RWC 2023 Pool D Preview: Everything you need to know

Rugby World Cup 2023 is fast approaching, with the blockbuster opener between tournament hosts France and the All Blacks now a week away.

The Stade de France showstopper highlights a huge opening weekend of action with South Africa and Scotland doing battle, and England and Argentina also facing off.

Read on as we run an eye over Pool D.

Rugby World Cup 2023: Schedule | Squads | Podcast | Pool A Preview | Pool B Preview | Pool C Preview


Coach: Steve Borthwick

Captain: Owen Farrell/Courtney Lawes

Also known as: -

Best finish: Champions [2003]

How they qualified: 2019 runners-up

Build-up: It has been quite the 10 months for English rugby. Having sacked Eddie Jones in December and brought forward their Steve Borthwick succession plan, the Rugby Football Union has seen its men's team slump to six defeats in nine Tests. England's recent form, in particular, has been widely panned as the team has struggled on both sides of the ball; the 30 points they shipped to an inspired Fiji raising further questions about the defensive framework of assistant Kevin Sinfield. Making matters worse was Owen Farrell's farcical disciplinary hearing, which although eventually reached the right conclusion was handled dreadfully, and then Billy Vunipola's own suspension for a dangerous tackle. There has been little for English fans to be excited about in the run to RWC 2023.

Player to watch: Borthwick's decision to omit Henry Slade was one of the big talking points from England's squad announcement, but the chatter has subsided somewhat given the form of Ollie Lawrence. The Worcester-turned-Bath centre was the Premiership's Player of the Year, and he has since carried with authority for England in midfield at both inside and outside centre. The trick for England now is to get him the ball earlier and more often, and that task falls to the forward pack and whomever winds up at fly-half, be it Farrell, George Ford or Marcus Smith.

Expectation: Just like Australia and Wales, England find themselves on the far softer side of the draw. But Borthwick can't afford to take England's passage to the quarters for granted, with Japan and Samoa sure to be bullish about an upset win having watched the 2003 champions' recent games. A first-up win over Argentina would certainly ease the growing pressure and frustrations around the England setup, but there is urgent need for improvement if that is going to be achieved. Comparisons have been made with the 2007 England team that was a basket case before and early in the tournament, but then went on to reach the final and almost upset the Springboks. They have the quality to repeat that effort but are in drastic need of a reversal in form to do it.


Coach: Michael Cheika

Captain: Julian Montoya

Also known as: Los Pumas

Best finish: Bronze medal winners [2007]

How they qualified: Third-place pool finish 2019

Build-up: It has been quite the 12 months for Michael Cheika and the Pumas. A first ever win over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil, a maiden victory over England at Twickenham, and another win over the Wallabies in Australia have seen the team hit some dizzying heights. But it hasn't all been smooth sailing either, with the Pumas suffering some heavy defeats of their own along the way. Having seen the Jaguares franchise wind up amid Super Rugby's reorganisation, the Pumas have lost the added cohesion that team helped to provide. But Cheika has also overseen an evolution in their play so that they are no longer as one-dimensional, which is a touch ironic given the attack-at-all-costs approach he took to the 2019 tournament with the Wallabies.

Player to watch: You simply cannot look past the Pumas talisman, Pablo Matera, who is off to a third-straight Rugby World Cup and again looms as a major focal point of Argentina's game. The 30-year-old back-rower is the complete rugby package, bringing physicality, set-piece stability, rugged defence, breakdown pressure and one of the best offloading games in the business, making him a threat all over the paddock. The emotions can sometimes roll over, but at his best Matera is one of the top 10 players in world rugby.

Expectation: The Pumas will start favourites to top Pool D given England's slide, but their battle in Marseille on day two of the tournament has huge ramifications moving forward. But just as it is for England, Cheika's side can't afford to underestimate Samoa or Japan either, despite the Brave Blossoms poor run of results. If they can get through to the quarters, a date with the Wallabies or Wales will hold few fears given they have beaten both teams in recent years, but a game with Fiji could throw up some new challenges. Cheika has already ticked off two pieces of Pumas history with this team, and he is in an excellent position to match their semifinal efforts from 2007 and 2015 once more.


Coach: Jamie Joseph

Captain: Kazuki Himeno

Also known as: Brave Blossoms

Best finish: Quarterfinalists [2019]

How they qualified: 2019 quarterfinalists

Build-up: The glow of Japan's pool-topping exploits on home soil from four years ago has long since faded for the Brave Blossoms, who have won only four Tests since their quarterfinal defeat by the Springboks from 2019. It was always going to be tough to maintain that improvement, with the end of the Sunwolves and COVID clearly serving as major impediments for Japan to build on its historic achievements. While they did not beat either the Wallabies or All Blacks in 2021 and 2022, they did prove to be reasonable opposition; but recent defeats by Italy [42-21] and Fiji [35-12] are reflective of their slide down the World Rugby rankings. Former captain Michael Leitch and South African back-rower Lappies Labuschagne were red-carded for dangerous tackles in their warmup games, too.

