2011: A look at the year ahead

(IRB.COM) Monday 3 January 2011
 2011: A look at the year ahead
Can New Zealand build on their success in South Africa and taste success on home soil in Wellington? - Photo: Martin Seras Lima

The highlight of 2011 will undoubtedly be the Rugby World Cup in September and October, when 19 teams travel to New Zealand to take part in the showcase tournament and determine the latest nation to lift the coveted Webb Ellis Cup.

New Zealand will have everything crossed that All Blacks can end a 24-year wait to call themselves world champions, while South Africa will hope to become the first to defend the title and a northern hemisphere nation to lift the Cup for only the second time in seven World Cups.

Rugby World Cup 2011 will also welcome a new member to the its ranks with Russia becoming the 25th nation to grace the stage, their first ever match being an intriguing one against the USA Eagles at Stadium Taranaki in New Plymouth on September 15.

However, the Rugby World Cup is not the only International Rugby Board tournament on the 2011 calendar with the next generation of young stars in action in Italy and Georgia, the six remaining events of the HSBC Sevens World Series and an IRB Pacific Nations Cup with an extra twist.

All to play for

If the first two legs of the 2010/11 HSBC Sevens World Series in December are anything to go by then the remaining six legs across four continents will be full of twists and turns, big upsets and last gasp winning scores.

Dubai Sevens winners England currently head the standings with 44 points, four more than New Zealand, their conquerors in the South African final in George, with defending Series champions Samoa on 36 and Fiji on 32.

However, it could all have been so different for England had they not scored a last gasp winner against Fiji in the Dubai pool stages to reach the Cup quarter finals, then squeaked past Australia and New Zealand to beat Samoa 29-21 in the title decider.

Outeniqua Park in George also witnessed plenty of late action, not least from defending champions New Zealand who scored at the death to beat Fiji in the semi finals and then had Tomasi Cama's last second penalty goal to thank for a 22-19 victory in the final.

The eight-event Series resumes on 4-5 February with the NZI Sevens in Wellington, which sold out again in under four minutes, and the USA Sevens a week later in Las Vegas. The Series then stops off in Hong Kong, Adelaide and London before climaxing in Edinburgh on 28-29 May.

Next generation of stars

The big question in the Veneto region of Italy from 10-26 June will be whether any of the other 11 participating teams can halt New Zealand's dominance of the IRB Junior World Championship over the last three years.

The Baby Blacks have yet to taste defeat since the Under 20 tournament’s inception, the 15th and last victory arguably the most impressive, a scintillating 62-17 defeat of a talented Australian outfit in Argentina to complete their hat-trick of titles.

New Zealand will have a new coach at the helm with Dave Rennie having bid farewell and his assistant Mark Anscombe taking over, as will South Africa and England who finished third and fourth respectively in Argentina in last year's Championship.

Hosts Italy – the winners of the sister IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in 2010 – will join New Zealand, Argentina and Wales in Pool A, with Australia head Pool B from France, Fiji and Tonga and Pool C bringing together South Africa, England, Ireland and Scotland.

The IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy will draw to a close a few days before the JWC begins with hosts Georgia, 2010 runners up Japan, 2008 champions Uruguay, Russia, Canada, USA, Zimbabwe and Samoa all hoping to win promotion to the elite level in 2012.

RWC 2011 appetisers

The final round of the IRB Pacific Nations Cup will not only be decisive in determining who lifts the silverware in 2011, but will also provide the teams with a chance to secure a morale-boosting victory over a rival they will face again in the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Fiji missed out on the PNC title last year after suffering a 31-9 loss to Samoa on the final day at Apia Park, a result which saw their hosts become the first non New Zealand winner of the key International Rugby Board tournament.

The two rivals will have title aspirations again in Japan in from 2-13 July, not to mention the chance to get one over a side they will face again in Pool D of RWC 2011 on 25 September, four days after Japan and Tonga meet in a Pool A encounter in Whangarei.

Japan will be hoping to make the most of home advantage to build on victories over Samoa and Tonga in the 2010 competition, while the Tongans will be looking to hit the winning trail after losing all three matches by three or less points last year.