As the clock struck 12 on New Years Day, celebrations erupted as everyone began to celebrate a new beginning alongside family and friends.
But for those supporters who consider themselves rugby tragics, the beginning of 2023 simply meant more.
After years of patiently waiting, the most competitive Rugby World Cup ever is finally upon us.
Dreams will either be realized or shattered in France later this year as the best teams in the world look to prove themselves in the pursuit of rugby immortality.
But there can only be one champion.
And predicting which nation will hoist the Webb Ellis Cup in November is proving to be a harder challenge than driving a car without an engine.
But, that hasn’t stopped me from trying.
As rugby fans begin to look ahead to the New Year, full of optimism and hope, here are 10 bold predictions for the 2023 season – and it’s not all just about the World Cup.
The New Year is an opportunity for us all to dream big; live in hope and wonder as we look ahead to a new season of Super Rugby, the Sevens World Series, and plenty more.
There has never been a better time to be a rugby fan, and 2023 will show us why.
- the All Blacks will equal their worst-ever finish at a Rugby World Cup
Déjà vu awaits supporters who call a small rugby-mad nation at the bottom of the world home.
For millions of New Zealanders, rugby union is more than just a hobby – rather, the sport has become almost an obligation for many as well as an obsession.
New Zealanders love the 15-player game, and ride the highs and lows of test rugby alongside the All Blacks almost religiously.
But both the passion of the supporters and the legacy of the coveted black jersey creates unprecedented pressure for those lucky enough to call themselves All Blacks.
The All Blacks are expected to win every time they take the field – there are no exceptions, especially at World Cups.
That’s why the men in black came under such fierce scrutiny during a disappointing start to last season, which saw them lose test matches to Ireland, South Africa and Argentina.
And if I’m looking into my crystal ball and seeing what lies ahead for the legendary rugby team, it’s not good.
The All Blacks infamously bowed out at the quarter-final stage of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, where they lost to traditional rivals France in Cardiff in controversial fashion.
Unfortunately for the three-time World Cup champions, history does repeat.
New Zealand will probably have to face either South Africa or Ireland in the quarter-finals of this year’s tournament, and both of those matchups are incredibly tough.
Both teams beat the All Blacks in 2022, and would relish the opportunity to knock them out of the World Cup if given the chance.
The All Blacks may have finished their season on a seven-test unbeaten run last year, but most of those performances were far from convincing.
This is a team who has improved, but time is not on their side.
They have plenty of ground to make up before this year’s World Cup, and they’ll simply run out of time before facing menacing opposition in the quarters.
- Scott Robertson will be named the next Wallabies coach
Super coach Scott Robertson has been a fan favorite in New Zealand for what feels like forever now.
Many fans around Aotearoa would love to see the Crusaders boss replace All Blacks coach Ian Foster after this year’s World Cup, if not before it.
But New Zealand’s loss may be Australia’s gain, as the Wallabies look to continue their rebuild ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour in 2025.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is reportedly close to signing with Japanese Rugby League One club Kobe Steelers after this year’s World Cup.
While speculation is rife about former England coach Eddie Jones potentially returning to Australia, their best option is clearly Robertson.
As reported by The RoarJapan-based duo Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown are free agents after this year’s World Cup, and could replace Foster at the All Blacks.
As for Robertson, he may miss out once again.
If the Wallabies are to usher in a golden generation which promises so much, then the Crusaders coach could hold the key to unlocking their potential.
- France will fall short of World Cup glory
France are widely considered to be the favorites going into this year’s World Cup, as they look to win their first title on home soil.
But they won’t.
Les Bleus may not have the men’s number one ranking to their name, but they’re probably the best team in the world at the moment.
They won all of their test matches in 2022, and haven’t lost a match since playing Australia in July the year before.
This team can play.
But it’s well known in rugby circles that at least historically, France have been their biggest enemy at World Cups.
Inconsistent performances have cost Les Bleus, who have made three World Cup finals but have won none.
France have been drawn in Pool A with traditional powerhouse New Zealand, and will probably have to face either Ireland or South Africa in the quarter-finals.
Both of those tests could go either way.
Should they win, Les Bleus could then potentially face either England or Australia in the semi-finals, and I truly think the pressure will get to them.
- Springboks defend their World Cup crown
Reigning World Cup champions South Africa will defend their World Cup crown later this year.
The Springboks equaled the All Blacks’ record of three World Cup titles four years ago, but they may go one better in France later this year.
While South Africa were somewhat inconsistent in test matches last year – having lost to the Wallabies in Adelaide – this is a team who knows how to win big tournaments.
