Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Luke McLaughlin

Rugby World Cup 2023: Pool C guide

From left: Mikheil Gachechiladze of Georgia, Samu Kerevi of Australia, Waisea Nayacalevu of Fiji, Liam Williams of Wales and Tomás Appleton of Portugal.
From left: Mikheil Gachechiladze of Georgia, Samu Kerevi of Australia, Waisea Nayacalevu of Fiji, Liam Williams of Wales and Tomás Appleton of Portugal. Composite: Guardian Design

This is regarded as the more forgiving side of the draw but nothing seems to come easy for Wales or Australia lately. Both sides would have hoped for a more encouraging buildup although it is Wales’s recent history that has been more unsettling. During the Six Nations in February, the players threatened to strike over a contractual dispute with the Welsh Rugby Union. Industrial action was ultimately averted but the related issues have not gone away.

Results have been equally worrying since Warren Gatland arrived for a second spell as head coach in December. Wales came fifth in the Six Nations, managing a solitary win against Italy in Rome, and their warm-up itinerary produced a home victory against England before a narrow defeat by them at Twickenham. A humbling 52-16 loss to South Africa in Cardiff did nothing for collective confidence but they are hardly alone in that.

The good news is the squad is sprinkled with inspirational and experienced performers who will add plenty of value. Wales also have a coach who has specialised in being smart when the stakes are high.

Wales kick off against Fiji in Bordeaux on 10 September and the Pacific Islanders will be bubbling after defeating England for the first time. Could a repeat of Nantes in 2007 be on the cards? While they will expect to beat Portugal next up, there will be nothing guaranteed against Australia in Lyon (24 September) or a powerful Georgia in Nantes (7 October).

Australia’s head coach, Eddie Jones, boarded the plane to France having issued an airport rant against the country’s “negative” rugby media, thanking them sarcastically for “the worst press conference of my career”. Good vibes are seemingly hard to come by, especially with the Wallabies winless in five since the man who took them to the 2003 final returned. Long-serving players such as Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper were left at home and Jones has made noises about building for 2027. Like England fans before them, Australia supporters would like to see progress now. There have been positive signs, though, and a quarter-final against England is a tantalising possibility for all concerned (except, perhaps, Bill Sweeney of the Rugby Football Union).

Georgia will throw everything at the Wallabies in Paris on 9 September – Levan Maisashvili’s team further proved their worth to the global game by beating Wales late last year and an opening-weekend shock at Stade de France would put the last eight in their sights. Fiji’s remarkable Twickenham victory illustrates that Wales and Australia will need to be at their best against Simon Raiwalui’s improving side. After their dramatic qualification as the tournament’s 20th team, against USA in Dubai last year, Portugal will strive for competitiveness in their second Rugby World Cup, having also made it to France in 2007.

Key match: Wales v Australia

Fiji and Georgia’s potency means either may well force themselves into the last-eight reckoning, but it is still difficult to look past Gatland v Jones on 24 September as the decisive encounter.

Wales – world ranking 10

Head coach Warren Gatland Co-captains Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake RWC best Third 1987

Key player Liam Williams, self-proclaimed “professional bomb defuser”, one of the most impressive and intelligent full-backs in the game.

George North, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny have more than 100 caps, while Liam Williams is an assured presence under the high ball and clinical and imaginative in attack. Losing the veteran front-row Ken Owens to injury means Wales will be co-captained by Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake after the great Alun Wyn Jones announced his retirement from internationals. Gatland has some strong alternatives to call on such as the 21-year-old Christ Tshiunza in the pack: the Exeter forward can play in the back row or at lock. Biggar is superb at controlling from fly-half.

Dan Biggar is a key influence for Wales. Photograph: Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans/Shutterstock


Taine Basham (13 caps) Dragons; Adam Beard (47) Ospreys; Elliot Dee (43) Dragons; Corey Domachowski (2) Cardiff; Ryan Elias (34) Scarlets; Taulupe Faletau (100) Cardiff; Tomas Francis (72) Provence; Dafydd Jenkins (7) Exeter; Dewi Lake (9) Ospreys; Dillon Lewis (51) Harlequins; Dan Lydiate (71) Dragons; Jac Morgan (11) Ospreys; Tommy Reffell (10) Leicester; Will Rowlands (25) Dragons; Nicky Smith (44) Ospreys; Gareth Thomas (22) Ospreys; Henry Thomas (2) Montpellier; Christ Tshiunza (7) Exeter; Aaron Wainwright (39) Dragons.


Josh Adams (50) Cardiff; Gareth Anscombe (35) Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath; Dan Biggar (109) Toulon; Sam Costelow (4) Scarlets; Gareth Davies (69) Scarlets; Rio Dyer (9) Dragons; Mason Grady (4) Cardiff; Leigh Halfpenny (100) unattached; George North (114) Ospreys; Louis Rees-Zammit (27) Gloucester; Nick Tompkins (28) Saracens; Johnny Williams (6) Scarlets; Liam Williams (85) Kubota Spears; Tomos Williams (48) Cardiff.

