Robbie Deans predicts 2023 will be the best Rugby World Cup ever

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Former Wallabies and All Blacks coach Robbie Deans thinks next year’s Rugby World Cup in France will be the best ever.

There will be more teams capable of winning the title than at any previous tournament, he said, adding that the standard of rugby being played around the world is higher and more teams are competing than ever before.

“It’s going to be a great World Cup,” Deans told reporters from Tokyo. “It will be the best ever with more teams able to win. And any team that goes three in a row, from the quarters to the final and wins it, will have deserved it.

On Sunday, Deans coached the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights to victory in the Japan Rugby League One final. It was his fifth title in Japan, equaling the five he had won in Super Rugby with the Christchurch Crusaders, New Zealand. He was an assistant coach for the New Zealand All Blacks in the 2003 World Cup and coached Australia in the 2011 World Cup.

Deans considers rugby to be in something of a golden age and does not subscribe to the idea that it offers less spectacle than before.

“If we take our rose-colored glasses off to the past and look at the product that’s being made now, it’s never looked so good,” he said.

He said the Champions Cup final between French club La Rochelle and Irish powerhouse Leinster, and even the Ligue 1 final in Japan, were good examples.

“It wasn’t perfection in terms of the execution, but it was the intensity of the game and the game fluctuated,” he said. “It had everything that makes rugby great.

“There’s no set way to play and the moment it becomes that people will turn it off because they’re coming for this drama, they’re coming for this drama and I think if you go back and watch the international rugby, it was never as attractive and as fast and skillful as it is now.

Deans believes the mid-year test series between teams from the northern and southern hemispheres will give a taste of what is likely to be on offer at the World Cup. England will face a challenge in Australia and Ireland and New Zealand will play a “fascinating” three-Test series.

“There are no Australian teams going to England in Australia, so it’s going to be fine,” he said. New Zealand’s home series against Ireland, he added, “will be a ripper”.

Deans says since rugby turned professional in 1995 the All Blacks have been more dominant than anyone could have expected. But that dominance faded a bit as other teams learned to blunt the All Blacks’ attacking play while improving their own games.

The level of rugby in the Northern Hemisphere has risen, equaling or even surpassing the Southern Hemisphere where the loss of South African Super Rugby teams has impacted standards. Teams from the northern hemisphere also became familiar with the All Blacks style of play and learned how to counter it.

“I think New Zealand went into the last World Cup thinking speed was going to be their point of difference, but it was blunted in the end,” he said. “You can’t be one-dimensional now.”

Northern Hemisphere teams are “standing up,” Deans said. “They have a better command of the All Blacks. The All Blacks have led the pack for a long time, so they’ve been chosen and the teams have broken down their game, made life more difficult and more consistently competitive.

But, Deans said, the All Blacks have the ability to reinvent themselves as they have often done in the past.

“They will be looking to find a point of difference, a point of advantage and they are good at that,” he said. “What is evident in professional play is that the quality of play is improving internationally. You can watch any team and they can all attack.

“There is good attacking rugby and whoever wins the World Cup will have to play positively.”

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