The wait is almost over.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup gets underway on Friday, with a number of teams heading into the tournament with a real chance of lifting the Webb Ellis trophy.

New Zealand may be strong favourites to claim a record third title, but they have famously been known to slip up in the past despite having the strongest team on paper.

Should they do so again, then any one of their rivals will be poised to take maximum advantage.

Here's our look at the historical World Cup record for each of the contenders for the crown, as well as their form heading into the tournament and their potential path to glory.

All that remains is for you to decide exactly who will go on to add their name to rugby union's most prestigious trophy.

New Zealand - 5/4 media Given that New Zealand have spent well over 2,000 days at the top of the IRB world rankings, it comes as no surprise that the World Cup holders are overwhelming favourites to claim a record third title.

They look set to do some real damage during the early stages in straightforward pool featuring four sides against whom they have never lost, having been drawn with the lowest-ranked side in the competition in Namibia, Georgia, Tonga and Argentina.

However, it may not be all plain sailing for Steve Hansen’s side.

Both of their World Cup wins in 1987 and 2011 came at home, while no team has ever retained the Webb Ellis trophy.

With likely match-ups against either France or Australia in the knock-out stages, they will need to contend with plenty of ghosts from failures past if they are to become the most successful country in the history of the tournament.

England - 9/2 media As the only Northern Hemisphere side to ever win the World Cup, England can head into the tournament with more optimism than most.

Throw in the fact that they will be playing on home soil – with the host nation prevailing in three out of seven tournaments to date – and they have plenty of reasons to feel confident.

Stuart Lancaster’s side, who are currently on a seven-match winning streak at Twickenham, are favourites to top the Pool of Death against a weakened Wales side and with an impressive World Cup record against Australia.

Manage that and the road to the final should be relatively plain sailing – with a quarter-final versus either Scotland or Samoa and a semi against one of Ireland, France or Argentina –opposition against whom have England have racked up nine home wins in a row.

After that, then anything is possible.

South Africa - 13/2 media South Africa lifted the trophy when the World Cup was last played in the Northern Hemisphere – beating England in the final in France in 2007.

With nine players from that campaign still in their squad and the likes of Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger playing in their fourth World Cup, the Springboks have easily the most tournament experience.

They also find themselves in the easiest pool with just Samoa and Scotland offering any sort of stiff opposition, although a quarter-final against one of the sides to survive the Pool of Death is less appetising.

Ominously, South Africa have not beaten Southern Hemisphere rivals New Zealand or Australia at a World Cup since 1995 – a record they will have to address if they are to stand a chance.

Having lost to both in finishing bottom of the Rugby Championship this summer, they are not entering the tournament in the best of form.

Australia - 7/1 media Australia are the third of the Southern Hemisphere superpowers with two titles to their name – although the most recent of these came 16 years ago the last time the tournament took place in Britain.

The Wallabies are easily the host nation’s toughest obstacle in Pool A – although having lost their last three World Cup matches against England, history is not on their side.

Winning the group would mean avoiding the likes of South Africa and New Zealand in the knock-out stages, although having just beaten both on their way to winning the Rugby Championship last month such a prospect should not perturb them too much.

With a much more solid pack than they have taken to previous tournaments and with some of the most exciting backs in the business, Michael Cheika’s side are a threat to anybody on their day.

Ireland - 8/1 media Ireland have never made it beyond the quarter-finals of a World Cup, but go into this tournament in the best shape they have ever been in.

Two successive Six Nations titles saw them as high as second in the IRB rankings before losses in their last two warm-ups against Wales and England, but pool matches against Canada and Romania first up give them plenty of time to rediscover their form.

In Johnny Sexton, Ireland boast arguably the best fly-half in the world with a tactical kicking game capable of squeezing out even the best sides in the world.

Their biggest challenge will be a mental one – starting with their crunch pool match against France, who beat them in 1995, 2003 and 2007.

Defeat Les Bleus and they will be confident of making a first ever semi-final.

Lose and New Zealand – against whom they have never won – will surely bring an end to the same old story.

France - 14/1 media For a team often lamented for their unpredictability, France boast an impressively consistent record at the World Cup without ever actually winning it.

Three-time runners up (including a one-point defeat to New Zealand in 2011), one third place and two semi-final defeats speaks volumes for the appetite of the French when it comes to rugby union's biggest tournament.

With a fearsome pack that dismantled England in Paris just a few weeks ago and some mercurial talents in their backline such as Welsey Fofana and Yoann Huget, there is no doubt that they have enough talent in their ranks to go all the way.

And given their penchant for springing a surprise, their World Cup rivals will be more scared of the French than they are of them.

Like Ireland, their fate could hang on who prevails in that final pool match.

Wales - 25/1 media Far from ensuring they went into the tournament in the best shape possible, Wales’ final warm-up match a fortnight ago dealt a devastating blow to their tournament hopes.

If their task in navigating their way out of Pool A was tough already, then without scrum-half Rhys Webb – their best find of the last 18 months – and full-back Leigh Halfpenny – a metronomic goal kicker of the highest calibre – it will now be even harder.  

Still, Warren Gatland has other talismen in both the forwards and backs with the likes of Alun Wyn Jones and Jamie Roberts and can still call upon one of the best back rows in the world.

If they can pull off an unlikely escape from the group, they will already have proven themselves to be good enough to go all the way.

Still smarting from their semi-final defeat four years ago, this talented squad have a point to prove.

Argentina - 50/1 media Argentina may be rank outsiders, but if previous World Cups have taught us anything it is that the Pumas are capable of pouncing when you least expect it.

The South Americans have benefitted enormously from playing against top-quality opposition more regularly thanks to their inclusion in what used to be the Tri Nations – and underlined their progress with a first ever win against South Africa in Durban last month.

Sharing a pool with New Zealand they are likely to do have to do it the hard way, but having famously beaten both Ireland in 1999 and France twice in 2007 they will be quietly confident of progressing beyond the last eight.

Their third-place finish in 2007 was certainly no fluke, and having lost to the eventual winners in both of the last two tournaments a slightly kinder draw this time around could see them prove to be the surprise package one again. 

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