Player to watch: While the growth of the Japanese Top League has helped to bring on the next generation of Japanese players, offshore recruits still play a vital role in bolstering the Brave Blossoms squad. At the top of that list on this occasion is New Zealand-born Warner Dearns, the free-running lock who made his Test debut at just 19 after completing his education in Japan. Standing 203cm, or 6"8' in the old scale, Dearns is a towering presence who will be a key target at lineout. But it is his work on the carry that really stands out, as runaway tries against the All Blacks last year, and then a 95m effort in the Top League in February, can attest.

Expectation: Japan's breakout tournament on home soil was exactly what Test rugby needed. But it is going to take something special to repeat their inspiring efforts of 2019, with not only Argentina and England standing in their way, but a Samoa team to whom they recently lost during the Pacific Nations Cup. Japan have the ability to score points, but it is their defence that remains a huge concern, evidenced by the seven clean breaks and five tries they conceded to Italy. A first-up clash with Chile at least affords Japan the opportunity for an early win, it is vital that they build at least some momentum against the tournament debutants.


Coach: Seilala Mapusua

Captain: Michael Alaalatoa

Also known as: -

Best finish: Quarterfinalists [1991, 1995 as Western Samoa]

How they qualified: Oceania 1 playoff winners

Build-up: Much like their Pacific colleagues Tonga, Samoa had to endure a difficult couple of years through COVID. But the return of the Pacific Nations Cup in 2022, a tournament they went through undefeated, proved a vital turning point on their journey to RWC 2023. They finished second in this year's edition of the tournament and have since been bolstered by the arrival of Lima Sopoaga and Steven Luatua. The weekend's narrow loss to No. 1 ranked Ireland, who were admittedly down a few first-choice players, shows Samoa will be right in the mix in Pool D.

Player to watch: While the introduction of former All Blacks Sopoaga and Luatua have generated many of the headlines around Samoa, Ulupano Seuteni will bring his big-game experience as a European Rugby Champions Cup winner with La Rochelle to Japan. The Adelaide-born 29-year-old debuted for Samoa ahead of the 2019 tournament but returns a far more experienced and developed player this time around. The experience of playing outside French powerhouse Jonathan Danty and being coached by Ronan O'Gara will have been invaluable.

Expectation: Samoa will have been flying slightly under the radar in Pool D given the respective disciplinary woes and form of both England and Japan, at least until they came within a whisker of upsetting Ireland in Bayonne last weekend. That narrow defeat has put them firmly in the conversation to advance and achieve their best result at the global showpiece since the turn of professionalism. They will take confidence from a recent win over Japan into a rematch with the Brave Blossoms, but they will start underdogs against both England and Argentina. If their set-piece holds up in those encounters, they have the line-breakers, goal kickers in Sopoaga and Christian Leali'ifano, and intensity required to pull off what would be a memorable upset.


Coach: Pablo Lemoine

Captain: Martin Sigren

Also known as: Los Condores [The Condors]

Best finish: Tournament debut

How they qualified: Americas 2

Build-up: What a rise it has been for Chile the past few years. The 26th nation to ever qualify for the tournament, Chile were the big surprises of this World Cup cycle as they first took down Canada and then eliminated the United States in a massive blow to American rugby. Those two-game qualifying series results coming after they had been thumped by Canada 56-0 and the U.S. 71-8 only three years earlier. Crucial to Chile's rise was the creation of the Selknam Super Rugby Americas team, for which the majority of the national team's squad have played. That helped build continuity and cohesion ahead of their qualifying campaign and set them on the course for a piece of Rugby World Cup history.

Player to watch: Even if your knowledge of Chilean rugby is limited, there is a chance you may have heard of fly-half Rodrigo Fernandez, or at least saw the five-pointer that earned him World Rugby's Men's Try of the Year for 2023. Fernandez beat an incredible seven defenders on a mud-bath pitch in the first game of their qualifying series against the U.S., powering his way over the final few metres to the line in what proved a vital score for Los Condores. If Chile are to mount any genuine opposition against their Pool D opponents, he and sharp-shooter Santiago Videla will need to play leading roles.

Expectation: By qualifying for a first ever Rugby World Cup, Chile have already achieved something remarkable and set in motion the platform for a brighter future for the national team. Is a first ever win at the tournament possible this time around, though? Chile's warmup form has been promising, having suffered only narrow defeats to Namibia and an Argentina XV, which suggests there is an outside chance they could catch either Japan or Samoa on the hop. But in all likelihood a 0-4 tournament debut is ahead, not that that should tarnish their achievement of getting there in the first place.