Brian O'Driscoll has warned Ireland that Japan are capable of following up their 2015 Rugby World Cup upset of South Africa with a repeat performance on home soil.

Tournament hosts in 2019, Japan provided one of the greatest shocks in World Cup history four years ago with a stunning last-gasp 34-32 defeat of the Springboks in their opening fixture.

The Brave Blossoms are in Ireland's pool this time and former star O'Driscoll is wary of another surprise result when they meet on September 28.

He believes the memory of that South Africa win and the backing of the home support could make Japan a dangerous opponent.

"Of course it is [a potential banana skin]," O'Driscoll, a Land Rover ambassador, told Omnisport. "Speaking to people who know about Japan, they absolutely pose some threats to any team.

"They'll have a new-found confidence at the Rugby World Cup remembering what happened four years ago against South Africa. Sometimes, when you break that seal and beat one of the biggest Tier One nations, the next one might be difficult.

"With the home support, playing like their lives depend on it, it will make them a very difficult opponent. I think they will absolutely be given huge respect.

"Are they capable of causing an upset at the World Cup? Of course they are, because they've done it previously."

Ireland must also contend with conditions that will suit Japan and other Southern Hemisphere sides, but O'Driscoll is confident they have prepared well.

"That's definitely been a focus," he said. "I was looking at the fixture list and certainly the home warm-up games [wins over Italy and Wales] and the timing of them.

"I know, commercially, it makes sense to have games later on, afternoon, early evening, 5.30, 7pm. But the home games have been fixed for two o'clock to try to acclimatise to Japan as much as possible.

"It's those small little details which help you in trying to get your body right for the shock. The only thing they won't be able to plan in advance for [is] the humidity they're going to face.

"But everyone's going to have to deal with that. Obviously certain countries will get it a lot more - South Africa would be well used to huge levels of humidity - but it's going to be the same conditions for every team.

"It's a matter of who's done all the hard work and is able to deal with the pressurised situation in which they find themselves in the pool stage."


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Ireland remain "reasonably positive" over Robbie Henshaw's hamstring injury, though the centre is still expected to miss his nation's Rugby World Cup opener against Scotland.

Henshaw suffered the problem during a training session on Saturday, putting his participation in the tournament in jeopardy.

However, while unlikely to be fit to face Six Nations rivals Scotland in the Pool A fixture on Sunday in Yokohama, there is still hope the Leinster player can feature for Joe Schmidt's side.

"Robbie's looking very, very unlikely for this weekend obviously," Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek told the media.

"But we've just got back from training and still sorting things out, but I think it's reasonably positive in terms of what we saw.

"Some of these guys, day by day, week by week, they can improve dramatically as opposed to the average human. So we'll just take it like that at the moment.

"It's looking positive, so from here on in we'll just see how it goes in the next few days and then maybe reassess in the not too distant future."

Ireland tweeted confirmation that Henshaw will not be returning home early despite the setback.

Meanwhile, Joey Carbery trained fully on Monday and Keith Earls is likely to be back working with the rest of the squad later this week.

After facing the Scots, Ireland have fixtures against hosts Japan, Russia and Samoa in the group stage.

Over the next six weeks, dreams will be realised, heroes will emerge and hearts will be broken at the Rugby World Cup.

The greatest prize in the sport is up for grabs in Japan, where New Zealand are aiming to be crowned champions for the third successive tournament.

There are sure to be thrills, spills and stories that will stand the test of time.

Below, we take a look at some of the most memorable moments in the history of the Rugby World Cup.


Wilkinson kicks England to glory in Sydney

England entered the 2003 Rugby World Cup as favourites and regarded as the best team in the world. Clive Woodward's side lived up to the billing to set up a final against an Australia outfit led by now England coach Eddie Jones. A tense encounter between the old rivals was level at 14-14 by full-time and a penalty each from Jonny Wilkinson and Elton Flatley meant the teams were still tied with the clock winding down. But in a dramatic finale, Martin Johnson drew the contact, Matt Dawson bided his time with the pass and England legend Wilkinson, on his weaker right foot, nailed the drop goal to kick his country to World Cup glory – becoming the first northern hemisphere side in history to lift the trophy.

Western Samoa upset Wales in Cardiff

It just was not in the script. Wales, one of the proudest rugby nations in the world, were hosting the unheralded Western Samoa in Cardiff. A routine win, surely? Think again. In one of the worst days in Wales' rugby history, the Cardiff Arms Park crowd were stunned by a 16-13 defeat in the 1991 World Cup in which Mathew Vaea starred with the boot. Wales failed to make it out of the group stages and it marked the first time a seeded nation had lost to a non-seeded nation. 

