Ireland head to the Rugby World Cup as the highest-ranked side in the world after winning captain Rory Best's final home match before retirement 19-10 against Wales, who will just be glad to have avoided serious pre-tournament injury scares.

Wales lost Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb to injuries in their final warm-up game before the 2015 tournament, but a bang on the head for Rhys Patchell – who was able to walk off the pitch unaided – was the only notable issue for Warren Gatland on Saturday.

Perhaps less superstitious about such situations, Ireland – welcoming Johnny Sexton back into the team – looked far more ruthless and were able to give Best a victorious send-off, with the 37-year-old withdrawn in the 53rd minute.

An evenly contested opening resulted in neither side adding points to the board until the 21st minute, when Rob Kearney received Conor Murray's quick offload before touching down in the corner before Sexton added the extras.

Wales did lose Patchell – making his first Test start since June 2018 – after he sustained a knock to the head in a collision with CJ Stander, though he walked off and the visitors' initial response was impressive.

After seeing one opportunity for their first try go begging when Dan Biggar was just about held up, the resulting five-metre scrum came to Hadleigh Parkes to charge over, with Halfpenny converting after a successful earlier penalty.

Ireland stepped things up after the interval and went back in front when Tadhg Furlong burrowed his way over following another scrum.

James Ryan followed suit 10 minutes later, touching down despite Aaron Wainwright's best efforts, leaving coach Joe Schmidt – like Best – triumphant in his final match in Ireland.

Australia got through their final Rugby World Cup warm-up game with no major injury scares, as they survived a Samoa rally to emerge 34-15 victors on Saturday in Sekope Kepu's final Wallabies match on home soil.

Kepu, getting his 106th Test cap, departed to a rapturous ovation in Parramatta in the 50th minute for his last international in Australia, and Samoa soon began to claw their way back into the contest despite losing halfback Scott Malolua to a potentially serious shoulder injury just before the break.

But Dane Haylett-Petty and Matt To'omua got late tries to halt any potential comeback by the visitors, wrapping up a win that ultimately flattered Australia.

The Wallabies looked to be running away with the contest in the first half, getting their first try after just seven minutes when Samoa lost possession with an overthrown line-out in their own 22, the ball eventually worked to Adam Coleman, who went over.

Marika Koroibete followed suit eight minutes later, receiving possession just inside the Samoa half, flattening Alapati Leiua before touching down by the left corner.

Adam Ashley-Cooper got in on the act just before the half-hour mark, jumping on to a bobbling ball after Haylett-Petty's incisive kick.

Lukhan Salakaia-Loto's converted score just prior to the interval gave the Wallabies a commanding 22-3 lead, but Samoa were fired up early in the second half, getting their first try of the contest when Dwayne Polataivao crossed after Afaesetiti Amosa broke away from a scrum.

Polataivao got a second soon after following a fine move. Leiua broke the line thanks to Ed Fidow blocking off Jack Dempsey and squared to Ahsee Tuala, who made the decisive final pass.

But the Wallabies upped their intensity again in the final 10 minutes to deny a Samoa comeback, Haylett-Petty spotting a gap and squeezing through, with Bernard Foley adding the extras.

To'omua wrapped things up in the final minute, with Australia heading to Japan in winning fashion.

Steve Hansen decided it was better for New Zealand to finish their 92-7 thrashing of Tonga with 14 men than risk Ryan Crotty for longer than necessary.

Crotty marked his first appearance since sustaining a broken thumb in the Crusaders' Super Rugby semi-final victory over the Hurricanes in June by touching down twice as the All Blacks sailed to victory in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up.

George Bridge scored four tries, Ben Smith bagged a double while Sevu Reece, Codie Taylor, Kieran Read, TJ Perenara, Matt Todd and Ardie Savea also got in on the act on Saturday.

Hansen had planned to limit Crotty to 65 minutes and stuck to that decision despite having already used all of his replacements.

"It was a good opportunity again to put ourselves under a bit of pressure when it comes to how many are on the park," Hansen said.

"We could have left him on, but Ben [Smith] came off because he was a bit tight in the hamstring, Beauds [Beauden Barrett] had already come off.

