2023 New Zealand All Blacks vs South Africa

Intense Rugby World Cup Pool B Sees Three Top Teams Battle For Two Spots

Intense Rugby World Cup Pool B Sees Three Top Teams Battle For Two Spots

Discover Rugby World Cup Pool B Prediction: A fierce battle with the top 5 teams in the pool of death. Get insights for thrilling matches! #RWC2023

Sep 2, 2023 by Philip Bendon
Intense Rugby World Cup Pool B Sees Three Top Teams Battle For Two Spots

Next up in our Rugby World Cup 2023 Pool Preview Series is Pool B, which has been affectionately dubbed “The Pool Of Death.”

Playing host to three teams ranked among the top 5 in the world, there has never been more on the line across a set of pool matches in the tournament’s history. 

Starting Round 1 with a bang, reigning world champions South Africa will tackle a red-hot Scottish side at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille. 

Crucially, this fixture will define the complexion of the pool ahead of both sides' clashes with world No. 1 Ireland in Round 3 and Round 4. 

For the loser of this fixture, a win against Ireland will be non-negotiable, while for the winner, it would offer a sliver of breathing space. 

In addition to the "big three" in this pool, is the wild card of the group in South Pacific powerhouse Tonga. 

Stacked to the gills with quality, including a sprinkling of former All Blacks and Wallabies, the men in red will leave their mark on this pool. 

Physically, there are few tougher sides within the game than the Tongans, who will fancy their chances to cause an upset or two en route to what would be a historic quarterfinal appearance. 

Completing the group is European qualifier Romania, which will be out to make some memories for a country that has seen the sport take a backward step in recent seasons. Bringing joy to their fans will be the no. 1 goal for this side, which has a unique opportunity to give Romanian Rugby the shot in the arm it desperately needs. 


The No. 1 team in the world entered the tournament buoyed by a historic run of 13 consecutive victories. 

Crucially, this run includes victories over every major competitor the Irish are set to face at the tournament, including back-to-back away victories over former boogey team the All Blacks, plus a Six Nations Grand Slam title. 

Simply put, Ireland is just about the toughest side in World Rugby to prepare for, given its ability to morph from one style of play to another at a moment’s notice. 

Unlike in previous World Cup cycles, Ireland is not entering this tournament on a downward trajectory but rather on one where their game continually is developing. Above all else, however, is the unwavering self-belief instilled in the team by talismanic head coach Andy Farrell and iconic captain Johnny Sexton. 

While their chequered past with the tournament looms large, this squad has been open about their intentions to lay waste to all before them and embrace the challenge that has stumped every Irish team previously. 

To openly state this ambition would have been close to committing treason in previous cycles and would have had media types writing elongated think pieces about Irish arrogance. Yet, given the fact that they have answered any question put to them under Farrell, who would bet against them? 

Take into account their pool layout, which starts with the two “easier” fixtures against Romania and Tonga, before their tournament starts in earnest against South Africa and Scotland. And one gets a picture of a run that dovetails nicely toward what will be a titanic knockout fixture against either France or New Zealand. 

South Africa

The reigning world champions look every bit like title contenders once again, as they enter the tournament on cloud nine, having handed both Wales and New Zealand heavy defeats. 

Though many would’ve expected the Welsh result given the trajectory of the two teams, handing their greatest rivals, the All Blacks, a record defeat was something few saw coming. 

Outside of perhaps Ireland’s series victory in 2022, never has a side made the All Blacks look so ordinary. 

In front of a sold-out crowd of 82,000 at Twickenham Stadium in London, the Springboks dragged their Kiwi rivals to deep water from which there was no escape, implementing a revolutionary new substitute bench consisting of seven forwards. 

Picking up from where their starters left off, the Bok reinforcements battered the All Blacks at the point of contact, who, outside of a moment of brilliance from replacement scrumhalf Cam Roigard, would have remained scoreless. 

Nevertheless, a 35-7 drubbing of one of their main competitors for the World Cup had a two-pronged effect. 

Firstly, the confidence boost they will carry into the tournament could prove invaluable. On the flip side, the psychological damage it placed on rivals, namely the All Blacks, will linger. 

Above all else, this Springboks pack, outside of perhaps fly-half, has more strength-in-depth than any other team in the tournament. Possessing at least three high-quality options in each position across the park, this Boks side is built for the attritional nature of a World Cup. 


Simply put, this is the best Scottish team of the professional era. 