Warburton sees red as Wales fall agonisingly short

It was 10 years later that Wales would suffer more disappointment, albeit in more valiant and heart-breaking fashion in a 9-8 loss to France in an Auckland semi-final. That Wales came so close is to their credit given they were reduced to 14 men in the 19th minute when talismanic captain Sam Warburton was controversially sent off for a big tackle on Vincent Clerc. A yellow card would have been a fairer decision in such a huge game but luck did not favour Wales, who saw Stephen Jones hit the post with the conversion from Mike Phillips' try with 23 minutes remaining. Leigh Halfpenny also saw a long-range attempt fall short as Wales' World Cup dream came to a halt.

Lomu bulldozes Catt in England slaughtering 

It was a performance of a lifetime. Having already starred with three tries prior to the 1995 semi-final, Jonah Lomu truly announced himself on the world stage with a four-score haul in the All Blacks' 45-29 hammering of England in Cape Town. It was a barnstorming, awe-inspiring showing from the giant flyer, who unceremoniously trampled over future World Cup winner Mike Catt in one of the tournament's most famous tries.

Pienaar-led Springboks unite South Africa 

Lomu and New Zealand fell short in the 1995 final, though. The sight of South Africa president Nelson Mandela donning a Springboks jersey and handing over the Webb Ellis Cup to inspirational captain Francois Pienaar is one of the most iconic images in sport. South Africa tamed Lomu and the All Blacks to triumph 15-12 in Johannesburg.

Brave Blossoms cause monumental Springboks shock

It was an altogether different feeling for South Africa a decade later as the Springboks were victims of one the greatest upsets in the history of all sports against Japan. The two-time world champions boasted 851-caps worth of experience in their starting XV, but the Brave Blossoms lived up to their name with a performance brimming with pace and invention. Karne Hesketh was the man who wrote his name into history with the late try that secured an unbelievable 34-32 victory in Brighton.

The Rugby World Cup is the greatest stage in the sport and offers an incredible chance for players to make a name for themselves.

Hosts Japan and Russia will get the action underway on Friday and 24 hours later spectators will have also been treated to Australia v Fiji, France v Argentina and New Zealand v South Africa.

It promises to be a hugely entertaining tournament and we have taken a look at the young talents set to light up the competition.

 

Sevu Reece (22, New Zealand)

He only made his Crusaders debut as an injury replacement against the Chiefs in March, but Reece has already established himself as one of the most exciting wings in the world.

Reece's incredible pace and clinical finishing saw him top the Super Rugby try-scoring charts with 15 as the Crusaders won the title for the third straight year and he has touched down twice in his three appearances for the All Blacks.

Tom Curry (21, England)

Eddie Jones has long been an admirer of flanker Curry, making him the youngest player to start for England in 90 years during the tour to Argentina in 2017.

That came at the end of his breakthrough season at Sale Sharks and the back-rower has gone from strength to strength, starting all of England's Six Nations matches this year.

Romain Ntamack (20, France)

Ntamack can play at inside centre of fly-half and comes from good stock: his father Emile won 46 caps for France and was part of the side that won the Five Nations Grand Slam in 1997 and reached the World Cup final two years later.

But Romain has proved himself a promising player in his own right, winning the Six Nations and World Cup at Under-20 level in 2018 and helping Toulouse end a seven-year wait for Top 14 success last season.

Herschel Jantjies (23, South Africa)

Stormers scrum-half Jantjies wasted no time in making his mark for the Springboks, scoring a debut double against Australia in July.

Jantjies then touched down in the 80th minute to help earn a 16-16 draw against the All Blacks in his second cap - a result that proved crucial to South Africa winning the Rugby Championship for the first time in 10 years.

Rhys Carre (21, Wales)

The 6ft 3in, 20-stone prop was included in Warren Gatland's squad for Japan having only made his international debut against Ireland on August 31.

Towering front-rower Carre was in April snapped up by Premiership champions Saracens and will likely have a big impact in the breakdown, set-piece and when carrying the ball.

Toulon escaped with a 32-29 home victory over Racing 92 in the Top 14 on Sunday despite a tough second half in which they saw two players sent to the sin bin.

The hosts looked to be coasting when they led 29-10 with just under half an hour remaining, but three Racing tries and a second Toulon yellow card set up a nervy finale.

Julien Heriteau, Juan Imhoff and Daniel Ikpefan traded early tries, while Anthony Belleau kicked three penalties before the break to put Toulon in control.