"We could have put Aaron [Smith] on the wing, but we were happy to put Aaron on for TJ and then of course we realised we wanted to take Ryan off at 65 because he's just come back and hasn't played for so long.

"He played 40 last week [in Canterbury's 80-0 Mitre 10 Cup victory over Southland] and 65 today and will be good to go in a couple of weeks.

"We could make a choice, and the scoreboard said we could make that choice without too much risk."

New Zealand begin their World Cup campaign against Rugby Championship winners South Africa in Yokohama on September 21 and Hansen felt the dismantling of Tonga was hugely beneficial to their preparation.

"Everyone got a run, and no injuries. We played some good footy and got the opportunity to just cement some combinations again, and finish a good week's work," he said.

"We got rugby time. We got collision time, we got set-piece time, we got time on the ball under pressure, and time on the ball in open space.

"That's what rugby's about, and we play a massive game in two weeks. If we didn't have any of that today, then we would have been in a lot of trouble. We got exactly out of it what we needed to get out of it."

Hansen will leave his post at the conclusion of the World Cup but was not feeling emotional about having overseen his last All Blacks Test on home soil.

"Clearly, you know it's your last game, but are we dwelling on that? No, [we are] trying very hard to stay focused on what we're trying to do, which is coach a team to try and win a third World Cup [in a row]," he said.

"When you retire you've got plenty of time to reminisce about all the stuff that's gone before you and pat yourself on the back or give yourself an uppercut depending on how things go."

Mako Vunipola will miss at least the first two of England's games at the Rugby World Cup, coach Eddie Jones has confirmed.

Prop Vunipola suffered a setback in his hamstring injury and was absent as England defeated Italy 37-0 at St James' Park on Friday in their final warm-up match ahead of the tournament in Japan.

Jones' men led 9-0 at half-time thanks to a trio of Owen Farrell penalties, but Ben Youngs, Joe Marchant, Ellis Genge and Anthony Watson touched down in the second half as Italy were put to the sword in Newcastle.

England next face Tonga in their opening Pool C game in Sapporo on September 22 and take on United States four days later, meaning Saracens forward Vunipola is expected to return against either Argentina or France.

"He's probably going to be right for the third or fourth game," said Jones.

"He just had a little scar tissue which was impairing his movement. But that's all been fixed. He's progressing really well now."

On whether he was worried about taking an injured Vunipola to the World Cup, Jones added: "No, not at all. He's a very important player for us.

"We feel that he's going to be ready to contribute in the World Cup. We've got two looseheads with us who are in great form, one who can play tighthead, so we've got three tightheads as well.

"We're confident that he'll make a great contribution for us."

Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell will also miss England's first two World Cup games after dealing with an ankle injury and appendicitis.

"Jack Nowell is probably in the same category [as Vunipola]," Jones added. "They are important players for us, so we are prepared to be patient with them."

New Zealand's final Rugby World Cup dress rehearsal was more like a training session as the defending champions demolished Tonga 92-7 in an ominous warning before the showpiece tournament.

The All Blacks fell just short of 100 points in a merciless display against Tonga in Hamilton, where New Zealand scored 14 tries to one on Saturday.

Tonga managed to get on the board late in the one-sided game, but it was all about New Zealand, who were led by winger George Bridge's four tries at Waikato Stadium.

Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty and Sevu Reece also had two tries apiece, while Beauden Barrett had seven conversions.

Steve Hansen's All Blacks will now jet off for Japan before they open their World Cup defence against South Africa on September 21.

Playing their first day-time Test in New Zealand since the 2011 World Cup, the All Blacks were a class above from the outset following Reece's opening try in the eighth minute.

Reece danced his way through Tonga's defence, but no one would have imagined the rout to come as the All Blacks ran in eight tries for a demoralising 54-0 half-time lead.

New Zealand – who beat Tonga 47-9 in their last encounter at the 2015 World Cup – did not take their foot off the pedal in the second half, with records in sight.

Bridge came within touching distance of Marc Ellis' record of six in a match, which he set at the 1995 World Cup against Japan, as he became the 13th All Black to score four tries in a Test.

