The world's greatest celebration of rugby kicks off in Twickenham on September 18th. Twenty teams from around the globe will compete in locations across England and Wales to be crowned world champions. But who will be the winners? Sports journalist Riath Al-Samarrai reckons he knows…
15 minutes – that's all it takes to get between Heathrow and central London on our high speed train services. It got us thinking… what else can you do in 15 minutes? This issue: Get ready for the Rugby World Cup
The home hopes…
England (Group A, with Wales, Australia, Uruguay, Fiji): Serious contenders; they do well on this stage and have the huge advantage of playing at home. The doubt is whether they can stand up against the elite in the competition, having lost to Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa in the past year. They are also in a tough group, from which only two can progress. The losses of Dylan Hartley and Manu Tuilagi for disciplinary reasons have further hurt the side. But Head Coach Stuart Lancaster’s zero-tolerance approach makes a repeat of the off-field antics that characterised England’s last World Cup unlikely. They are also playing with more flair this year and in Owen Farrell and George Ford there is the luxury of a tough decision at No 10.
Wales (Group A, with England, Australia, Uruguay, Fiji): The perennial question is how they will handle expectations. Then there’s the horrible group they are in with England and Australia - neither of those tricky games is at Wales’ Millennium Stadium either.
But the team have spent the entire summer together and also formed the majority of the last Lions squad, so they have proven quality and familiarity. The loss of Jonathan Davies to a knee injury has been their big hurdle, but in George North they have one of the most exciting players in the tournament, plus wrecking ball centre Jamie Roberts.
Wales reached the semi-finals last time and lost to France in highly controversial circumstances, but they must get something out of England or Australia.
Scotland (Group B, with South Africa, Samoa, Japan, USA): Scottish Rugby chief Mark Dodson famously set a goal in 2012 of winning a Six Nations Grand Slam and the World Cup. But having averaged a single win in each of the Six Nations championships since then (including the wooden spoon in 2015), it’s hard to make an argument for their World Cup prospects.
But at least they have the luxury of a reasonable draw. South Africa are big favourites to win the group, but on ranking alone Scotland should be able to qualify for the next phase. They have a good pack and in Stuart Hogg a genuinely exciting full-back.
Ireland (Group D, with France, Italy, Canada, Romania): They are coming in at serious speed, winning the past two Six Nations (only a defeat in Cardiff stopped them claiming the 2015 Grand Slam) and playing an excellent autumn series, beating South Africa, Georgia and Australia.
They have the potential to go a long way… but it remains a quirk of the competition that Ireland have never passed the quarter-finals.
One weakness: so much hinges on the kicking and all-round contributions of the irreplaceable Johnny Sexton.
Picking a favourite…
They got some historical baggage off their back in 2011, winning after a 24-year wait – and their form since is simply brilliant. Since lifting the World Cup, they’ve lost just twice in 44 matches. They might just be the finest side in history.
The game to watch…
England-Wales, September 26, 8pm, Twickenham. One of the big hitters in Group A is going home early and there is an excellent chance that the winner of this game will be safe – the loser will surely have to beat Australia.
Who to keep an eye on?
Julian Savea – The New Zealand wing being compared to legend Jonah Lomu.
Israel Folau – A master of multiple sports, having played Australian Rules Football, before becoming an Australia international at rugby league. Having converted to union, he is the main man in the Wallabies attack.
Johnny Sexton – Central to the hopes of an entire country; there’s huge pressure on the Irish fly-half.
Dan Carter – The last World Cup for a rugby legend. The best fly-half in the sport’s history; watch him while you can.
Sam Burgess – After switching from rugby league stardom in Australia to union in England, he’s a brilliant talent facing huge expectation in England’s centre or back row.
Nothing beats watching the action in person – and at the time of writing, there were official tickets available at 25 of the 48 matches. Those included three of New Zealand’s four Group C matches, as well as England v Uruguay in Manchester (flights available out of Heathrow from £76). As ever, there is a big range in price: remaining tickets are going for between £35 and £250. Find tickets through Rugby World Cup ticketing. And if you have a big budget, hospitality packages are available through England Rugby Travel, the tournament’s official travel agent in the UK.
If you can’t get a ticket…
Try one of the 15 official Rugby World Cup Fanzones split between England and Wales. Find the huge screens them in each of the 11 host cities – in addition to Trafalgar Square in London and the town of Rugby (for obvious reasons).
All 48 matches from the World Cup will be screened on either ITV or ITV4.
Riath Al-Samarrai is a sports correspondent for the Daily Mail.
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