Rugby World Cup Pool A preview: Squads, fixtures, star players and more

David Skippers
Rugby World Cup Pool A preview image 2023.jpg

Italy fly-half Paolo Garbisi, New Zealand back-row Ardie Savea and France scrum-half Antoine Dupont.

Rugby World Cup Pool A sees hosts France face off against New Zealand, Italy, Uruguay, and Namibia for a place in the knockouts.

Ahead of the tenth edition of the Rugby World Cup, Planet Rugby previews each of the pools, first up Pool A.

New Zealand – World ranking: 4

Nickname: All Blacks
Head coach: Ian Foster
Captain: Sam Cane

Squad:
Forwards: Scott Barrett, Sam Cane, Dane Coles, Shannon Frizell, Ethan de Groot, Luke Jacobson, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Fletcher Newell, Dalton Papali’i, Brodie Retallick, Ardie Savea, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Tupou Vaa’i, Sam Whitelock, Tamaiti Williams
Backs: Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett, Finlay Christie, Caleb Clarke, Leicester Fainga’anuku, David Havili, Rieko Ioane, Will Jordan, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo’unga, Emoni Narawa, Cam Roigard, Aaron Smith, Mark Telea

Rugby World Cup record: Pl 56, W49, D0 L7, 88% win ratio.
Best Rugby World Cup finish: 3x champions (1987, 2011, 2015)

Key Player – Ardie Savea: One of the world’s leading players, the 29-year-old has featured in all three of the back-row positions with aplomb for the All Blacks and is one of the first names on Foster’s teamsheet. A powerful ball carrier, who also has a high work-rate on defence and at the breakdowns, Savea will be at the forefront of New Zealand’s onslaught in France.

Player to watch – Will Jordan: The 25-year-old is one of the world’s leading attackers, who possesses an outstanding skill set and is capable of changing the course of a match with a moment of magic. His attacking instincts are second to none, and he heads into the World Cup, having scored 23 tries in 25 Test appearances. Equally at home on the wing or at full-back, don’t be surprised if he finishes as the top try-scorer at this year’s tournament.

France – World ranking: 3

Nickname: Les Bleus
Head coach: Fabien Galthie
Captain: Antoine Dupont

Squad:
Forwards: Pierre Bourgarit, Julien Marchand, Peato Mauvaka, Dorian Aldegheri, Uini Atonio, Cyril Baille, Sipili Falatea, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Reda Wardi, Thibaud Flament, Romain Taofifenua, Bastien Chalureau, Cameron Woki, Grégory Alldritt, Paul Boudehent, François Cros, Sekou Macalou, Charles Ollivon, Anthony Jelonch

Backs: Baptiste Couilloud, Antoine Dupont (c), Maxime Lucu, Antoine Hastoy, Matthieu Jalibert, Jonathan Danty, Gaël Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Arthur Vincent, Louis Bielle-Biarrey, Damian Penaud, Gabin Villière, Melvyn Jaminet, Thomas Ramos

Rugby World Cup record: Pl 52, 36, D1, L15, 69% win rate.
Best Rugby World Cup finish: Runners-up (1987, 1999, 2011)

Key Player – Antoine Dupont: The Rugby World Cup hosts’ talismanic captain and arguably the best player in the world, Dupont will be crucial to France’s hopes of finally lifting the Webb Ellis trophy as champions. Dupont’s brilliant all-round game makes him the perfect link between forwards and backs, and although there is plenty of pressure on him to do well, the 2021 World Rugby Player of the Year seldom panics and is expected to be one of the World Cup’s star players.

Player to watch – Grégory Alldritt: The 26-year-old has been at the forefront of France’s resurgence under Galthie since the 2019 World Cup in Japan, and since his Test debut four years ago, he has established himself as one of the world’s best number eights. Blessed with a vast array of skills and plenty of X-factor, Alldritt will be crucial to Les Bleus’ chances on home soil.

Italy- World ranking: 13

Nickname: The Azzurri
Head coach: Kieran Crowley
Captain: Michele Lamaro

Squad:
Forwards: Pietro Ceccarelli,Simone Ferrari, Danilo Fischetti, Ivan Nemer, Marco Riccioni, Federico Zani, Luca Bigi, Epalahame Faiva, Giacomo Nicotera, Niccolò Cannone, Dino Lamb, Federico Ruzza, David Sisi, Lorenzo Cannone, Toa Halafihi, Michele Lamaro, Sebastian Negri, Giovanni Pettinelli, Manuel Zuliani
Backs: Alessandro Fusco, Alessandro Garbisi, Martin Page-Relo, Stephen Varney, Tommaso Allan, Giacomo Da Re, Paolo Garbisi, Juan Ignacio Brex, Luca Morisi, Pierre Bruno, Ange Capuozzo, Monty Ioane, Paolo Odogwu, Lorenzo Pani

Rugby World Cup record: Pl 31, W13, D0, L18, 42% win rate.
Best Rugby World Cup finish: Pool Stage (9 times)

Key Player – Paolo Garbisi: The Montpellier playmaker has cemented his place as Italy’s first-choice fly-half with some brilliant performances and will have to hit the ground running if the Azzurri want to advance to the World Cup’s knockout rounds for the first time. The 23-year-old can unlock the tightest defences with his brilliant attacking ability while his goal-kicking is also excellent, and those attributes must be of a high standard throughout the global showpiece.

