While the popular line is that the gap between rugby’s heavyweight nations and the minnows has closed, Clive Woodward suggests that only three teams are capable of winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and South Africa isn’t on the list.
In a column for the Daily Mail, Woodward – who guided England to a world championship in 2003 – laid out his concerns: “I am starting to really worry about international rugby. The November internationals have become a largely meaningless procession of friendlies.
“They used to be massive North v South clashes, a huge buzz around the matches and a chance to play at a level higher than the Six Nations. These Autumn internationals now seem to just come and go.
“Argentina are in retreat, South Africa are unable to pick their strongest side, Australia often look tired and are resting players… which only leaves New Zealand.
“It feels like elite Test rugby is contracting, rather than getting bigger. Powerhouse nations like the Springboks and France are declining badly and nobody is coming through to replace them or, in the case of Georgia, being allowed to come through.
“Samoa, Fiji and Tonga… are still resigned to losing many of their best players to predatory nations. Teams like Canada, who used to be strong and competitive, are really struggling.”
Woodward believes that only New Zealand, England and Ireland have a realistic shot at hoisting the Webb Ellis Cup in Tokyo in 2019.
“It’s encouraging to see the number of countries playing sevens, but World Rugby should be more than concerned with what is happening to the international game.”