Australia – world ranking 9

Head coach Eddie Jones Captain Will Skelton RWC best Champions 1991, 1999

Key player Samu Kerevi, a hard-running centre who will be essential in getting them on the front foot in attack.

Eddie Jones has rolled the dice with his youthful selection and seems to be fostering a siege mentality among the squad by insisting that everyone, particularly the Australia media, has written the Wallabies off. Handing the captaincy to the La Rochelle lock Will Skelton also carries risk – the multiple Champions Cup winner revealed he didn’t want the job initially but that Jones persuaded him. It will be fascinating to see if Jones and his young squad can make a success of the campaign: the man who masterminded Japan’s victory against South Africa in 2015 surely has a chance of producing something spectacular.

Eddie Jones will hope to take his young squad far.
Eddie Jones will hope to take his young squad far. Photograph: Adam Pretty/World Rugby/Getty Images


Richie Arnold (4 caps) Toulouse; Angus Bell (23) NSW Waratahs; Pone Fa’amausili (5) Melbourne Rebels; Matt Faessler (1) Queensland Reds; Nick Frost (12) ACT Brumbies; Langi Gleeson (3) NSW Waratahs; Tom Hooper (3) ACT Brumbies; Rob Leota (16) Melbourne Rebels; Fraser McReight (12) Queensland Reds; Zane Nonggorr (2) Queensland Reds; Matt Philip (28) Melbourne Rebels; David Porecki (14) NSW Waratahs; Blake Schoupp (uncapped) ACT Brumbies; Will Skelton (28); La Rochelle; James Slipper (131) ACT Brumbies; Taniela Tupou (48) Queensland Reds; Jordan Uelese (18) Melbourne Rebels; Rob Valetini (34) ACT Brumbies.


Ben Donaldson (2) NSW Waratahs; Issak Fines-Leleiwasa (uncapped) Western Force; Lalakai Foketi (5) NSW Waratahs; Carter Gordon (4) Melbourne Rebels; Max Jorgensen (uncapped) NSW Waratahs;
Andrew Kellaway (23) Melbourne Rebels; Josh Kemeny (1) Melbourne Rebel; Samu Kerevi (45) Urayasu D-Rocks; Marika Koroibete (55) Saitama Wild Knights; Tate McDermott (25) Queensland Reds; Mark Nawaqanitawase (6) NSW Waratahs; Izaia Perese (5) NSW Waratahs;
Jordan Petaia (27)  Queensland Reds; Suliasi Vunivalu (2) Queensland Reds; Nic White (63) ACT Brumbies

Georgia – world ranking 11

Head coach Levan Maisashvili Captain Merab Sharikadze RWC best Pool stage

Key player The fly-half Luka Matkava kicked Georgia to victory against Wales in Cardiff last year. Could he repeat the trick?

The magnificent victory in Cardiff hastened Wayne Pivac’s departure, but more significantly provided further evidence of Georgia’s continuing upward curve and their increasingly persuasive case for a shot at the Six Nations. A big couple of months for Georgia, then – encouraging wins came against Romania (56-6) and USA (22-7), before a 33-6 defeat by Scotland in their final hit-out, although they led 6-0 at half-time. The former Wasps and England back-row Joe Worsley is on board as defence coach and a powerful scrum will be a worry for every team in the pool.


Nika Abuladze (12 caps) Exeter; Vladimer Chachanidze (13) Névers; Nodar Cheishvili (48) Black Lion; Mikheil Gachechiladze (19) Black Lion; Beka Gigashvili (21) Toulon; Guram Gogichashvili (49) Racing 92; Beka Gorgadze (48) Pau; Luka Ivanishvili (7) Black Lion; Lasha Jaiani (28) Névers; Tornike Jalagonia (34) Biarritz; Luka Japaridze (12) Montpellier; Konstantine Mikautadze (89) Bayonne; Shalva Mamukashvili (100) Black Lion; Mikheil Nariashvili (74) Black Lion; Luka Nioradze (6) Aurillac; Guram Papidze (15) Racing 92; Beka Saginadze (46) Toulon; Giorgi Tsutskiridze (41) Stade Français; Tengiz Zamtaradze (11) Black Lion.


Gela Aprasidze (62) Bayonne; Tedo Abzhandadze (57) Montauban; Tornike Kakhoidze (15) Black Lion; Lasha Khmaladze (119) Black Lion; Giorgi Kveseladze (63) Gloucester; Vasil Lobzhanidze (87) Brive; Luka Matkava (9) Black Lion; Miriani Modebadze (39) Black Lion; Davit Niniashvili (24) Lyon; Tengiz Peranidze (1) Black Lion; Merab Sharikadze (102) Black Lion; Akaki Tabutsadze (34) Lelo Saracens; Demur Tapladze (38) Black Lion; Aleksandre Todua (136) Black Lion.

Fiji – world ranking 7

Head coach Simon Raiwalui Captain Waisea Nayacalevu RWC best Quarter-finals 1987, 2007

Key player Levani Botia’s intimidating power and pace is a seriously potent weapon, evidenced by La Rochelle’s recent Champions Cup successes.