Bursting at the seams with quality, in particular, across the backline, Gregor Townsend’s side enters the tournament as the first Scottish side since the 1990s with a realistic chance of putting together a deep playoff run. 

Yet, for all of this positivity, the Rugby gods have not been kind to the North Men, as they enter Pool B as the consensus third-best team in the group. 

Had the draw been kinder to Scotland, it almost certainly would have been the favorite in either Pool C or D. However, that is not the way the cookie crumbled, and now the pressure is on for the Scots to upset two sides that historically have had their number. 

In their last 10 head-to-head matches against Ireland and South Africa, the Scots have been victorious on just one occasion each.

Last beating Ireland in 2017, Scotland’s record against its cross-channel rival is uninspiring, to say the least. 

Against the Springboks, it is even more difficult reading for Scottish fans, as their side has not beaten the South Africans since 2010. 

Yet, despite what reads like a horror novel from the pen of Edgar Allan Poe, there remains a belief that this Scotland side can upset the apple cart in France. Of course, it will not be easy, nor will their clash with an immensely physical Tongan side. 

But, if all the talk coming from both within the camp and from their fan base is to become a reality, now is the time to pull it off. 

Pulling the strings once again will be talismanic fly-half Finn Russell, who at 30-years-old, is hitting his peak as a playmaker. For so long, the pied-piper of Scottish Rugby, Russell has shown a maturity to his game over the past 18 months that offers his teammates much-needed stability to go along with his moments of magic. 


To call Tonga a potential upset waiting to happen does not do the South Pacific Islanders justice. 

The men in red, while unlikely to have the depth to win the whole tournament, are a quality outfit capable of pushing toward the knockouts. 

For this dream to become a reality, Tonga will need to beat at least two of the “big three.” While certainly possible, this is a big ask; however, knocking over one of these three is a very real possibility. 

Up first is Ireland, which will be faced with the fine balance of managing its squad ahead of two titanic clashes against the Springboks and Scotland. Could the Tongans catch the world’s top-ranked side napping and pull off the upset? Possibly, and they will take great heart from their Pacific neighbor Samoa, which pushed an albeit second-string Ireland to the brink in Bayonne during the World Cup warm-ups. 

In reality, one gets the feeling the most likely “upset” will come a week later against Scotland, which, like Ireland, will be looking to manage its players following what will be a bruising encounter against the Boks and ahead of what could be a crunch clash with the Irish. 

Of the big three, the one side which, at the present moment, looks untouchable, is the Springboks, who have a simply gargantuan side capable of bulldozing any opposition. 

While an upset over the Boks would be magnificent, one gets the feeling the Tongans are targeting the two Six Nations sides. 

Should they pull off one or two of these fixtures, then their final-round clash against Romania will be an opportunity to run up a big score, while rotating their squad. 

As this column will have made clear, Tonga is a punter's dream, capable of pulling off a major upset, but in reality, the odds are stacked against them. 


Hands down the weakest side in this group, the Romanians have a long history with the World Cup but have never progressed past the pool stages. 

Of their eight previous appearances, Romania has won one game in the pool on six occasions, with two winless campaigns also on their record. 

Having been disqualified for fielding an illegible player during the qualification process for the 2019 tournament, Romania's return comes as Spain was disqualified from qualifying for also fielding ineligible players. 

In short, the Romanians are cannon fodder for four strong teams, and their primary goal will be to push their opponents and score tries. Unfortunately, it does not take much to view the worst-case scenario in which one of the big sides puts a record score past them. 


This pool is a three-horse race, and no doubt the most competitive of the bunch and, as such, is the most likely to see a team top the group without a 100% win rate. 

Currently, the odds on favorites are the Springboks, whose pedigree in the tournament is second to none, with three titles to their name. However, Ireland has shown in recent years an ability like few others to match the Springboks' physicality.

Possessing six wins from their last 10 head to head with the Boks, including a victory in the republic, Ireland will not fear the Boks. 

Scotland, as touched upon above, has the feel of a team on the verge of greatness but, in reality, has yet to show an ability to handle the powerful packs of Ireland and South Africa. 

Tonga could throw this group into disarray, but it would take a gargantuan effort to do so, while Romania will be an easy five points for every team in the group. 

Given its consistency over the past two years and a generally healthy squad, Ireland will top this group, albeit narrowly over the Springboks. This will mean that Scotland loses both of its big fixtures and leaves a tournament in which it could have done so much early. 

In the end, Pool B will head shake out as: 

  1. Ireland

  2. South Africa

  3. Scotland

  4. Tonga

  5. Romania