Belleau continued to excel at the start of the second period, while a collapsed scrum meant both Toulon's Marcel van der Merwe and Racing's Vasil Kakovin were sent to the bin.

Racing dealt with the yellow better than the home side and Louis Dupichot crossed, before Toulon were reduced to 14 men again when Stephane Onambele Mbarga was punished.

Yoan Tanga Mangene went over twice in quick succession but Racing fell just short of a late turnaround.

Raphael Lagarde starred as Agen eased past Montpellier 29-10, scoring a crucial second try and kicking four penalties.

Valentin Saurs and Yvan Reilhac each went through in the first half for Montpellier, but Lagarde's penalties meant Agen led at the interval, and he then touched down seven minutes after the restart.

Agen had been down to 14 men at that stage due to Jamie Taulagi's yellow, but there was no way back and Benito Masilevu capped the scoring late on.

Former Wales international Gareth Thomas has revealed that he is HIV positive and felt suicidal as he kept his diagnosis a secret for years.

Thomas said he contemplated driving off a cliff as he did not want it to be known he was suffering from the virus.

The 45-year-old, who played 100 times for his country, also revealed that blackmailers threatened to reveal his diagnosis before he made the announcement.

"I've been living with this secret for years," he told the Sunday Mirror.

"I've felt shame and keeping such a big secret has taken its toll.

"I had a fear people would judge me and treat me like a leper because of a lack of knowledge. I was in a dark place, feeling suicidal. I thought about driving off a cliff.

"To me, wanting to die was just a natural thought and felt like the easier way out, but you have to confront things.

"And having a strong support system and the personal strength and experience of overcoming those emotions got me through it.

"Many people live in fear and shame of having HIV, but I refuse to be one of them now. We need to break the stigma once and for all. I'm speaking out because I want to help others and make a difference."

Thomas added in a video posted on his Twitter account: "I want to share my secret with you. Why? Because it's mine to tell you. Not the evils that made my life hell, threatening to tell you before I do. 

"And because I believe in you and I trust you. I'm living with HIV. Now you have that information, that makes me extremely vulnerable but it does not make me weak.

"Now even though I've been forced to tell you this, I choose to fight, to educate and to break the stigma around this subject."

Steve Hansen insisted the All Blacks were embracing the pressure of trying to win a third straight Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand made history by becoming the first nation to win the tournament back-to-back when they clinched the title in England in 2015.

Aiming for a hat-trick in Japan, Hansen said it was something the All Blacks – who begin their campaign against South Africa on Saturday – were excited about.

"It's extremely exciting. Trying to do things that no one else has ever done before is a hallmark of what New Zealand people are about," he told a news conference.

"We came away from the home shores and settled in a country at the bottom of the Earth. We had to find ways to live in isolation. You know, life wasn't like it is today so they've become pioneers and I think that's really important in anything.

"In life, particularly in sport, you've got to strive to be leaders rather than followers and we get an opportunity that no one else at the tournament gets.

"We can either shy away from that or get really excited by it and we're excited by it."

The All Blacks will go into the tournament as favourites and are in Pool B alongside South Africa, Italy, Namibia and Canada.

Captain Kieran Read accepted there was pressure on his team, but he said they were welcoming it.

"Obviously there's pressure but I guess it's how you look at that pressure," he said.

"You know, whether that's something to overcome you or you walk towards that and you actually enjoy that so we wouldn't be sitting here as a part of this tournament if we didn't relish these opportunities to play at that highest level.

"And the World Cup is the highest level. It's what you want to do when you pick up this game and play for your country so look, we walk towards that expectation and we really relish it so that's what we're hoping to do this tournament."

Lyon and Bordeaux Begles continued their blistering unbeaten starts to the Top 14 season as defending champions Toulouse stumbled again.

Both Lyon and Bordeaux went into Saturday's fixtures on the back of three straight wins and duly extended their streaks to four in some style.

Full-back Toby Arnold scored three of Lyon's nine tries in a 59-3 thumping of Brive while Bordeaux put Stade Francais to the sword 52-3.

Toulouse, meanwhile, finished with 14 men in their 28-13 loss at La Rochelle, which made it three defeats from four to start their title defence.

They trailed only 9-6 at the break but Wiaan Liebenberg and Arthur Retiere went over for La Rochelle before Werner Kok's red card on his Toulouse full debut for striking Jules Favre with his forearm effectively put the match beyond doubt.

