The countdown to Rugby World Cup 2023 has entered its final weeks, with excitement ramping up across the globe.
Can France reign supreme at home? Will the Springboks or All Blacks lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a record fourth time? Can Ireland continue their run at the top of the world rankings and be a factor at the World Cup for the first time?
All will be revealed over the coming couple of months. For now, read on as we preview Pool B!
Coach: Jacques Nienaber
Captain: Siya Kolisi
Also known as: the Springboks.
Best finish: Champions [1995, 2007, 2019]
How they qualified: Defending champions
Build-up: Jacques Nienaber was among the first coaches to name his World Cup squad - where Handre Pollard, Lukhanyo Am and Lood de Jager were the big omissions -- despite having two final warmup games to consider his options. That followed a 3-1 start to the year, when South Africa had beaten Argentina [twice] and Australia, but lost to the All Blacks in New Zealand. Meanwhile, Skipper Siya Kolisi made an incredible return from a knee injury in a recent thumping of Wales, before the Boks then travelled to Twickenham for another crack at New Zealand. The result? A crushing, statement-making 35-7 win that showed South Africa has all bases covered ahead of World Cup kickoff. There have been some concerns around fly-half Manie Libok's goal kicking, but the youngster will be better for the warmup games in recent weeks.
Player to watch: Canan Moodie. The 20-year-old winger burst onto the international rugby scene in 2022, scoring a memorable try against the Wallabies in Sydney. Blessed with a potent mix of size and speed, Moodie is a threat both with ball in hand and in the air, which is vital to a Springboks team that will use the box kick of scrum-half Faf de Klerk. If you're looking for a recent example of what Moodie can do, check out the Springboks' crushing 52-16 win over Wales or the weekend's thrashing of the All Blacks when Moodie started at centre. He looms as one of the breakout stars of the tournament.
Expectation: It's hard to see how the Springboks could lose to both Ireland and Scotland, despite the respective talents of both of those teams. Where it gets interesting for South Africa will be the quarterfinals, so long as they qualify, where they are likely to face either France or New Zealand. It may be that's where the rigours of a difficult pool catches up with them, or has the reverse effect and has steeled the Springboks for a blockbuster clash with one of the tournament favourites. But there is no doubting they enter the tournament in red-hot form and play the kind of rugby that wins knockout matches at the World Cup. Springboks fans will expect their team to win it all in France, creating a piece of World Cup history as the first team to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on four occasions.
Coach: Andy Farrell
Captain: Jonny Sexton
Also known as: -
Best finish: Quarterfinalists
How they qualified: Quarterfinalists from 2019
Build-up: Ireland will enter the World Cup brimming with confidence, having added three further victories to their Six Nations Grand Slam earlier in the year. As a result, they have won 14 straight Tests, having beaten everyone from world rugby's top 10, except for Argentina, who coincidentally have proven a thorn in the side of Ireland in previous World Cups. The only real issue Ireland have had to manage has been the absence of playmaker and skipper Jonny Sexton, who was banned for three weeks for verbally abusing the officials after the European Champions Cup final. Given his ailing body at age 37, however, that may well have been a blessing in disguise. Ireland play an organised, efficient style of rugby that is built around Sexton, a mobile forward pack and then has classy finishers like Mack Hansen and Hugo Keenan out wide.
Player to watch: Josh van der Flier. The reigning World Rugby Player of the Year highlights a generational group of Irish talent that has hit even greater heights under Andy Farrell. A pest at the breakdown, workhorse defender and underrated carrier, van der Flier is the prototype for a modern back-rower who contributes in every facet of the game. If Ireland are to advance past the quarterfinals for the first time, you can guarantee van der Flier will have put in a significant shift.
Expectation: They are the world's No. 1 ranked team, who have hit new heights under Farrell, yet still there will be a nagging feeling among Irish fans when the World Cup kicks off. That is, of course, that Ireland have never progressed beyond the quarterfinals of a Rugby World Cup. Surely this is the year then, right? There's no guarantee when you consider that they may well face a do-or-die clash in their final pool game against Scotland, and then a quarterfinal with either France or the All Blacks a week later, so you can understand why Irish fans won't be taking anything for granted. Ireland are one of the big losers from the ridiculous World Cup draw of 2020, but their confidence has never been so high after a history-making series win in New Zealand and a Six Nations Grand Slam. As a result, anything but a trip to the final in France must be seen as wasted opportunity. It may well be some time before Ireland build a squad quite like the one they have right now.
