Rugby Union

How are the home nations looking before the World Cup?

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The Rugby World Cup starts tomorrow, when the hosts England face Fiji at Twickenham.

Reigning champions New Zealand go into the tournament well clear at the top of the international rankings and clear favourites to retain their title. But England head coach Stuart Lancaster says a handful of other teams - including both Wales and Ireland, as well as his own charges - are serious contenders to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

With all the home nations having played their final warm-up matches, we assess their credentials heading into the biggest event on the rugby calendar.


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The Red Rose

England's players and staff are quietly confident going into Rugby's showpiece event. And they have good reason to be. They've recorded seven straight victory's at the home of rugby and they haven't lost there since November 2014. 

The tournament hosts will be delighted to be heading into the World Cup with a 21-13 win over Ireland, although there must still be a few doubts floating around the camp. 

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Coming after their feeble showing in the first 70 minutes of the previous match against France it suggests a worrying level of inconsistency. 

However, England have may just found in the nick of time a backline that excites but also has some of the international steel required to win ugly. The site of Ben Youngs and George Ford at half-back, with the sparkle in midfield of Jonathan Joseph and the terrifying pace and skill of Anthony Watson and Jonny May on the wings, is something to behold.

Red Rose followers should be proud and excited that England have finally found players willing, and not afraid, to run with the ball in hand.

With that, England have some momentum heading into the tournament and with home advantage there must something exciting to come from Lancaster's men.

Prediction: Last Four.

The Welsh Dragon

Wales are absolutely reeling. 

Wins in their last two warm-up games - one against a near full-strength Ireland in Dublin - would have been acceptable for Wales a month ago.

Losing Jonathan Davies in the summer was manageable. But the injuries to Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb, with both ruled out of the tournament, allied to the unconvincing nature of the 23-19 victory over Italy, mean coach Warren Gatland has a lot to ponder.

It appears that Wales will struggle with the injuries and the lack of true form coming into this year's World Cup, but one for the Welsh fans to remember, the England side of 2007 who somehow got to the final, with injuries, no form and team mutiny. So have faith.

But with England and Australia lying in wait, Gatland needs his best players fit and firing. That may not be a luxury he can enjoy.

Prediction: Knocked out at the group stage.

The Green Shamrock 

Is Ireland stumbling in the home straight?

Back-to-back defeats by Wales and England have halted Ireland's momentum on the cusp of the World Cup.

They lacked intensity or any sense of purpose in a dreadful opening 40 minutes against England, and although they showed a greater urgency to engage in the second half, these are still troubling times for head coach Joe Schmidt.

However, it's not too long ago that Ireland looked the best hope for the home nations. The big name players will surely step it up on the big occasion, the question remains has their time come?

Prediction: Last four. 

The Blue Thistle

Scotland approaches the World Cup with an optimism laced with caution. They look to have significantly upped their physicality since the whitewash in the Six Nations and there is a predatory dimension to the backline that is encouraging.

Predictable for so long with ball in hand, Vern Cotter's team now look like they have players capable of doing damage.

Their warm-up matches brought two credible defeats in Dublin and Paris and two decent wins over Italy, but we have been here before with Scotland - they've often fallen flat on their face during tournament play. 

Cotter remains focused and fearsome while hoping that the good play he sees in friendlies can be reproduced when the pressure is on.

Prediction: Last Eight. 

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Rugby Union
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