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By CNN's Andrew Demaria

The prize at the end of the journey.  Rather small for a team of 15 big men though.
The prize at the end of the journey. Rather small for a team of 15 big men though.

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(CNN) -- CNN rates the teams most likely to win the 2003 World Cup.

New Zealand

Certainly the ladies' choice with their skin-tight jerseys and rugged good looks, the All Blacks are the team to beat. Crushed the Boks and Wallabies in the recent Tri-Nations and short-odds favorites among bookies to raise the Webb Ellis trophy. Won it only once before at the inaugural bash in 1987 but since then they have thrice failed abroad despite being heavily tipped to go all the way.

Shouldn't be a problem this time around with a home comforts boost as there are arguably more Kiwis in Australia than in New Zealand. Face a potential semifinal showdown with their cross-Tasman rivals and though they did their pre-Cup training at a ski resort, the All Blacks are sure to put the heat on the opposition.

Prediction: Winners are grinners, even in New Zealand


For a nation still bathing in the glory of World Cup (albeit, soccer) success in 1966, the past 12 months have been something of a sporting fantasy. The national rugby side is ranked number one in the world, had a 14 Test winning streak and even beat the Wallabies for the first time on Aussie soil. And to top if off a dream draw to the World Cup final ... surely this can't be England?

Highly fancied and exuding confidence rarely seen among Englishmen, the wearers of the red rose have shown they aren't so reliant anymore on superboot flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson, while former league star Jason Robinson has added extra dash.

But the question of peaking too early isn't the only thing troubling punters. This is England and failing to live up to expectations is a sporting tradition there, especially in rugby.

Prediction: Almost but not quite. Runners-up


Sticking the boot in.  Wilkinson is heavily backed to be the tournament's highest scorer.
Sticking the boot in. Wilkinson is heavily backed to be the tournament's highest scorer.

The Wallabies have had a tough time of late -- poor form, injuries and losing to the English. Defeat has been a bitter pill to swallow for a nation that seemed to have sporting success stamped on citizens' passports in recent years.

The home nation has Ireland and Argentina in Group A -- a tough test in anyone's books let alone a team well down on confidence. Should they come through, a semifinal meet against the All Blacks is likely.

Indeed, the Aussies have been on top of the world for far too long and prospect of an under-performing Wallaby side is worth salivating over. But never kick an Aussie when he is down.

Prediction: Sporting malaise to continue. Semifinalists

South Africa

Have shown they're willing to do anything to win, including eye gouging, kicking, spitting and swearing. With a reputation for playing almost as dirty and dodgy as the Argentineans, the Springboks have been wracked by a racism row they now claim has brought the side closer together.

Gritty and well-seasoned campaigners, the Boks should enjoy the conditions and are certain to lift themselves, but are outclassed in this tournament.

Prediction: Quarterfinalists


The smile on All Black winger Joe Rokocoko's face says it all.  The Kiwis are the team to beat.
The smile on All Black winger Joe Rokocoko's face says it all. The Kiwis are the team to beat.

Although they need a lot more than luck to find the prize at the end of the rainbow, the plucky Irish should cause some upsets. A fine season has seen them somehow move to third in the world rankings, ahead of the Wallabies, but the loss of key players in the lead-up to the cup will hurt.

Three into two doesn't go and with Argentina and Australia joining the fight in Group A for a quarterfinal berth, Ireland will be hoping against a repeat embarrassment at the hands of the wily South Americans.

Prediction: Quarterfinalists


Don't be fooled by the grandeur of their names, Les Blues are tough, ugly, cunning and more than capable of leaving an impression (literally) on the tournament. Blessed with a friendly draw, if they can account for Fiji and Scotland they should top Group B and secure a quarterfinal slot against likely suspects Ireland or Argentina.

After the quarters, it's anybody's guess. Remember this team defeated the Kiwis last time around and were worthy finalists in 1999 before succumbing to the Wallabies.

Prediction: Semifinalists

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