Oval Talk runs the rule over the eight men who will be looking to lead their nations to World Cup glory.
Graham Henry (New Zealand)
Widely regarded as one of the best coaches the game has ever seen, Graham Henry's task is unenviable.
The 65-year-old manages the most talented rugby nation on the planet, and with the Rugby World Cup taking place on home soil this year, anything less than a first title since the inaugural event in 1987 would be deemed as a failure.
The former Wales and British and Irish Lions boss is currently the longest serving leading national team coach having first taken up his position in 2004, although he had to reapply for the position in 2007 after New Zealand were stunned by France in the quarter-finals of the last Rugby World Cup.
A qualified teacher and former domestic rugby player and cricketer, he began his coaching career right at the bottom by mentoring two school teams.
First up was the Auckland Grammar School, followed by Kelston Boys' High School, before his major step up to the north island's provincial team in 1992.
He spent seven years with Auckland, guiding them to four consecutive domestic titles. When Super Rugby arrived in 1996, Henry was at the fore once again as he led his team, rebranded and renamed the Auckland Blues, to the first two titles.
Not long after, he was offered the job of coaching Wales, a task that offered him a challenge at the highest level.
During a four year spell from 1998 to 2002 he helped to restore some of the country's lost pride with one of his major achievements being 11 consecutive Test wins. He also became the first non-Briton or Irishman to lead the British and Irish Lions when he took them to Australia in 2001.
A few months after the narrow 2-1 series defeat in Australia, Henry walked away from Wales and returned to his former club, the Blues.
However, a year later and he was back in the international fold, this time with his native New Zealand following yet another failed Rugby World Cup expedition for the perennial favourites in 2003 under John Mitchell.
Henry began his reign with six consecutive wins, but when it came to crunch time — the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France — New Zealand fell short once again.
Robbie Deans may be the greatest coach to have ever graced Super Rugby, but his credentials at international level have not convinced all followers of Australia.
The Wallabies, who won the Rugby World Cup in 1991 and 1999, head into the 2011 tournament as the No.2 ranked national team in world rugby and such a lofty ranking should raise hopes of bringing an end to the 12-year wait for the game's top piece of silverware.
However, with Deans' homeland of New Zealand having dominated against Australia throughout his tenure, and with the All Blacks topping the rankings ahead of their 'home' Rugby World Cup, the Australia coach is aware that second place behind the old enemy is nowhere near good enough.
Going into the final match of the 2011 Tri Nations, Australia had won only two out of 13 matches against New Zealand with Deans in charge.
Ironically, Deans had played an integral role in the All Blacks' development as assistant to head coach John Mitchell from 2001-03, but it was in club rugby that he really made his name.
Deans, who represented the All Blacks five times between 1983 and 1985, has the game in his blood with brothers Colin and Bruce as well as uncle Bob all playing the sport — the latter two at the highest level.
Deans, who turns 52 days before the start of the Rugby World Cup, began his journey up the coaching ladder when he was installed at the helm of Canterbury's National Provincial Championship side in 1997. He was an instant hit, winning the title in his first campaign.
Deans then enjoyed a near impeccable record at the helm of Canterbury club Crusaders, leading the team to five titles and seven finals during his nine-year stay in one of the world's toughest club competitions. He was also the team manager when Crusaders won the 1998 and 1999 titles under Wayne Smith — giving him a remarkable record of seven championships out of 11.
He made the step up to Australia national team coach in 2007, and although he is credited with transforming the likes of Quade Cooper, James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale into world stars, he has been criticised for changing his line-up and refusing to settle on a clear first XV.
Despite having won more than 50 per cent of his games in charge, the ratio could have been much better had it not been for nemesis New Zealand and Deans' desire to give fringe players a chance.
Deans was lambasted for fielding a weakened team that slumped to an embarrassing loss to Samoa in July 2011, with Australia legend David Campese among those calling for him to be replaced.
However, his compatriots were quick to jump to Deans' defence, with New Zealand great Grant Batty and All Blacks chief Graham Henry praising the under-fire Australia coach.
However, whether New Zealand will be as generous at the Rugby World Cup remains to be seen, and Deans will have to return over the Tasman Sea with the William Webb Ellis trophy if Australia's demanding followers are to be appeased.
It is crunch time for Peter de Villiers, who is under more pressure than most coaches coming into the Rugby World Cup.
The man who inherited the reigning world champions has had plenty of detractors since replacing Jake White in January 2008.
However, love him or hate him, he has an opportunity to silence the doubters in New Zealand, and if the Springboks can repeat their triumph of four years ago in France, De Villiers will become one of South Africa's sporting legends.
The highlight of his tenure so far has undoubtedly been a 2-1 series win over the British and Irish Lions in 2009 — a series that summed up the colourful coach.
