So it’s finally here. The 2023 Rugby World Cup finals have long been anticipated, ever since the 2019 version, really, and all followers of the sport want a tournament that might turn out to be the best yet.

This will be the tenth edition of the Cup and for the first time, the finals will be entirely hosted by France.

That fact is why I have long predicted that France will lift the William Webb Ellis Trophy in the Stade de France in Paris on October 28.  We will know pretty soon if the French can prevail because they will be meeting New Zealand on Friday in what is probably the best opening match of any World Cup, and certainly, the most anticipated since England hosted the All Blacks in the opening match of the 1991 Cup – you may recall New Zealand won that opener but it was England that advanced to the final.

In 2007 France was beaten in Paris by Argentina in an opening match that the hosts were expected to win, but nobody told the Pumas who were quite brilliant in winning 17-12, the biggest surprise result of any opening match.

Given the current state of play in the World Rugby official rankings in which France is above New Zealand, albeit by one place in 3rd, it’s fair to say that the hosts must start favourites for Friday’s opener, but the All Blacks will want to make a statement at the outset of a tournament that means everything to them. I am sure it will be a thriller, and if France win they will have accomplished something no other country has ever managed and that’s to beat the All Blacks in a pool stage match – going all the way back to the inaugural tournament in 1987, the most successful team in World Cup history has never lost in the pool stages.  History does count - they have lost twice to France in the knockout stages, but overall their record against the French is impressive and in total they’ve beaten Les Bleus 48 times against 13 losses and a draw. 

A huge task for France then, but at almost full strength and with head coach Fabien Galthie and captain Antoine Dupont – he will win his 50th cap on Friday – in their pomp, and with New Zealand still smarting from that thumping by South Africa, I take Les Bleus to triumph and go on to win the Cup. 

Regular readers will know that as a measurement of current form, I place great store on the world rankings and that’s why I do not see the opening weekend’s matches causing any huge surprises because after their recent results it would be no shock at all if Fiji (no. 7 in world rankings) beat Wales (no. 10)  or if Argentina (no. 6) beat England (no. 8), and I’m not just writing that to annoy my friends to the south of this island.

I suppose Georgia (no. 11) might have a sneak against Australia (no.9) but the Wallabies will surely have gained much-needed togetherness in their training camp, whereas Georgia’s collapse against Scotland does not augur well for them. Italy (no. 13) will surely see off Namibia (no. 21)  while Japan (no. 14) will be far too good for Chile (no. 22).  

By far the biggest surprise might involve Scotland (no. 5) in their match against the world champions South Africa (no. 2) on Sunday. Any great team can have an off day, and I well recall South Africa’s extraordinary 32-34 loss to Japan in the opening round of matches in the 2015 World Cup, when the Boks just had no spring about them.  

That Japanese win in the opening round of matches in Brighton remains the biggest shock in  World Cup history, but Scotland could rival Japan if pulling it off on Sunday, though realistically I have to say that even if South Africa are poor it will still take a monumental effort by Scotland to beat the Springboks or even get close enough to gain a bonus point.      

I will be giving my predictions as the tournament goes on, but right now all I am hoping is for a classic World Cup. I want Scotland to play well, obviously, and if my selection France don’t win it then please let Ireland crown their golden era. 

Otherwise, I hope for a tournament not besmirched by violent play, with yellow and red cards kept to minimum. Every player taking to the field in France knows the consequences of head hits and referees and television match officials plus foul play review officials will crack down on such dangerous idiocy.

There will be injuries, because they are a certainty in the modern game, but let’s hope that they are not serious. Above all, let everyone involved in the World Cup, especially the fans, enjoy it. Bring it on.