Former Springbok Bryan Habana: This is the tightest World Cup we've ever had to call
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By Ben Grounds
Last Updated: 27/08/19 10:48am
Former South Africa rugby player Bryan Habana claims this autumn's World Cup is the tightest ever to call, with six teams capable of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.
The Springboks have the toughest possible start to their campaign when they face two-time defending champion New Zealand in their first pool game, while England have been drawn alongside France and Argentina in a particularly deadly Pool C.
Habana feels this year's tournament is wide open, with Ireland, Australia and the world's new No 1-ranked side Wales all capable of lifting the trophy.
"It is probably the tightest World Cup we've ever had to call," Habana said as a brand ambassador for Land Rover.
"If you look at the top six teams in world rugby at the moment. You've got Wales who has just overtaken New Zealand as the No 1-ranked side, after a 10-year period which is absolutely phenomenal.
"You've got New Zealand - back-to-back World Cup winners going into this competition as reigning champions, while South Africa's Rugby Championship form has been incredible and really promising.
"Two weeks ago [against New Zealand], Australia showed exactly what they're capable of, and Ireland have beaten the All Blacks twice in the last 24 months, so it really is such an open World Cup.
"Whoever's at their best for that eight-week period, winning games against the best teams in the world will need to go on to win it.
"But given the current status of world rugby, I might actually put more money into cryptocurrency because that's probably an easier bet at the moment."
Habana defends Te'o and Cipriani omissions
England head coach Eddie Jones opted to name his 31-man squad earlier than any other side heading to Japan this autumn, with Danny Cipriani and Ben Te'o two of the most high-profile names to miss out.
Cipriani - who has amounted just two caps since Jones took over in 2015 - seems destined to end his career without having played in a World Cup, despite the Gloucester fly-half being voted the Premiership's player of the season in May.
Te'o, meanwhile, was left out following his off-field incident at the Italian training camp involving Mike Brown, allowing Northampton fly-half Piers Francis to be included in his place.
"I've worked with Eddie before and he's a very astute, technical thinker of the game," Habana added.
"From sitting on the outside, it seems that the decision to omit Ben is slightly different. There were circumstances that we as members of the public weren't privy to. Eddie made his decision and Ben probably let his chance of going to a World Cup slip.
"I think Danny on the other hand, the form that he's had over the last 18 months, there were a lot of questions asked about why he wasn't picked.
"But going into a World Cup, the coach has an understanding of what his team needs in order to be successful.
"Eddie believes that Owen Farrell was the captain and George Ford at this current moment in time are the guys to take England from the fly-half position.
"If we were all selectors you would never get two people selecting the exact same squad. Eddie's got a clear plan, and Danny has dealt with the news well."
'Jones' Japan knowledge beneficial for England'
"He's one of the best coaches the game has seen. I was fortunate enough to work with him in 2007 with South Africa when we won the Rugby World Cup.
"I think post-2015, after a very disastrous campaign for England, Eddie has come in and gone on an incredibly successful run of winning 17 games in a row.
"They went through a bit of a slump, but they've come out the other side over the last 13 months, which has really shown the potential of this England side.
"I think what will be a lot more beneficial for them is Eddie's intricate knowledge of Japan, of Japanese rugby structures and what it takes to win there.
"England will realistically be in a position to win the competition."
'Getting to No 1 is not what Wales really want'
Wales ended New Zealand's 10-year dominance as the world's top-ranked side after England were beaten 13-6 in Cardiff earlier this month.
They stretched their winning run to 14 during a successful Six Nations campaign, which saw Warren Gatland become the first ever coach to win three Grand Slams in the Five or Six Nations era.
While it is undoubtedly a feather in the cap, and the culmination of hard graft over several years, Habana believes the top ranking counts for nothing when it comes to the real prize that is on offer.
"We've seen New Zealand fall away from the No 1 spot for the first time since 2009, and Wales have been the most consistent in world rugby over the last 24 months. They had a winning streak of 14 games, beating a lot of the top-tier nations and they're Grand Slam winners.
"What Warren Gatland has got right going into this World Cup is that he's got a depth in his squad that Wales has potentially never had before. That's really exciting.
"Without doubt they deserve to be there. Does it put a lot of pressure on them going into the World Cup? I don't think so. Gatland thrives on pressure, he thrives on achieving things.
"Given the status of where they're at, there's been incredible planning and preparation into achieving this status.
"But for them, getting to No 1 is not what they really want. Getting the trophy on November 2 is a lot more important."
Bryan Habana was speaking at an event organised by Land Rover, worldwide partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.
A team of rangers and brand ambassadors played rugby in the South African bush to celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of grassroots rugby around the world.