Their final test match of the year against England should give them plenty of confidence going into the new campaign.
- RTS to sign deal with an NRL club
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is a generational talent.
The side-stepping utility back became the first New Zealand-born player to win the coveted Dally M medal during his NRL days, and also captained the Kiwis during his time in the sport.
But his decision to jump codes was incredibly intriguing, as fans from both codes watched eagerly in anticipation; debating how high his ceiling was as he chased his All Blacks dream.
‘RTS’ made his All Blacks debut last year, and showed plenty of potential in the limit opportunities he had to shine in the black jersey.
But the All Blacks can only pick 33-players in their World Cup, the Tuivasa-Sheck experiment might just run out of time.
As reported by The MoleWayne Bennett could potentially look to acquire the services of the exciting talent at the NRL’s newest club The Dolphins.
According to The Mole, ‘RTS’ is looking to ‘give union another 12 months.’ If that’s true, and he fails to make the World Cup squad, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t put pen to paper with an NRL side by the end of the year.
- Super Rugby Aupiki to break records in 2023
Last year’s women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand was simply a ground-breaking event for rugby union.
Sold out crowds watched the Ferns beat France in a thrilling semi-final at Eden Park, before a record crowd packed the stands a week later for a titanic final against World No. 1 England.
New Zealand got behind the Black Ferns like never before throughout their World Cup run, and this support will carry through to Super Rugby Aupiki later this year.
The tournament will continue to re-write what was once believed to be possible for women’s rugby in New Zealand – I can’t wait.
Aupiki gets underway in late February with the Hurricanes Poua taking on the Chiefs Manawa at Levin Domain.
- The Wallabies will charge in the RWC semi-finals – at a minimum
The Wallabies had a disastrous season last year, but their past doesn’t have to define their future.
More than 50 players donned Wallaby gold throughout an injury-ravaged campaign last year, which saw the Wallabies win just five test matches from 14.
They were able to avoid their worst season since 1958 with an incredible comeback win over Wales in Cardiff, but their overall win record was still well below where it should’ve been.
That being said, this is the same team who beat England and South Africa early in the year. They also should’ve beaten New Zealand, France and Ireland – in total, the top five teams in the world.
And that was without Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi.
If the Wallabies can avoid another injury crisis this season, then they’ll pose a genuine threat, and should top their pool over Wales and Fiji.
As for their side of the draw, they’ll probably have to face either Argentina or Japan in the quarter-finals – presuming England come out on top.
They should win that.
And once they make it through to the semi-finals, it really is anyone’s game.
- England will win the Six Nations
The Eddie Jones era is officially done and dusted in England. Steve Borthwick was handed the reins nine months out from the World Cup – and he has the potential to steer them towards greatness.
England only five matches last year, and finished third in the Six Nations behind France and Ireland.
But this is a new team, and their potential is simply world class. They could win the World Cup, but that’s probably too bold a call at the moment even for this article.
Unlike last season, England will host France at Twickenham in mid-March – and a pumping home crowd could get them over the line in that test.
Bonus points will be key in this tournament though, but England have what it takes.
- Dalton Papali’i to start for the All Blacks at the RWC
Sam Cane has been a great All Blacks captain for quite some time now, but just doesn’t offer the same punch as what he used to.
Cane is still a fantastic player, but his consistency needs to be questioned heading into a World Cup. In many matches last year, he went missing when his team needed a leader.
Once his season was cut short due to injury, rising star Dalton Papli’i was given the opportunity to shine in the black jersey – and he did that famous No. 7 justice.
In fact, many fans and pundits were calling for more Daltons as the focus began to shift towards the World Cup.
Papali’i is simply more versatile and effective around the field. Even around the breakdown, he’s a menace – as he wreaks havoc seemingly at will.
Sam Cane will still make the World Cup squad, obviously, but may be better utilized during pool play.
- Kurtley Beale to shine for Tahs
Kurtley Beale is back in Australia, as he chased a fourth World Cup appearance after signing with the Waratahs.
Beale is an incredibly talented player, and has the potential to become a matchday regular for the Wallabies throughout the year ahead.
After returning to Australia, Beale was reportedly one of the standouts in a unique opposed training session between the Waratahs and NRL side St George.
Beale was also included in Dave Rennie’s first squad for the year, as the Wallabies met for a training camp on the Gold Coast.
The 34-year-old will undoubtedly play a key role in the Waratahs continued resurgence this season, as he looks to book his place on the plane to France.