It's being referred to as one of the toughest groups in World Cup history. So which two sides are looking the most prepared for such a tricky start to the biggest tournament in rugby?
Player to watch-
John Joseph, the outside centre is an exciting runner and has cemented his place in the England side. Coming into his own during the last six nations, he is deadly in broken play and is able to create his own opportunities.
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Tom Youngs, with Dylan Hartley currently unavailable due to a ban, Youngs is the only Hooker with a good deal of international experience. He is yet to fully convince during the warm-up matches, his open play has been excellent, but his scrummaging and line-out throws have been very shaky.
Courtney Lawes had his discipline problems in the past but the Six Nations showed they needed Lawes hard tackling and work rate. He will be one of the first names on the England team sheet.
Despite the amount of press both for and against him, Sam Burgess has yet to really show what he can do in an England jersey. However, he brings a hard running, offloading game alongside a rock steady defence and easy confidence. An experienced international of the other code Burgess could bring leadership to a young backline.
Ben Morgan showed against Ireland he is more than the equal of Billy Vunipola, he’s deceptively quick for a big man and is one of the hardest workers in the team. He may well start at eight after being picked ahead of veteran and former England captain Nick Easter.
On home turf, England will be hoping to use Twickenham as a fortress during the World Cup. They will have the largest number of fans and expectation will be high. This could double edged sword as pressure will be on the hosts for results.
Unsettled side, Stuart Lancaster will have to settle key positions like inside centre, second row, halfback and blindside flanker. With Mike Brown, Courtney Lawes and Chris Robshaw being the only nailed down positions and Tom Youngs being a starting choice more by necessity than anything else, England have had a rolling cast in other positions with little certainty of who will be starting.
1. Marler 2. Youngs 3. Cole
4. Parling 5. Lawes
6. Wood 8. Morgan 7. Robshaw (capt)
9. Youngs 10. Ford
11. Watson 12. Barrett 13. Joseph 14. Nowell
Bench- 16. Webber 17. M. Vunipola 18. Wilson 19. Launchbury 20. Morgan 21. Wigglesworth
22. Farrell 23. Goode
Alun Wyn Jones, many call the inspirational lock the de facto captain of Wales, though he himself protests to this. Currently out with a knee injury Warren Gatland will be sweating on his return. He brings a huge energy, an iron-clad defence, and powerful leadership to the team.
Dan Lydiate, many are calling for Justin Tiperic to start ahead of Lydiate to partner with Warburton and Faletau in the back row. However, Dan Lydiate's defensive tackle rate and presence at the break down is essential for the like of Faletau and Warburton to do their best work. The canny will notice that a back row with Lydiate chop tackling and wrestling for the ball functions better than one without him.
Dan Biggar, the fly-half has matured in the last two season and Wales lack suitable cover with the inconsistent Rhys Priestland and inexperienced Matthew Morgan as cover. He will also be the main kicking option with points machine Leigh Halfpenny out.
Luke Charteris, many overlook the giant locks contributions to the welsh game. However, Charteris is a record breaking defender and a master of disrupting opposition’s line outs and mauls legally. Look out for his carries as well, he’s quick for such a big man and can get away a sneaky offload when necessary.
Gareth Davies has been on the fringe of the Welsh squad for a while, playing second fiddle to Mike Phillips and Rhys Webb. His lightning fast breaks and sharp service should fire the welsh backline to a fast pace running game.
Samson Lee has yet to make a return since injury. Tomas Francis looked good in the scrum and tackled well against Ireland and Italy. However, he still needs to work on his conditioning as he looked fatigued after sixty minutes. This could leave Wales exposed in the scrum.
Having a predictable game plan has been the other issue Wales have struggled with. Warren ball works well with some teams, but Wales have lacked a plan B when it has become ineffective.
Alun Wyn Jones, Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny are going to miss a parts or all of the World Cup, these are three key players Wales cannot do without easily. Alongside this, several usually reliable players like Alex Cuthbert and Toby Faletau are in poor form in the run-up to the World Cup.