The second half started with Bridge catching the ball from the restart and crossing after just nine seconds in a forgettable moment for Tonga.

New Zealand added another 38 points in the second 40 minutes and while Siale Piutau recorded a five-pointer for the visitors, Tonga were condemned to their second heaviest loss to the All Blacks following the 102-0 humiliation in 2000.

England rounded out their preparations for the Rugby World Cup with an emphatic 37-0 win over Italy at St James' Park on Friday.

Eddie Jones' much-changed side completed their warm-up fixtures by scoring four tries without reply in Newcastle, captain Owen Farrell converting them all as he finished with a personal haul of 17 points.

However, while they stretched their winning record against Italy to 26 Tests, England produced a performance of two contrasting halves in their final outing before this year's tournament in Japan.

They led only 9-0 at the break thanks to a hat-trick of Farrell penalties and were fortunate not to concede in defence, Tommaso Benvenuti appearing to get around Jonny May only to drop the ball as he headed for the line.

Farrell failed with a penalty attempt early in the second half but England crossed for their first try not long after their skipper's miss, scrum-half Ben Youngs getting over from close range.

Joe Marchant marked his first Test start by crossing in the 53rd minute, the centre – picked by Jones for the game despite not being included in the final 31-man party for the World Cup – slicing through some flimsy tackling to score.

Replacement Ellis Genge benefited from his colleagues in the pack to get his maiden international try when finishing off a powerful maul, Farrell's successful conversion making it 30-0.

The fly-half was also on target after setting up the final try for team-mate Anthony Watson, who capitalised on a tiring Italy defence to breeze through a huge gap and slide over.

Jones will hope to receive a clean bill of health from those involved before England fly out on Sunday. Their opening Pool C fixture is against Tonga on September 22.

Scotland face a nervy wait to learn the extent of a head injury to Ben Toolis sustained in an ultimately comfortable 36-9 win over Georgia in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up.

Toolis was brought on as a second-half replacement for Jonny Gray, who played just 40 minutes on his return from a hamstring injury.

Head coach Gregor Townsend also finished Friday evening with fitness concerns over Blair Kinghorn and Jamie Ritchie, but it was the sight of Toolis' injury halting play for 15 minutes at Murrayfield that will perhaps be of greatest concern.

"We had two players with head injuries and they didn't come back on, they'll go through the normal concussion protocols," Townsend said in quotes reported by BBC Sport.

"A couple of guys had tight hamstrings. Jamie Ritchie's going to the hospital for a scan later tonight, so that's five players in a match so there will be quite a lot to look at over the next few days."

Aside from the injury concerns, Townsend will know his side must sharpen up their act for their World Cup opener against Ireland in Yokohama on September 22.

Scotland were stuttery in a first half in which they led 10-9 at the break thanks to Ali Price and Blair Kinghorn tries, with both teams finishing the opening period with 14 men after Zander Fagerson and Mikheil Nariashvili were pinged.

It was a much-improved showing after the break, Sam Johnson touching down before the impressive Darcy Graham went over to precede late scores from the Horne brothers, George and Peter.

Chester Williams, a key figure in South Africa's 1995 Rugby World Cup triumph, has died at the age of 49.

Williams was considered one of the greatest wings in Springbok history. He passed away in Cape Town on Friday following a heart attack, national governing body SA Rugby said.

Nicknamed the Black Pearl, Williams scored four tries in South Africa's quarter-final win against Western Samoa on the road to glory at their home World Cup.

Williams was a pioneer - one of the few black players to star for South Africa in that era - and he played 27 Tests, scoring 14 tries for the Springboks.

Mark Alexander, president of SA Rugby, said in a statement: "The news of Chester’s passing is devastating and hard to believe, as he was still young and seemingly in good health.

"Chester was a true pioneer in South African rugby and his performances at the World Cup in 1995, as a snapshot of his Springbok career, will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of our rugby public.

"As a member of the Springbok class of 1995, Chester was not only well known in the rugby fraternity, but he was a much-loved South African whose influence stretched wider than just the rugby world.

"He was passionate about rugby and South Africa and as coach, at various levels, selflessly gave back to the game after he hung up his boots. He played with courage and was a beacon of light in his community and in the broader South African context.

