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With the world's best player, France is currently best-placed to win the 2023 World Cup

By RugbyPass
(Photos by Rich Fury/Pascal le Segretain - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images and Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

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The RugbyPass Round Table writers answer the big questions at the end of 2021, looking back at the year that was in context to what lays ahead. Alex McLeod (AM), Tom Vinicombe (TV), Nick Turnbull (NT), Mike Rehu (MR), Ben Smith (BS), Jordan King (JK), Jack O’Rourke (JO) and Finn Morton (FM) weigh in on a range of topics on the international game and more in this end-of-2021 review. 

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Two years out from the next World Cup saw Wales capture the Six Nations title as Scotland, France and Ireland put up strong campaigns, while England slumped to a fifth-placed finish.

The Springboks returned to rugby in 2021, winning the British & Irish Lions series before a third-place finish in the Rugby Championship behind a resurgent Australia and New Zealand.

The end-of-year Autumn internationals saw a mixed bag as the northern hemisphere teams posted big wins over the southern hemisphere powers in the final round.

So, who stands where in the global scheme of things at the end of the international season?

As things stand, which team looks best-placed to win the 2023 World Cup right now?

BS: Can’t go past France at this stage.

There are five to six teams all jostling for the lead of the pack, but only one will have home ground advantage in 2023. A quarterfinal beckons against either Ireland, South Africa or Scotland at Stade de France for Fabian Galthie’s side.

Despite having not won any silverware yet in this era, France have returned to power under Galthie and have the core of players to bring the World Cup to France for the first time after three final appearances.

Their big win over New Zealand to end the year showed what they are capable of. The biggest thing for France will be embracing the pressure a home World Cup brings, which has seen teams crumble (England ’15) or succeed (South Africa ’95, New Zealand ’11).

AM: It’s hard to look past France at this stage of the World Cup cycle given their youth, form and quality, all of which makes them look like they’re building to a crescendo come the 2023 World Cup.

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A motivated and more developed French side led by Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack in front of their home crowds should have the rest of the world on edge.

TV: It’s still really anyone’s game at this stage; two years is a long time in international rugby.

It’s probably hard to look past England, given they’ve managed to maintain a consistently high standard over the past two seasons while still regularly chopping and changing their side.

They have plenty of experienced operators amongst their ranks who know how to win tournaments but who have also tasted defeat at a World Cup, and they’ve got some great young talents coming through like Marcus Smith.

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FM: France are not only a team on the rise with plenty of improvement still in them, but they’ve also just convincingly beaten arguably the most feared team in rugby.

The young team will also be playing the World Cup in front of their home crowds which is undoubtedly a major advantage.

However, the main reason France mightn’t win this tournament would be because of France themselves, as their consistency in the history of this competition has cost them before.

MR: France is in the box-seat to win the next World Cup, especially after their 40-25 victory against the All Blacks last month.

Sure, they are a mercurial bunch (they went down to a plucky Scotland at the same Paris venue earlier this year), and the pressure of expectation can weigh heavily on them, but they have formed an impressive core of stars who know how to run and win games.

NT: The ‘Captain Obvious’ call would be France, who, as the host nation, will have that benefit of overwhelming support and sense of ‘it’s time’.

Seldom do host nations not at least qualify for the quarter-finals. Hello to the English readers.

So, they are a genuine threat on that basis, yet with that advantage comes the weight of expectation and ability to play intelligent tournament rugby. How they mentally handle that is the key.

JK: The French may have bottled the chance of claiming another Six Nations for a second-straight campaign with a loss to Scotland, but the way in which they rounded out the year, and the fact they have home-field advantage, puts them in pole position for me.

Their combination of youth, size and flair is something other nations should fear beyond the current cycle.

JO: Everyone seems to be backing in France to take out the 2023 World Cup. The praise is rightly deserved. They have been in a rich vein of form and have been building nicely the last couple of years.

The majority of the squad that beat the All Blacks will be expected to be around come 2023. The question is can they sustain it and peak at the right time. French rugby is notoriously fickle.

Summary: France, England

Who currently stands as the world’s best player?

BS: There are many that deserve consideration but Antoine Dupont is still in rich form for club and country. He probably delivered more in the 2020 season, but was still world-class in 2021. Ardie Savea is a close second.

AM: Antoine Dupont. Plain and simple. Anyone who can overtake Aaron Smith as the world’s best halfback is bound to play a major role in any team’s success, as we’ve seen at both international and club level.

TV: How can you go past Antoine Dupont? The influence he has on the way France and Toulouse play is easy to see and the young halfback rarely has an off game. No other player in such an important role is as consistently good as Dupont.

FM: While Antoine Dupont won World Rugby’s Player of the Year, he wasn’t the world’s best player in my opinion.

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper was outstanding again this year, standing out for his high turnover rate and his tackle accuracy once again. Hooper is consistently underrated and this year was no different.

While Dupont was incredible this year, I can’t help but feel that Hooper would’ve been crowned the world’s best if he was an All Black, Springbok or an Englishman.

MR: World Rugby has it right, I agree that Antoine Dupont is the best rugby player in the world at present.

His ability to be a threat in all realms of scrum-half play gives him an edge over Aaron Smith as a halfback, and, as France has always relied on their No 9s to run games more than the flyhalf, his influence is paramount for them.

NT: I will answer that through the prism, not of individual skill, but how well that individual makes the players around him play, how much easier that player makes the game for those around him and the ability to do that at home and on tour.

For me, that player is Samuel Lawrence Whitelock of New Zealand. A complete rugby forward and leader of men.

JK: It’s hard to go with anyone other than Antoine Dupont given the success he’s had for his club and country this past year. There is nothing the little maestro can’t do with or without the pill.

JO: I may be biased, but Michael Hooper would surely feel aggrieved about missing out on World Rugby Player of the Year. His contribution to the Wallabies is really not talked about enough. He sticks his head in dark places, and has the engine to then back up on the inside when a break is on.

His incredible work rate and longevity sets him apart from almost any other player. As a senior member of the squad, he needs to find a way to lift the Wallabies to that same level, because he can’t do it all on his own – no matter how hard he may try.

Summary: Antoine Dupont (France), Michael Hooper (Australia), Sam Whitelock (New Zealand)

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