1. Jenkins 2. Baldwin 3. Lee
4. Charteris 5. Day
6. Lydiate 8. Faletau 7. Warburton (capt)
9. G.Davies 10. Biggar
11. North 12. Roberts 13. S.Williams 14. Cuthbert
Bench- 16. Owens 17. James 18. Francis 19. Ball 20. Tipuric 21. L.Williams 22. Morgan
Key men- David Pocock, after several nightmares with injury, Pocock is looking fit and determined. Destructive at the breakdown and dangerous in attack he may well be packing down at eight for the World Cup.
Sekope Kepu, the tighthead prop is looking in fine form and has led a rock solid Wallabies scrum. He will relish his world cup after putting a massive season behind him.
Nick Phipps, the Waratah’s scrum-half will have to be in top form, coming into the World Cup the only Australia scrum-half with significant game time behind him.
Isreal Folau, Australia’s real danger man. Folau has arrived at this tournament as possibly the world’s best fullback, challenged only by Ben Smith and Rob Kearney.
Scrum, it used to be Australia’s Achilles heel but in the Rugby championship it beat off New Zealand and held firm against South Africa and Argentina.
Solid defence is again something that is not usually a strong feature for the Wallabies, but it has suddenly solidified diamond hard.
Cheika’s selection policy. He hasn’t been very consistent with is starting XV for a while now. After a win against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship final, Cheika took out several players who had played well and the Australian’s were subsequently demolished. However, several of those off pace players, like Quade Cooper and Wycliff Palu have been taken to the World Cup while other form players like Nick White have been left behind.
Australia are probably the only IRB top ten side, who don’t have a designated goal kicker. Matt Giteau, Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Nick White and Kurtley Beale all had a go at the posts during the rugby championships.
Nick White was the most successful but he isn’t in the squad and none of the other aforementioned players have had a consistent run of time kicking off the tee in the build-up.
1. Slipper 2. Moore (capt) 3. Kepu
4. Mumm 5. Simmons
6.Fardy 8. Pocock 7. Hooper
9. Phipps 10. Toomua
11. Mitchell 12. Giteau 13. Kuridrani 14. Ashley-Copper
Bench- 16. Polota’Nau 17. Sio 18. Holmes 19. Skelton 20. McCalman 21. Genia 22. Beale 23. Horne
Vereniki Goneva is a hard running centre and his experience at Leicester will make him a real leader in the team.
Josh Matavasi, whether he’s playing fly-half, centre or fullback Matavasi will give 100 percent. He has come on leaps and bound since he joined the Ospreys, adding more than just crash ball running to his games. He may also be kicking for goal.
Nikola Matawalu can play scrum-half, wing or fullback. He’s a player who is either incredible or off balance. However, Matawalu may well hold the key to unleashing the Fiji backline.
Leone Nakarawa, the big lock is such a dynamic player for Glasgow. He can bring in really strong running and a tough defence.
Cibi, the traditional Fijian war dance will provide fire and resolve to the Fijian team to give everything they’ve got against their other pool teams.
Indiscipline has been a big issue for Fiji in the past. The task of winning a rugby match is made much harder if players are absent from the field due to yellow or red cards.
Inexperience, Fiji haven’t played many top-flight games recently. It’s a short coming that could count against them.
1. Ma’afu 2. Koto 3. Saulo
4. Nakarawa 5. Ratuniyarawa
6. Qera(capt) 8. Talei 7. Ravulo
9. Matawalu 10. Volavola
11. Nadolo 12. Matavesi 13. Goneva 14. Tikoirotuma
Bench- 16.Veikoso 17. Ravai 18. Colati 19. Soqeta 20. Yako 21. Kenatale 22. Botia 23. Lovobalavu
Alejo Corral is an experienced prop who will bring leadership and a consistent set piece.
Agustin Ormaechea, the young scrum-half will be pivotal in getting the Uruguay backline moving and can also kick a goal.
Nothing to lose. The Uruguay team unexpectedly beat Spain and Russia to qualify for the RWC. The South American team will be looking to gain experience at the top flight of rugby, but they could well shock teams that will have no expectation when they face them.
England may well beat Australia, but Australia will be a very different team to the one that England played last season. With Wales it’s always going to be fifty-fifty, with neither team claiming supremacy, it may well come down to points as to who will progress from the pool. Fiji could well be a bogey team for all three of the high ranking teams. My prediction of the outcome is
However the top three spots are totally interchangeable as to who will come out on top.
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