Player to watch – Sebastian Negri: A tough-as-nails loose forward, the 26-year-old is a dominant ball carrier, solid in the tackle and industrious at the breakdowns. If the 29-year-old is at his best in the aforementioned facets of play, Italy should do well at the World Cup.

Uruguay- World ranking: 17

Nickname: Los Teros
Head coach: Esteban Meneses
Captain: Andrés Vilaseca

Squad:
Forwards: Felipe Aliaga, Diego Arbelo, Manuel Ardao, Matías Benítez, Lucas Bianchi, Santiago Civetta, Carlos Deus, Manuel Diana, Eric dos Santos, Ignacio Dotti, Facundo Gattas, Germán Kessler, Manuel Leindekar, Ignacio Péculo, Reinaldo Piussi, Guillermo Pujadas, Juan Manuel Rodríguez, Mateo Sanguinetti
Backs: Juan Manuel Alonso, Santiago Álvarez, Baltazar Amaya, Santiago Arata, Felipe Arcos Pérez, Bautista Basso, Felipe Berchesi, Felipe Etcheverry, Ignacio Facciolo, Nicolás Freitas, Tomás Inciarte, Gastón Mieres, Agustín Ormaechea, Rodrigo Silva, Andrés Vilaseca

Rugby World Cup record: Pl 15, W3, D0, L12, 20% win rate.
Best Rugby World Cup finish: Pool stage (4 times)

Key Player – Germán Kessler: The 29-year-old has been a regular at Test level for Los Teros and has already represented his country on more than 50 occasions. Kessler, who plies his trade at Pro D2 outfit Provence, has played at two previous World Cups, and his experience will be valuable in France. Similar in his playing style to former Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss, Kessler is a strong ball carrier and solid in defence while also doing well in the tight phases.

Player to watch – Santiago Arata: The 26-year-old is highly rated and plies his trade at Top 14 outfit Castres. Although he missed Uruguay’s Rugby World Cup warm-up fixtures against Chile, Namibia and an Argentina XV due to a broken finger, Arata is highly rated with a similar playing style to France scrum-half Dupont. With Dupont possibly taking a break after the World Cup to play Sevens for France, Toulouse are rumoured to look at signing Arata as Dupont’s replacement.

Namibia- World ranking: 21

Nickname: Welwitschias
Head coach: Allister Coetzee
Captain: Johan Deysel

Squad:
Forwards: Jason Benade, Adriaan Booysen, Aranos Coetzee, Wian Conradie, Tiaan de Klerk, Prince Gaoseb, Richard Hardwick, Max Katjijeko, Adriaan Ludick, Johan Retief, Desiderius Sethie, Mahepisa Tjeriko, Tjiuee Uanivi, Louis van der Westhuizen, Torsten van Jaarsveld, PJ van Lill, Casper Viviers
Backs: Oela Blaauw, Danco Burger, Johan Deysel, JC Greyling, Cliven Loubser, Le Roux Malan, Gerswin Mouton, Chad Plato, Alcino Isaacs, Divan Rossouw, Damian Stevens, Tiaan Swanepoel, Jacques Theron, Andre van der Berg

Rugby World Cup record: Pl 22, W0, D0, L22, 0% win rate.
Best Rugby World Cup finish: Pool stage (6 times)

Key Player – Johan Deysel: The veteran centre is set to play at his third Rugby World Cup and will also be his country’s skipper as they go in search of their first victory at the global showpiece. An experienced campaigner who also captained the Welwitschias at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, Deysel’s leadership will be crucial if they want to secure that elusive win.

Player to watch – Richard Hardwick: Born in Namibia, but raised in Western Australia, the 29-year-old will be well known to Super Rugby supporters as he made his name as a hard-nosed back-row in that competition with the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels. His impressive play at the Force earned him a Test debut with the Wallabies in 2017, and he eventually represented them in two Tests before switching allegiance to Namibia last year after a change in World Rugby’s eligibility rules.

Rugby World Cup Pool A fixtures

Friday 8 September France v New Zealand – 8.15 pm, Stade de France, Paris
Saturday 9 Sept Italy v Namibia – 12pm, Stade Geoffroy Guichard, Saint-Étienne
Thursday 14 September France v Uruguay – 8 pm, Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille
Friday 15 September New Zealand v Namibia – 8 pm, Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse
Wednesday 20 September Italy v Uruguay – 4.45 pm, Stade de Nice, Nice
Thursday 21 Sept France v Namibia – 8pm, Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Wednesday 27 September Uruguay v Namibia – 4.45 pm, Parc OL, Lyon
Friday 29 September New Zealand v Italy – 8 pm, Parc OL, Lyon
Thursday 5 October New Zealand v Uruguay – 8 pm, Parc OL, Lyon
Friday 6 October France v Italy – 8 pm, Parc OL, Lyon

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