So who do you think will win? Owen Slot canvasses opinion from rugby experts around the world

Rugby union World Cup
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The Independent Online
Naas Botha

Former Springbok captain

THE TEAM that wins the first game between us and Australia is definitely going to reach the final. The team that loses won't. We have got home advantage, but we've never played in a World Cup. There again, maybe Australia will be over-confident. It's a hard one.

Australia have a guy like Michael Lynagh who can run the game, but we are still looking for such a man in South Africa. Hennie le Roux is probably first-choice stand-off, but his side Transvaal lost recently to Queensland and Western Samoa which does not suggest he can turn the game. However, they might give Joel Stransky the nod, but nobody knows. We also don't know who our centres are going to be; that doesn't bode well. The other teams know who their first XV is. Nevertheless, I'll still be patriotic: my money will go on South Africa, with New Zealand the losing finalists.

One to watch: Rob Andrew. Someone who can determine where the World Cup will finish.

Grant Fox

Former All Black stand-off

THIS IS the most open contest of all three World Cups - five teams are capable of winning it. Some people don't believe in France, but they've got a good draw, will probably play Wales or Ireland in the quarters and from then, anything can happen. If France are in the semis, their confidence will be high, and that would be dangerous.

However, my heart and my head say the All Blacks will do it. The side that has the dominant tight five will win; the All Blacks have arguably the smallest tight five but probably the most mobile. If you play smart rugby, you can overcome a small line-out just as the we did in the third Test against the Lions in 1993 when we made sure it was them who put the ball out, and we managed to win a good share of our throw.

The All Blacks had a bad year in 1986 and won the tournament the following year; the same could happen again.

One to watch: Andrew Mehrtens, the All Black stand-off. Outstandingly gifted.

Mike Teague

Former England back-row

ENGLAND are definitely good enough to go the whole way. If they can reproduce the form that they showed in the First Test in South Africa last summer, they've got no problems. The thing about a World Cup is it is a different experience, a one-off. And also, players who have not experienced rugby in South Africa before are in for a shock. But England are very experienced in both respects and on top of that, we've got an advantage in that we've just come out of the Five Nations.

Having been there a few times, I favour the home team after England. Rugby is the major sport there and the players will be dying to please. Also, the South Africans have grasped every tour possible with one thing in mind - to win the World Cup. The All Blacks are my dark horses, but my order is England, South Africa, Australia then New Zealand.

One to watch: Jonah Lomu, the All Black. See him once and you realise that you'd never want to run into him.

Mark Ella

Former Australian stand-off

I THINK Australia can do it, even though they probably aren't as good as they were in 1991. They've got a lot of players who were younger and fresher four years ago, but are just holding on for this one. But I don't think New Zealand and France are as good as they were four years ago, only England have had a good build-up to this contest.

Whoever plays the best 15-man game will win. England's problem is that from the second, third and fourth phase, they play too far behind the gain line - Rob Andrew plays too deep. I think England will be found out because of this and will revert to a kicking game and that won't win them the Cup. The All Blacks meanwhile don't have any perception of how to create a second, third or fourth phase play. The Australians play better across the advantage line than any others, and that is why they could win.

One to watch: John Eales. Without him winning the line-out ball, Australia will struggle.

Norman Hadley

Canadian international

I'M GOING with South Africa - they are only third favourites, so would be good for the punters. They looked tremendously strong over here on tour in the wet conditions, so in conditions that they are used to, they are going to be even tougher. My feeling then is that the order will be South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and maybe England.

England are going to find it very tough once they are out of their pool; I think the conditions will work against them. They may have learnt from last summer's tour, but I just don't think they are going to have enough.

South Africa, though, will rise to the occasion. Their British tour in the autumn was the time to see if they had it, and they really came together. Their pack is outstanding, Mark Andrews can give Martin Bayfield a run for his money in the line-out, and in the back row, they have some really big, powerful runners.

One to watch: Jonah Lomu, the All Black. He can play wing or flanker and is monstrous.

Alan Davies

Former Wales coach

ENGLAND are probably in the right frame of mind, particularly after the Carling incident which will have cemented the team even more than it was before. And you can't underestimate the South Africans, who have learnt a lot very quickly, or the Australians who will be very good in that climate. I'll go with New Zealand, though. I think they are smarting after their performances of the last two years. If their players, particularly the loose forwards, get their act together and play their hard, rucking game, I think they can do it. Like a lot of countries in their position, they are looking for someone to give them a spark and Andrew Mehrtens is possibly that man.

I do hope that Wales get to the quarter-finals; that will be a good achievement for them. But I can't see them in the same light as these other teams - not in South Africa.

One to watch: Andre Joubert, the Springbok full-back. The most exciting player in world rugby I've seen in recent years.

Trevor McDonald

ITV's World Cup anchorman

IF YOU listen to the South Africans, then you'll believe that nobody is going to beat them. I've been here in South Africa for a week now and there's an amazing amount of national support for the team which is all to do with the fact that they are back after so many years in the cold. There's so much enthusiasm here, it is quite extraordinary, it's as if their prayers have been fulfilled, the whole country seems to have been converted to a World Cup religion. The point they are making now is that the last World Cup didn't mean anything because they weren't in it.

However, my one, two, three is Australia, New Zealand, England. New Zealand have such an easy run that they are a good bet. Conversely, England have a very tough run-in - on consecutive Saturdays they would have to beat South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. That's almost impossible.

One to watch: I'm a great Campese fan. I think everything he does is almost God-like.

Keith Floyd

TV chef and rugby fanatic

IT'S GOING to be an England v France final. France are the wild cards. They had such a disappointing Five Nations, but they beat New Zealand and Australia recently so I'd take a long bet on them being in the final. England should win it, though. I want them to win, obviously, but their first three games are quite soft which is tough. I've got another worrying prediction, however, that someone is going to take out Rob Andrew in the quarter-finals. The South Africans are going to be so desperate to win, and they and the Australians are not known as kind-hearted people, and they all know that Rob has a match-winning boot.

But still, I'll go on England beating France in the final. I've had some outrageously chancy bets. Last year I got Wales beating France and Ireland beating England; this year I got Gloucester beating Leicester and Orrell drawing with Bath. So I'm going on this one, too.

One to watch: Mike Catt. Man of the tournament.

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