After one controversial comment too many, South Africa's Sports Minister echoed the thoughts of many by urging De Villiers to "keep his mouth shut".
However, with the talking nearly over, and with experience once again at the heart of his squad, who would bet against him rewriting the record books and claiming an unprecedented third Rugby World Cup title for the Rainbow Nation?
The 54-year-old from Paarl was an outsider for the top job behind the highly-rated Heyneke Meyer, and in a country where sport and politics have been entwined since the abolishment of Apartheid, his appointment as the first black coach of South Africa caused a stir.
The relatively inexperienced De Villiers, who had learnt his trade in the amateur tiers before being installed as assistant coach at Western Province, was given his big chance after impressing with the Emerging Springboks and South Africa Under-21 team.
With the backing of the 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning squad, including captain John Smit, De Villiers has batted away criticism from fans and the media to reach the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
However, with his contract due to expire after the tournament, many believe De Villiers' days are numbered.
His time in charge began promisingly with back-to-back wins over Wales and another triumph over Italy.
The first real test came in the Tri-Nations against Australia and New Zealand, and with South Africa finishing bottom after just two wins in six games — albeit with one of those victories coming against the All Blacks in Dunedin — the competition provided more questions than answers.
South Africa bounced back with wins over Argentina, Wales, Scotland and England before the epic series against the Lions, which was overshadowed by De Villiers' bizarre defence of Schalk Burger for eye-gouging.
Later in the year South Africa kept the momentum going by winning their first Tri-Nations title in five years.
However, with the team struggling to win half of their games since then, fans have grown increasingly impatient.
South Africa's first non-white coach was probably saved from the sack when he led the Boks to a convincing victory at Twickenham last autumn. Defeat there after the shock loss to Scotland and a dismal Tri Nations would have been too much for the South African Rugby Union to bear. However, after another dire Tri Nations the outspoken De Villiers needs an impressive World Cup to retain his job.
Marc Lièvremont's international playing career ended in disappointment when an uncharacteristically error-prone France slumped to a 35-12 loss to Australia in the final of the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
Twelve years on, Lièvremont has the opportunity to end France's long wait for the William Webb Ellis trophy as the coach of the national team.
France's 1999 defeat to Australia was the second time the team had fallen at the final hurdle.
In the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 in New Zealand, the host country beat Les Bleus convincingly.
Returning to New Zealand 24 years later, France still have not shaken off their 'nearly' tag in the rugby's biggest showpiece.
Lièvremont was the surprise replacement for Bernard Laporte after France blew its best opportunity to lift the Rugby World Cup so far by losing on home soil to England in the semi-finals of the 2007 tournament.
He had coached Dax to a place in the Top 14, the top tier of domestic rugby in France, and had also worked with the national Under-21 team from 2003-05 after having hung up his boots as a player in 2002.
However, some felt his appointment as head coach had come out of the blue, and too soon after the 2007 World Cup. Serge Blanco, another former France international who was then president of France's Ligue Nationale de Rugby, was among the critics, and many expected a more experienced coach such as Philippe Saint-Andre to replace Laporte.
Lièvremont's first two years at the helm were mixed. He kept his word with regard to blooding new talent and staying true to France's expansive playing traditions, but the team came a distant third in consecutive Six Nations tournaments.
In June 2009, Lièvremont's fortunes appeared to take a turn for the better with France claiming their first win in New Zealand for 15 years with a 27-22 triumph. France followed this up by securing their first Six Nations title since 2007 — and the first one of the Lièvremont reign — in 2010.
But if Lièvremont expected the pressure to ease, he was brought back to earth with a bump.
A crushing 59-16 defeat by Australia in late 2010 ensured that expectations of glory were tempered.
However, it was a humiliating 22-21 defeat in Italy, the team's first ever loss on Italian soil, which forced Lièvremont to defend his position before the curtain had come down on another disappointing Six Nations this year.
In adversity, Lièvremont chose to point the finger of blame at his players. The Senegal-born son of a French military man has never been afraid to speak his mind.
However, many felt his post-Italy rant was one outburst too many. Lièvremont accused his players of cowardice and complained that his World Cup preparations had been left "at a dead end".
"I don't see myself as being in a battle to defend my name," he insisted after the Italy defeat. His near four-year reign will end after the World Cup, when his contract expires, with Saint-Andre taking over.
Martin Johnson has always been a leader of men.
As Leicester Tigers captain he helped the team win four Premiership crowns and two Heineken Cups.
With England, he skippered the side to three Six Nations titles, two Triple Crowns and the Grand Slam in 2003.
And who could forget the iconic image of Johnson holding the Webb Ellis Trophy aloft later that year after England defeated home team Australia in the Rugby World Cup final.
