga and the improving American team to at least be competitive too.
Teams to advance: England and France
How they’ll fare after that: Both teams have the advantage of avoiding New Zealand in the quarters, and England are a chance to go all the way under Eddie Jones
Australia / Wales / Georgia / Fiji / Uruguay
There shouldn’t be too many troubles for Wales and Australia in this pool, though we’re also looking forward to seeing some typically exciting rugby from the Fijians. The Welsh are on the cusp of overtaking the All Blacks as the top ranked team in world rugby, so the expectations are high that they will better their best ever World Cup performance (third in 1987).
Teams to advance: Australia and Wales
How they’ll fare after that: Wales should make the semi-finals at least; the Wallabies, on the other hand, are difficult to predict – they’ve been wildly inconsistent over the past year or more.
6 Players to watch
Beauden Barrett, New Zealand: There may be some current argument over whether he’ll play fullback or number 10, but Barrett is sure to have a massive tournament regardless of his position.
Alun Wyn Jones, Wales: The lock forward and Welsh skipper was recently named the best rugby player on the planet by UK-based Rugby World magazine.
Jonathan Sexton, Ireland: His 2019 form may not be matching last year’s, but don’t write off the Irish fly-half just yet.
Handre Pollard, South Africa: Speaking of form, here’s a player who is hitting peak form just at the right moment. The Springbok playmaker has been on fire in the Rugby Championship.
Owen Farrell, England: Fly-half Farrell will have memories of a group stage exit at the 2015 RWC, and will be keen to make amends.
Samu Kerevi, Australia: A recent destructive Jonah Lomu-esque try against the All Blacks had the rugby world talking; can he replicate that kind of big-game play in the RWC? Time will tell.
Where to see the games
We’ll be keeping you updated on all the Rugby World Cup action on our site. Check out our guide to where to watch the Rugby World Cup in Hong Kong for the best venues to get your RWC fill.
Oscar Wilde, Princess Anna and Joanna Lumley all feature in our roundup of the most memorable rugby quotes.
Travel to Japan
Whether you book a last-minute trip to tie in with the Rugby World Cup, or you wait for the crowds to die down to do some exploring in a quieter period, here are some ideas on the best places to see in the country: