The 2023 Rugby World Cup is about to begin.

Our resident rugby writers have forecasted their predictions for the tournament ahead.

David Barnes

Winner - France

There has been only one northern hemisphere winner of rugby’s most coveted prize during the 36-year (10 tournament) history of the World Cup. After falling at the final hurdle on three previous occasions, hosts France are well placed to change that, despite losing key men Romain Ntamack and Paul Willemse to injury before kick-off, while Jonathan Danty and Cyril Baille are missing the start of the tournament. 

No country apart from South Africa can match France’s strength in depth, while the likes of Antoine Dupont, Damian Penaud, Gregory Alldritt and Cameron Woki are all capable of dominating matches single-handedly.

They have pace, they have power and when they hit their straps, they are almost unplayable – but do they have the bottle?

Dark horses - Samoa

The Pacific Islanders fired out a warning shot to everyone by coming within a whisker of beating Ireland, the number one ranked team on the planet, in the final round of warm-up matches.

They are bolstered by three former All Blacks in midfielder Lima Sopoaga, back-rower Steven Luatua and giant prop Charlie Faumuina, as well as one-time Wallaby playmaker Christian Leali'ifano.

They are in a pool against struggling England and a Japan team who are not the force they were four years ago, as well as Argentina. If they make it through that then they’ll fancy a pop at Wales, Australia or Fiji in the quarters.

Pool-stage elimination - Four Six Nations teams

Scotland face a hell of challenge to get out a pool containing the top two teams on the planet, England in their current state could easily lose to Argentina and either of Japan or Samoa, Wales face a daunting task against Australia and Fiji, while poor Italy are up against the might of France and New Zealand.

Stuart Bathgate

Winner- South Africa

We should perhaps not read too much into the Springboks’ recent 35-7 demolition of New Zealand - and they will certainly face tougher, tighter tests should they go all the way in the defence of their title - but they do seem to be hitting their best form at precisely the right time. Crucially, they have the greatest forward depth of any team in the tournament, and the emergence of Canan Moodie has added just one more potentially devastating weapon to their already formidable power in the backs.

Dark horses - England

It may seem strange to brand the 2019 runners-up and 2003 winners as dark horses, but their dismal recent form does suggest it would be a surprise if they got anywhere close to the final again. Yet look at that draw: they should cruise through a pool in which only Argentina look capable of beating them, and then they will face a quarter-final against one of the qualifiers from Pool C - probably Wales, Australia or Fiji.  Suddenly they could be in the semis, needing only one truly excellent performance to get to the final hurdle. 

Pool-stage elimination- Scotland

It is by no means an inevitable fate, but to avoid it they may have to be at their absolute best against the two sides - South Africa and Ireland - who are best equipped to prevent them from implementing their expansive game plan. You can see them just about winning one of those two matches - and the Springboks, first up on Sunday, have lost their opening fixtures at the last two World Cups - but to win both they will need to hit unprecedented heights.

Alasdair Mackenzie

Winner – South Africa

The Springboks sent the world an emphatic reminder of their awe-inspiring quality and power when they topped off their preparations for a World Cup defence by destroying New Zealand with a record 35-7 win. They boast the strongest squad at the tournament and they will be battle-hardened by the time the knockouts get underway thanks to the challenges of Pool B. 

Dark horse – Fiji 

The lopsided nature of the draw, with Pools A and B far stronger than C and D, means the eye is naturally drawn to the latter two for a shock. After their historic first-ever win against England at Twickenham, Fiji seem the best bet. In the likes of Levani Botia, Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova they boast world-class talent and will fancy themselves to take out Wales or Australia – or both. 

Scotland – Third in Pool B

Try as I might to work out how Scotland progress, third remains the most realistic expectation. While we head to France in fine form and with one of the best Scottish squads ever taken to a tournament, the ability to handle the power game of the Boks and Ireland remains questionable and progression will require at least one if not two of the nation’s greatest-ever World Cup performances.