Last season's runners-up Clermont Auvergne were boosted by the presence of Morgan Parra for the first time since May but suffered their second consecutive defeat, losing 37-28 at home to Pau, for whom Colin Slade tallied 20 points.

Promoted Bayonne saw off Castres 27-17 thanks predominantly to the boot of Brandon Fajardo, who kicked four penalties and a conversion for the Basque side.

Eddie Jones is pleased at how quickly England have acclimatised to life in Japan as they prepare to start the "serious preparation" for their Rugby World Cup opener.

The 2003 winners are set up at a training base in Miyazaki ahead of this year's tournament, though the 31-man squad have been given the chance to do a variety of other activities before the focus switches back to rugby.

They visited a local school during the week, with some players trying their hand at archery, while Jones has allowed them the opportunity to relax as they settle into their new surroundings.

Still, the Australian coach has at times needed to restrict his players from doing too much work in training, wary of a potentially long campaign ahead.

"The players have adjusted really well, really positive. There is a good feeling within the camp," Jones - who was in charge of the Japan national team at the previous World Cup - told the media.

"Everyone is ready to start work and we have actually had to pull players back because they have wanted to work harder.

"We have had a variety of activities on and off the field and I think they feel like they have adapted to the environment as well as they can. Now they are ready to begin the serious preparation for the World Cup.

"The players have a number of opportunities to do different things; they can go and play golf, we have been down the beach on Friday. We have got good training facilities so it is a place where you can prepare to win and that is why we came here."

England take on Tonga on September 22 but will be without prop Mako Vunipola and wing Jack Nowell for their opening fixture.

The Pool C clash with the United States that follows four days later is also going to come too soon for the injured duo, though Jones is hopeful they both may be available for the game against Argentina, which takes place in Tokyo on October 5.

"They are going really well and we are really pleased with their progress," Jones replied, when asked for fitness updates on Vunipola and Nowell.

"We have targeted for both of those guys to be available for the third or fourth game and we are pretty happy with their progress at this stage."

Australia head coach Michael Cheika has revealed he was threatened by fans after refusing to pick Israel Folau due to his controversial social media posts.

Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia in May for a "high-level breach" of contract after the full-back posted "hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters" on Instagram.

Cheika overlooked Folau before he was sanctioned, stating "the team is king", and the Wallabies boss has revealed that stance did not go down well with some supporters.

"People were saying all sorts of stuff," Cheika said. "Just threats I was getting; people on the street, some to my face, a couple at some games. It was just crazy stuff."

Cheika is disappointed not to have Folau in his Rugby World Cup squad, but has no issue with the 30-year-old expressing his opinion.

"I'm not disappointed in the individual because if that's what he believes, and that's where his passion is, I will never tell someone to hide it," he added.

"I might not agree with everyone, but I'd never want someone to not say what they feel. I'm no person to judge.

"The other disappointing part is that we lost one of our best players; a guy who I helped come back.

"I wouldn't say I'm responsible for what's happened. It's just life. But I had to do what was needed for the team."

Australia open their Rugby World Cup campaign next Saturday when they take on Fiji in Sapporo.

Steve Borthwick has confirmed Joe Launchbury and Henry Slade will be fit to feature in England's opening Rugby World Cup match.

Launchbury sustained a knock in England's final warm-up fixture against Italy, while head coach Eddie Jones was without Slade for all of the preparation games as the centre recovered from a knee injury.

However, the duo will be able to take part in England's World Cup opener against Tonga on September 22, meaning Jones will have 29 of his 31-man squad available for selection.

Mako Vunipola and Jack Nowell will still be missing, with both players expected to be out for at least the first two pool-stage matches.

"Mako and Jack Nowell will be back in the latter part of the group stages," forwards coach Borthwick told reporters following the squad's arrival in Japan.

"Slade is looking, very, very good. Joe Launchbury came off with a back injury at the weekend, but there's nothing concerning there.

"Joe will recover from the flight and will be good to go. While Mako and Jack are unavailable, Slade is on track."

England's travel plans were disrupted due to a typhoon, but Borthwick - who was an assistant to Jones during his stint as Japan head coach - says the squad are in fine spirits despite the delay.

"There was a bit of disruption, but people were very good around the airport. They gave us access to the lounge because they knew we'd been held up," Borthwick said.

"We stayed on the plane for a period of time and then went into the lounge.

"There was also a little delay outside at the airport so the boys started an impromptu game of cricket. It was good, but I didn't have an innings."

After facing Tonga, England - who crashed out of the 2015 World Cup at the first hurdle - will go up against the United States, Argentina and France in Pool C.

