Rugby Union: ...And here are the headlines for 1999

Independent writers play the prediction game
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The Independent Online
ACCORDING TO proponents of the more apocalyptic religious faiths, we will all be dead by the end of 1999. On the basis that they may conceivably have to wait a very long time - an eternity, indeed - for another shot at the golden pot, it would be as well for England to win the World Cup at the next available opportunity, which just happens to present itself this coming autumn. Can they succeed? Yes, they can. Will they succeed? Er, probably not.

The suspicion must be that Clive Woodward's side will require too many big performances - more than one, that is - in too tight a timespan to go the whole hog. New Zealand and those notable non-pushovers from Italy are already confirmed as pool opponents and Tonga also enter the English equation if, as expected, they win the qualifying repechage. It is, without question, the most competitive of the groups and the damage it causes will probably leave either South Africa or Australia laughing all the way to the title.

On the face of it, England ought to find the final Five Nations' Championship much more to their liking, if only because the French must travel to Twickenham. However, there is a very real prospect of a seriously combative tournament this time around. Wales, Scotland and Ireland all had their moments against the Springboks recently and if they are still too dependant on the "if only" theory of rugby to lend legitimacy to talk of a celtic renaissance, they are not beyond upsetting a few applecarts. The Irish welcome both England and France to Lansdowne Road, so hold on to your hats.

Leicester will never have a better chance of winning the Premiership; neither Northampton nor Newcastle possess sufficient all-round pace to sustain a challenge into April and May and although the three big London powers - Wasps, Saracens and Harlequins - are comfortably quick enough, the Cup is a more realistic target for each.

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