Coach: Gregor Townsend
Captain: Jamie Ritchie
Also known as: -
Best finish: Semifinalists 
How they qualified: Third placed pool finishers
Build-up: Scottish rugby has seldom been this settled since the turn of professionalism, nor inspired feelings of such optimism and genuine belief. Having resolved previous difficulties with star player Finn Russell, Townsend has a familiar playing group at his disposal, one that secured third place in this year's Six Nations, and has been drawn from improved Scottish pathways and also shrewdly recruited from abroad under World Rugby's eligibility laws. The only real setback was the shock retirement of fullback Stuart Hogg, but such has been the emergence of Blair Kinghorn, that too does not appear as big of an issue as it might have 12 months ago. Scotland warmed up for the World Cup by beating Italy and Georgia, and sharing a two-Test series with France one apiece.
Player to watch: You really can't go past fly-half Finn Russell, who is one of world rugby's genuine box-office, you-just-can't-look-away, talents. Now that his beef with Townsend has been settled - it's incredible to think Russell was originally overlooked for the 2022 Autumn Nations Series - Russell has the freedom to play as only he can, the Scot ensuring opposition defences must always be on their toes. It can sometimes blow back in Scotland's face, but when Russell is on he is a joy to watch, a player who can almost single-handedly win his team a game of Test rugby. He is also one of the more reliable goal kickers headed to France.
Expectation: No one is cursing World Rugby's decision to stage its World Cup draw three years out from the tournament more than Scotland. The world's fifth-ranked nation have landed alongside Ireland and South Africa, two teams they have struggled against in recent times, and face an uphill battle to advance to the quarterfinals as a result. Battling the Springboks first up, is potentially a good result, and perhaps the secret to a win over the South Africans lies in Japan's Miracle of Brighton from 2015. If the Scots do advance from Pool B, that will be an achievement all on its own.
Coach: Toutai Kefu
Captain: Sonatane Takulua
Also known as: Ikale Tahi [Sea Eagles]
Best finish: Third in pool [2007, 2011; two wins]
How they qualified: Asia/Pacific +1
Build-up: After a baron couple of years when they barely laced a boot because of COVID -- and when they did it was without any of their frontline internationals -- Tonga has enjoyed a run of fixtures under coach Toutai Kefu. Taking advantage of World Rugby's eligibility changes, which allows a player to represent a second nation to which they have a familial link after a three-year stand down, the Pacific Islanders will field a squad which is probably their most talented since the 2015 World Cup. The additions of Charles Piutau, Vaea Fifita and Malakai Fekitoa are particularly helpful, so too the pathway that Moana Pasifika has offered through Super Rugby Pacific. Israel Folau, however, could not overcome a knee injury to take his place at a second World Cup, while George Moala's suspension for a lifting tackle is another blow.
Player to watch: While Tonga's backline contingent has been significantly boosted by the arrival of Fekitoa, Piutau and Moala, Vaea Fifita could make a huge difference up front. The former Hurricanes back-rower looked set for a long All Blacks career when he scored a brilliant solo try against the Pumas on debut in 2017, but he then fell out of favour under Steve Hansen as his versatility appeared to get in the way. But he looms as a huge figure for Tonga after several seasons in the northern hemisphere, a 50m-try against Canada in a warmup game proof he remains a serious talent.
Expectation: The Tongans will have little trouble adding to Romania's looming misery, with their likely goal to play tournament spoilers for either of the Springboks, Scotland or Ireland. While a win may prove a bridge too far against any of those in-form nations, given how keenly fought the pool games are expected to be between those three teams, their games against Tonga, and whether they are able secure bonus points, could well prove a key factor in who advances from Pool B. Tonga have also previously proven their capacity for an upset, having stunned France in 2011, before Les Bleus ended up losing the final by a solitary point.
Coach: Eugen Apjok
Captain: Christian-Marian Chirica
Also known as: Stejarii (The Oaks)
Best finish: Third in pool ['87, 91, 99; one win]
How they qualified: Rugby Europe qualifiers
Build-up: Romania return to the World Cup after missing the 2019 tournament, but only on account of Spain's player eligibility woes. By finishing third in the Rugby Europe Championship, the Oaks were promoted to second once Spain were banned for fielding an ineligible player, one for whom they had forged a passport. But Romania's joy at qualifying has been tempered by their terrible run of results; they were recently hammered by both Georgia and Italy, two teams that are on the improve but nowhere near the standard of South Africa, Ireland or Scotland.
Player to watch: There is no doubt that Romania will be up against it in France, but talented centre Taylor Gontineac will be doing his best to create some threat in midfield. The French-born son of Romanian great, Romeo Gontineac, who went to four World Cups, Gontineac came through Clermont-Auvergne's academy and has since graduated to France's Pro D2 league.
Expectation: Romania will have set their sights on their final pool encounter, against Tonga in Lille, as their sole opportunity for an unlikely win. Even that looks a bridge too far, however, given the Pacific Islanders' talented squad, with the Europeans best chance of victory tied to their ability to shut down the Tongans' ball-carriers and then kick whatever penalty opportunities come their way. It looks like being a brutal month for the Oaks in France.