Simon Raiwalui was appointed in February and has already registered one of Fiji’s best results, a first victory against England in eight attempts, taking them a place above England in the world rankings. Fiji have worked hard on their fitness and are developing into an all-round side who go far beyond the traditional, cliched view of a Pacific Island outfit (that is, comfortable throwing the ball around but leaky defensively and indifferent in the set-piece). Game breakers such as Levani Botia, Josua Tuisova and Semi Radradra are the type of players to give defenders nightmares.

Selestino Ravutaumada
Selestino Ravutaumada of Fiji celebrates with fans at Twickenham after the nation’s first ever victory over England. Photograph: Steve Bardens/RFU/The RFU Collection/Getty Images


Levani Botia (77 caps) Stade Rochelais; Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta (5) Fijian Drua; Meli Derenalagi (102) Fijian Drua; Mesake Doge (24) Dragons; Tevita Ikanivere (22) Fijian Drua; Jone Koroiduadua (2) Fijian Drua; Eroni Mawi (41) Saracens; Sam Matavesi (30) Northampton; Temo Mayanavanua (27) Lyon; Viliame Mata (77) Edinburgh; Vilive Miramira (11) Fijian Drua; Isoa Nasilasila (12) Fijian Drua;Luke Tagi (26) Provence Rugby; Lekima Tagitagivalu (8) Pau; Samu Tawake (7) Fijian Drua; Zuriel Togiatama (3) Fijian Drua; Albert Tuisue (25) Gloucester; Peni Ravai (54) Queensland Reds.


Ilaisa Droasese (12) Fijian Drua; Vinaya Habosi (8) Fijian Drua; Simione Kuruvoli (28) Fijian Drua; Frank Lomani (40) Fijian Drua; Sireli Maqala (16) Bayonne); Iosefo Masi (16) Fijian Drua; Peni Matawalu (15) Fijian Drua; Caleb Muntz (18) Fijian Drua; Waisea Nayacalevu (82) Toulon; Semi Radradra (43) Bristol; Kalaveti Ravouvou (7) Fijian Drua; Selestino Ravutaumada (4) Fijian Drua; Teti Tela (13) Fijian Drua; Josua Tuisova (45) Racing 92; Jiuta Wainiqolo (21) Toulon.

Portugal – world ranking 16

Head coach Patrice Lagisquet Captain Tomás Appleton RWC best Pool stage, 2007

Key player Rodrigo Marta can play on the wing or outside centre and is their most prolific points-scorer, including four tries in a win over Poland this year.

If Portugal experience anything as dramatic or satisfying as the manner they clinched qualification for France, it will be quite a tournament for them. A late kick by the scrum-half, Samuel Marques, clinched a 16-16 draw against USA in Dubai, a result that pointed to the fast-changing state of the game, and the need to further encourage emerging nations. “It’s hard to explain, it’s one of the best feelings in the world,” said the captain, Tomás Appleton, after the game. The head coach, Patrice Lagisquet, scored 20 tries in 46 appearances for France.


Anthony Alves (32 caps) Mont Marsan; Martim Belo (10) GDS Cascais; Francisco Bruno (27) GD Direito; Lionel Campergue (21) Rugby Bassin Dárcathon; Steevy Cerqueira (12) Chambery; David Costa (33) GD Direito; Thibault de Freitas (31) Club Municipal Floriac Rugby; Duarte Diniz (38) GD Direito; João Granate (35) GD Direito; Diogo Hasse Ferreira (40) US Dax; Francisco Fernandes (45) Bezier; António Machado Santos (2) CF Belenenses; José Madeira (35) Grenoble; Nicolas Martins (9) SA XV Charente Rugby; Manuel Picão (23) GD Direito; Rafael Simões (29) CDUL; Mike Tadjer (32) Perpignan; Duarte Torgal (22) GD Direito; David Wallis (39) CF Belenenses.


Tomás Appleton (85) CDUL; João Belo (88) CDUP); Simão Bento (15) Mont Marsan; Pedro Bettencourt (21) Oyonnax Rugby; Nuno Sousa Guedes (131) CDUP; Pedro Lucas (20) CF Belenenses; José Lima (71) Narbonne; Samuel Marques (23) Carcassone; Rodrigo Marta (44) US Dax; Joris Moura (3) Valence Romans; Manuel Cardoso Pinto (37) AEIS Agronomia; Vincent Pinto (23) Pau; Jerónimo Portela (31) GD Direito; Raffaelle Storti (31) Bezier.


9 September Australia v Georgia, Paris, 5pm
10 September Wales v Fiji, Bordeaux, 8pm
16 September Wales v Portugal, Nice, 4.45pm
17 September Australia v Fiji, Saint-Étienne, 4.45pm
23 September Georgia v Portugal, Toulouse, 1pm
24 September Wales v Australia, Lyon, 8pm
30 September Fiji v Georgia, Bordeaux, 4.45pm
1 October Australia v Portugal, Saint-Étienne, 4.45pm
7 October Wales v Georgia, Nantes, 2pm
8 October Fiji v Portugal, Toulouse, 8pm

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.