And here's where the rubber really meets the road. The three best rugby teams in the world just finished their annual slugfest, the Tri-Nations, and this time the Aussies came out on top. But the Springboks are the defending champs, and are always a threat to win it again. Let's take a closer look at them and their chances.
3. South Africa: Peter de Villiers' Boks are coming off a particularly bad Tri-Nations run, where they lost 3 out of 4 to the All Blacks and the Wallabies. The new multi-racial Springboks are always going to be under an enormous amount of pressure to succeed, but this group of brutes led by prop John Smit, lock Victor Matfield, and fullback Frans Steyn has loads of experience in high-level matches and the talent to make a significant dent in the Cup.
How They've Done: You've seen "Invictus," right? So you know the Boks won the 1995 World Cup. This win was even more significant because it was South Africa's first RWC: the Boks, as apartheid-era South Africa's sports representatives, were banned from competition in 1987 and 1991. They also won the Cup in 2007, as well as placing third in 1999 and losing to the All Blacks in the quarter-final in 2003. Overall in RWC play, South Africa have won 21 and lost 3.
How They'll Do: I hope South Africans are developing a taste for bronze. They'll have a tough go of it in pool play, with Pacific Island sides #10 Samoa and #15 Fiji and regional rival #20 Namibia as well as #6 Wales. The Boks should win out, by they'll be banged-up as a result. That won't stop them from beating Ireland in the quarter-final, but it will probably slow them down enough against New Zealand in the semi-finals to put them back in the consolation match, where they'll probably beat France to take third again. Oddsmakers have the Boks at 7 or 8:1 to win the whole thing.
Image courtesy of brandsoftheworld.com.