Johnson was a focal point of England's triumph Down Under and he will be under the spotlight again when the team returns to Antipodean territory for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
The 41-year-old has transformed from an on-field commander to off-field chief. However, although England are fourth favourites to win the trophy after the southern hemisphere's three rugby juggernauts of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Johnson's transition from player to coach has been anything but smooth.
While there was no doubting his playing pedigree, Johnson was a controversial replacement for Brian Ashton as head coach in April 2008.
Ashton had just led England to runner-up finishes in both the World Cup and Six Nations, but despite Johnson's lack of coaching experience, the Rugby Football Union plumped for the former England captain in a bid to introduce new discipline and direction from a man that had lifted the most important trophy in the sport.
In the early days of Johnson's stewardship, he came in for intense criticism from fans, pundits and former players over team selection and playing style.
Heavy home defeats against Tri-Nations teams did not bode well for the new coach, nor did England's inconsistent performances in his first two Six Nations at the helm.
Doubters questioned whether Johnson was out of his depth in his first coaching role, but as he takes his squad to New Zealand, the former lock is safe in the knowledge that he has made his mark on the England side.
He may have taken three years to find his feet, but over the past year there are signs that the RFU's gamble appears to be paying off.
England followed up an impressive 2010 autumn series by winning their first Six Nations title since Johnson captained the side eight years earlier.
"In terms of where this team has come from, even in the last few weeks, never mind a year ago, it is fantastic," he said after their Championship-winning run. "They have come a heck of a long way."
Such success has hushed those questioning whether Johnson could transform his leadership qualities into a management environment, although inconsistency in the Rugby World Cup warm-up matches have raised doubts about whether England will be able to match their feat of reaching the last two finals.
Perhaps England are in need of the direction that Johnson provided as a player. However, given the team's improvement since an inauspicious start to his tenure, only a fool would write off Johnson's chances of ensuring England are serious contenders in New Zealand.
There are few countries more passionate about rugby than Wales, so what better way to endear yourself to the fans than winning the Grand Slam in your first ever Six Nations?
Under Warren Gatland's leadership, not only did Wales win their 10th Grand Slam in 2008 — their second in four championships — but they did so with the tightest defence in history, conceding just two tries.
A first win against England at Twickenham since 1988 and the defeat of reigning Triple Crown holders Ireland at Croke Park were the highlights of the campaign as Gatland's tenure got off to an ideal start.
Three years later, though, Gatland and his side looked crestfallen heading into the 2011 Six Nations.
Despite seeing his side win just three of their previous 10 games, Gatland agreed a new four-year deal to stay on as Wales coach in October 2010, ending speculation of a possible return to club rugby in his homeland.
However, the New Zealander went some way to recapturing the support of the Welsh faithful with wins against Ireland, Italy and Scotland in the Six Nations earlier this year.
Born in Hamilton — where Wales will take on Samoa in the group stages — Gatland made his name as a talented hooker with Waikato between 1986 and 1994.
After dabbling in coaching through his playing career, he then assisted at Thames Valley before spells as head coach at Connacht, Ireland, London Wasps and at former club Waikato.
In that time, he won five major trophies with Wasps, including three Premiership titles and a Heineken Cup, and the inaugural Air New Zealand Cup title.
Such pedigree saw Gatland prised away from Waikato in late 2007 to replace Gareth Jenkins as Wales coach.
In such a high-profile role, Gatland's mind games have often proved controversial. In January 2011, Gatland derided England hooker Dylan Hartley for "going to pieces" when it matters and added that England "don't have much choice (in their style of play) with the team they have". England, though, kept their nerve to silence Gatland with a 26-19 win.
Two years earlier, Gatland had attempted to unsettle Ireland ahead of a Six Nations decider in Cardiff, by saying: "Out of all the teams in the Six Nations, the Welsh players dislike the Irish the most". Once again though Ireland ignored Gatland's goading and claimed the Grand Slam.
In the build-up to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, 47-year-old Gatland appears to have been more cautious with his choice of words.
Perhaps he is wary of Wales' notoriously poor record in the game's biggest tournament.
After finishing third at the inaugural 1987 tournament, Wales have offered little at the Rugby World Cup. Four years ago in France, the team lost their decisive final group match 38-34 to Fiji to crash out of the competition in embarrassing style.
Wales have the opportunity to exact revenge when they face Fiji in their final group match again this year, and Gatland will be in no mood to return from his homeland to Wales too early.
Scotland ended the 2009 Six Nations by slumping to a 26-12 loss against England at Twickenham.
The Calcutta Cup defeat condemned Scotland to a second consecutive tournament in which they picked up just one victory, and Frank Hadden left his post as head coach within days.
Two months later, former England head coach Andy Robinson was installed as Hadden's successor.