Brive claimed their first victory of the Top 14 campaign as they shocked last season's runners-up and local rivals Clermont Auvergne 28-21 on Sunday.

Promoted Brive hit the front early on in their 100th derby clash with Clermont, Guillaume Namy opening the scoring, with some accurate kicking from Thomas Laranjeira furthering the home side's advantage.

So'otala Fa'aso'o went over soon after, but Clermont gained a foothold through Fritz Lee's try.

Brive could sense an upset, though, and after Sevanaia Galala charged in before the break, they held off a second-half fightback from Clermont, with a late Laranjeira penalty keeping Clermont at bay.

Clermont lost out to Toulouse in last season's final, and the defending champions managed to break their duck for the season with a 20-17 win over Racing 92.

Two defeats on the bounce had left Toulouse in unfamiliar territory at the foot of the standings, but a penalty try helped them make a strong start against Racing, who had Juan Imhoff sent to the sin bin.

Arthur Bonneval extended Toulouse's lead in the 22nd minute, with the visitors' numbers reduced again when Teddy Thomas was cautioned, though Imhoff made up for his earlier discretion by hauling one back for Racing just after the half-hour mark.

Thomas also atoned for his caution with a try in the 64th minute, but with Lucas Tauzin having already nudged the hosts further ahead, Racing could not muster a decisive comeback.

South Africa expect Trevor Nyakane to be fit for their Rugby World Cup opener despite a knee injury sustained against Japan on Friday.

Prop Nyakane was sent on for Frans Malherbe in the second half of the 41-7 victory in Kumagaya but was forced off just 14 minutes later.

However, the 30-year-old did not sustain a serious injury and is expected to be available when the Springboks begin their World Cup campaign against reigning champions New Zealand on September 21.

"The tighthead prop sprained a knee during the 41-7 victory over Japan in Kumagaya on Friday and was limited to a 14-minute appearance," read a statement from the Springboks.

"Nyakane made a scheduled return to South Africa on Saturday to be with his wife for the birth of their child this week. He will arrive back in Japan on Friday."

Following their match with the All Blacks, Rugby Championship winners South Africa take on Namibia, Italy and Canada in their other Pool B fixtures.

Bordeaux-Begles and Lyon each recorded impressive away successes to maintain winning starts to the new Top 14 season.

The two sides, separated by 21 points last term, with Bordeaux missing out on the play-offs, each have 13 points through three matches, having won at Castres and Toulon respectively on Saturday.

Bordeaux scored the only two tries of the first half against Castres – through Scott Higginbotham and Matthieu Jalibert – but they still trailed at the end of an entertaining first 40 minutes.

Rory Kockott kicked five penalties before the break, although he ended the half in the sin bin. Masalosalo Tutaia had earlier seen yellow for the visitors.

Bordeaux led for much of the second period, moving in front through Tutaia's 48th-minute effort, but it appeared Castres would still triumph, with Benjamin Lapeyre and Thomas Combezou going over.

Ultimately, it came down to a penalty try four minutes from time for Bordeaux to run out 34-32 victors.

Lyon were far more comfortable in a 20-6 success at Toulon, despite seeing both Patrick Sobela and Jeremie Maurouard sent to the bin late on.

It was 3-3 at the break but tries from Clement Ric and Pierre-Louis Barassi saw the away side cruise.

Elsewhere, Paul Willemse scored a pair of tries as Montpellier defeated La Rochelle 30-16 at home with a strong second-half showing.

Stade Francais edged past Bayonne 33-27, while Pau left it late to beat Agen 18-12.

The Cheetahs raced away from the Lions and then held on for an ultimately nervy 31-28 Currie Cup triumph in Bloemfontein, earning their sixth title.

The two sides had finished level on points in the round-robin section of the competition but there was far more between them in Saturday's final.

A lively first 15 minutes saw Joseph Dweba's opening try for the Cheetahs cancelled out quickly by Wandisile Simelane after a smart Lions move.

But the Cheetahs accelerated as the first half wore on and led 31-7 by the break, scoring again through William Small-Smith, Clayton Blommetjies and Walt Steenkamp.

The Lions had completed a stunning comeback in the sides' previous meeting at the start of last month, but they left themselves just too much to do this time.

A flurry of late activity was kickstarted as Sintu Manjezi went into the sin bin after collapsing the maul, before James Venter and Dylan Smith each got through.

There was still time for Venter to score again, yet the deficit was too great and the Cheetahs held on while a scuffle saw Abongile Nonkontwana and Dillon Smit shown yellow cards.

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