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WINNER: South Africa

It’s always tough to bet against New Zealand, but South Africa are the form team heading into the 2019 World Cup.

Rassie Erasmus has overseen a stunning turnaround since his appointment in February 2018, with the Springboks coming off the back of their first Rugby Championship win since 2009.

They have New Zealand for company in Pool B but should easily qualify for a very winnable quarter-final against either Ireland, Scotland or hosts Japan.

Anything can happen once they reach the last-four, but this is a very talented Springboks side that showed they can handle the big occasion this summer.

NAME THE FINALISTS: South Africa/New Zealand

These two sides play each other first up in Pool B but then cannot meet again until the final in Yokohama on 2 November.

The strength of their squads and the pedigree of their coaching teams should see that second clash materialise in six weeks’ time.

TO REACH THE SEMI-FINALS: Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa

New Zealand and South Africa are the two strongest teams in the tournament and should have few issues reaching the last-four, although Ireland will provide a tough quarter-final test for one of them.

Australia are unfancied by many after a poor year but they always perform at the World Cup, topping their group and reaching the semi-finals in six of the previous eight editions.

England are in the Group of Death alongside France and Argentina but should still top Pool C and have the momentum to come through a probable quarter-final against Wales.

POOL STRAIGHT FORECAST

Pool A: Ireland/Scotland

World No. 1 Ireland are by far and away the strongest team in Pool A and should comfortably top the group, with Scotland having enough experience to pip Japan to second spot.

Pool B: New Zealand/South Africa

New Zealand are the only team to have never lost a pool match in World Cup history, with the All Blacks topping their group in all eight previous tournaments.

Pool C: England/Argentina

England flopped to a pool-stage exit in 2015 but look a different team under Eddie Jones, while Argentina always turn it on at the World Cup and are definitely worth backing at this price to edge out France.

Pool D: Australia/Wales

This is the toughest one to call, but Australia’s impressive record of topping their World Cup group compared to Wales’ – who have done it just twice – means they are good value here.

TOP TRY SCORER: Cheslin Kolbe

Julian Savea equalled Jonah Lomu’s record of eight tries in a tournament in 2015, but the New Zealand winger will not feature at this World Cup.

Compatriot Sevu Reece is the betting favourite after a stunning start to his international career, while Rieko Ioane and George Bridge are two other All Blacks that are in contention.

Kolbe is the player to watch, however, with the South African speedster having scored five tries in six starts for the Boks so far.

The versatile Toulouse player is one of the most exciting runners in world rugby and, with pool games against the likes of Namibia and Canada, should rack up the tries in his first World Cup.

TOP POINTS SCORER: Handre Pollard

It is tempting to overlook Pollard, the joint-favourite alongside Owen Farrell , for a player with a longer price, but the South Africa fly-half is the player to back here.

He finished second in the points table in 2015 as the Springboks lost in the semi-finals and has a great chance of going one better this time round.

South Africa are in excellent scoring form, racking up 97 over the course of three games in the Rugby Championship, and pool matches against weak opposition should give Pollard plenty of opportunities to keep his tally ticking over.  

If you are looking for more of an outsider, then Jonathan Sexton could be worth a punt. Ireland should sail through Pool A and look to win games from the tee before opening up.

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