The Taunton-born coach was seen by many as the natural appointment despite the apparent availability of the likes of South Africa's World Cup-winning coach Jake White and former Australia boss Eddie Jones.
Robinson had spent the previous 18 months in charge of Edinburgh, whom he led to the highest finish by a Scottish side in the Magners League during his first season at the helm.
The following campaign, the Gunners exceeded their third-placed finish by securing the runners-up spot behind Munster.
Robinson combined his role at Edinburgh with work in the Scotland national team set-up. He assisted Hadden during the team's tour of Argentina and took charge of the 'A' Team on several occasions.
Although his time as England head coach was less successful, Robinson's CV impressed the Scotland Rugby Union's five-man interview panel.
Robinson made his name as a flanker with Bath in the late 1980s and 1990s, earning eight England caps before retiring in 1997 to take the reins at The Recreation Ground following the resignation of Brian Ashton. Under his tutorship, Bath won the Heineken Cup just one year after his appointment.
He left the club to link up with Sir Clive Woodward's England team and his work as forwards coach was credited with playing a huge part in the team's 2003 Rugby World Cup victory in Australia.
While proving an integral member of England's backroom staff, he did not fare so well when he took over as head coach following Woodward's shock resignation in September 2004.
Robinson won just nine games of his 22 in charge and, citing a lack of support from the Rugby Football Union, he stepped down in November 2006 just a year before England reached the Rugby World Cup final under Brian Ashton.
Four years on things are looking a lot brighter for Robinson, who extended his contract as Scotland coach until the end of 2015 earlier this year.
Robinson was rewarded for steering Scotland to five victories out of six games — including impressive wins over South Africa, Argentina and Ireland — ahead of the 2011 Six Nations.
However, the Six Nations provided a wake-up call. Robinson's side endured a tough tournament and registered just one victory with the 21-8 defeat of Italy on the final weekend at Murrayfield sparing the team the wooden spoon.
Since their best ever result at the Rugby World Cup in 1991, when they reached the semi-finals, Scotland has fallen at the quarter-final stage at every edition since.
Robinson, though, who missed out on being England's head coach at the Rugby World Cup by a matter of months four years ago, will be looking for a place in the last eight as a minimum.
There was a sense of unfinished business when Declan Kidney took the reins as the head coach of Ireland in May 2008.
Ireland had just endured a miserable 2007 Rugby World Cup and their worst Six Nations since the expansion of the tournament in 2000.
However, with the team having slipped alarmingly in the global rankings, Kidney replaced Eddie O'Sullivan with the knowledge that he had enjoyed success with some of these players before.
He coached the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Donncha O'Callaghan and Paddy Wallace to glory at the 1998 World Youth Championship and nurtured the careers of the 'golden generation' through the junior ranks and then as assistant coach to O'Sullivan in the senior set-up from 2002-04.
Under O'Sullivan's watch, Ireland had failed to reach their potential. However, less than a year after taking the helm, Kidney had steered Ireland to the Six Nations Grand Slam — a historic achievement for a team that had promised so much for so long.
It was Ireland's first clean sweep in the competition for 61 years, and the softly-spoken maths teacher from County Cork was rewarded with the International Rugby Board's coach of the year award for 2009.
Although he has been unable to guide Ireland to another Six Nations title in 2010 or 2011, there have been notable victories since the Grand Slam triumph, not least against England on two occasions and world champions South Africa. Kidney's impact may have been explosive on the pitch, but his demeanour is more mild-mannered and measured than many would expect. When a poor refereeing decision led to a narrow defeat to Wales in the 2011 Six Nations, for example, Kidney's typically diplomatic response was to put the incident into context by referring to the recent earthquake in Japan.
Kidney's employers also know that the 52-year-old never loses sight of the bigger picture.
Whilst he has been able to allow established greats such as O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara to flourish, his experience with Ireland's youth ranks has ensured he has always kept an eye on the next generation.
When he was named Ireland coach, Kidney outlined his goal of adding depth to the squad.
He had just finished his second spell at Munster, where the province had tasted European glory through the Heineken Cup in 2006 and 2008 after losing finals on two occasions under his watch earlier in the decade.
Kidney's two terms at Munster sandwiched brief spells at Newport Gwent Dragons, where he left after only three months, and Leinster.
However, his success at Munster gave Kidney first-hand experience of some of the most impressive young talents in the country, and the likes of Keith Earls, Donnacha Ryan and Tomás O'Leary have progressed to the national team squad.
In July 2011, Kidney was handed a two-year contract to stay on as Ireland coach and he will ease the transition from the golden generation to the next generation.
He had a modest playing career and is a modest man, but many people feel Kidney is capable of inspiring Ireland's strongest ever challenge at a Rugby World Cup.