Rugby World Cup 2011 Preview - Group DSouth Africa (World Ranking 3rd)

History – The reigning world champions are looking to become the first team in history to defend their title. Often criticised for not playing as an expansive game as they could, the Springboks take pride in their forward game and again it will be their structured game plan that will be key.

Players to Watch – If this was a tournament won on having the strongest squad, SA win hands down (and we include the All Blacks.) However, it is first Xv that counts. Victor Matfield who will be captain in all but name is in his swansong along with partner in crime (often literally) Bakkies Botha. Bismarck du Plessis and Fourie du Preez are the best in the world in their position and if they perform, the Springboks will be tough to beat. Any Bok success will be in spite of coach Peter de Villiers (aptly nicknamed Div.)

Predictions – Ignore the Tri-Nations results because the South African squad did. Although momentum and confidence will have suffered. Would probably prefer not to play Wales first up but if come though that unscathed, semi finals is all but guaranteed. Then New Zealand at home…ah.

Wales (World Ranking 6th)

History – Another who will want to erase the 2007 tournament as they were humbled by Fiji and failed to get out of their group. Another team who never seem to give their fans a break from high blood pressure.

Players to Watch -George North. The ‘white Jonah’ (although everybody is his size these days!) and with Shane Williams on the other wing, the key will be how much ball the forwards can get to these boys.

Predictions – Conversely they will like playing the Springboks cold and fancy their chances. Face the Fijians again and should secure some revenge. With have to contend with the Aussies in the QF’s and that will be that.

Samoa (World Ranking 10th)

History – Tough tackling, South Sea islanders that act as feeder route for many All Blacks. Have had some notable highlights including beating fellow group opponents, Wales in 1991 and almost derailing England in 2003.

Players to Watch – Alesana Tuilagi and Sailosi Tagicakibau are two that stand out. Alesana will hope that he gets a chance to play his brother Manu who sold out and decided to wear the colours of England. With seven brothers in total, Christmas at the Tuilagi household must be fun!

Predictions – Will look to upset the Boks or the Welsh but in reality, Fiji is their cup final for Pacific bragging rights.

Fiji (World Ranking 15th)

History – Tough tackling, South Sea islanders that act as feeder route for many All Blacks. (Where have we seen that before?) The masters of the sevens game don’t treat the fifteen code with the same respect. Face old foes in this group and might fancy their chances

Players to Watch – The most interesting position in the Fiji side will be at fly half. Both options Nicky Little (remember him Wales?) and Waisea Luveniyali will probably split time at 10 or play with one at inside centre as well. Both are without clubs at the moment so have a shop window.

Predictions – Will be hard and physical but run out of steam at the death. 4th in the group

Namibia (World Ranking 20th)

History – Have failed to make an impact on the major stage which is a surprise given the proximity to South Africa, a rugby playing hot bed. Occasionally lose stars to the Springboks like Percy Montgomery which can’t help though.

Players to Watch – Former Bulls star Jacques Burger who now plays in England for Saracens will have his work cut out here. Although the rest of the squad will look at the opportunity to gain contracts with South African franchises.

Predictions – 5th in the group. As if being the lowest ranked team wasn’t enough, you get screwed with a group like this. They will relish the game against big brother South Africa but to get the mercurial Welsh and the bone jarring Pacific sides as well will mean the medical staff will be kept busy.

By Conan Jal