"Chester Williams had so much more to give. Our thoughts and condolences are with his wife, Maria, his children, family and friends during this very sad time."

Williams, whose honours included being named SA Rugby Player of the Year in 1994, turned his hand to coaching after retirement, leading teams including the national teams of Uganda and Tunisia.

The news of Williams' death comes two months after fellow wing and 1995 World Cup hero James Small died, with their team-mates Ruben Kruger and Joost van der Westhuizen having already passed away.

Makazole Mapimpi scored a hat-trick as South Africa rounded off their Rugby World Cup preparations with a resounding 41-7 win over Japan in Kumagaya on Friday.

Japan stunned the Springboks at the World Cup in England four years ago but there was no chance of a repeat as Rassie Erasmus' side surged to a commanding victory that maintained their unbeaten record in 2019.

Cheslin Kolbe opened the scoring in the corner before Mapimpi got off the mark following some excellent work from Willie le Roux, who plucked down a high ball and shook off his marker to send the wing through.

Despite Japan enjoying plenty of possession, the Springboks took a 22-0 lead into half-time when Handre Pollard added a penalty to a routine second from Mapimpi.

Mapimpi showed incredible pace when he motored away with Pieter-Steph du Toit's pass to complete his hat-trick, but Kotaro Matsushima – born in Pretoria – pulled one back to the delight of the home support.

South Africa finished the match a man light due to Francois Louw being sent to the sin bin following repeated team infringements, but Kolbe charged home from inside his own 22 and Herschel Jantjies scored his fourth try in as many Tests to send the Rugby Championship winners into the World Cup full of confidence.

Wallabies flanker David Pocock will retire from internationals after the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

Pocock, 31, is set to make his 78th Test appearance for Australia in a clash against Samoa in Parramatta on Saturday.

But the flanker will end his Test career after the Rugby World Cup, which begins in Japan on September 20, he announced on Friday.

"I think looking at the flankers coming through, I think we're in good hands and that's exciting for Australian rugby," the former Wallabies captain told a news conference.

"I feel like I've put a lot into it, I've really enjoyed it, benefitted a huge amount.

"As an immigrant to Australia, rugby's provided me with somewhere to make friends, to feel like I belong and obviously gone on to get huge opportunities playing professional rugby – Force, Brumbies and for the Wallabies.

"So, I feel like it's time to move on to other things and contribute in other areas."

Pocock is the third Wallaby to announce their international retirement this week, joining Sekope Kepu and Tatafu Polota-Nau.

Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray will feature together for the first time since March when Ireland host Wales at the Aviva Stadium in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up match on Saturday.

Joe Schmidt - who will be overseeing his final match in Dublin - and Warren Gatland named largely second-string teams for their first encounter at the Principality Stadium last weekend, which the visitors won 22-17.

Ireland have made 12 changes to their line-up, with Sexton returning from a thumb injury and half-back Murray making his first appearance since going off in the defeat to England at Twickenham on August 24.

Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw will make their first pre-World Cup appearances, while Rory Best will captain the side in his last Test on home soil.

James Ryan, Jack Conan and Bundee Aki are the only players to have retained their spots in the starting line-up.

On the returns of Sexton, Henshaw and Earls, defence coach Andy Farrell said: "They've been held back for a week or two and are raring to go.

"It's important that we put in a cohesive performance and have the right mental attitude heading into the World Cup.

"It's about trying a few different combinations, too. The squad is down to 31 players but there is still massive competition for places.

"It's our last game before we get on the plane on Wednesday and we're after a performance that we're proud of."

 

Ireland: Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Keith Earls, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Jean Kleyn, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson, Rhys Ruddock, Jack Carty, Garry Ringrose.

Alun Wyn Jones returns to captain Wales for their final Rugby World Cup warm-up fixture against Ireland in a starting line-up featuring 15 changes.

Coach Warren Gatland has opted to make wholesale alterations for the fixture in Dublin following last weekend's 22-17 defeat against the same opponents in Cardiff.

Skipper Jones is joined by fellow powerhouse forwards Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric, while Aaron Wainwright makes up the back-row.

Rhys Patchell impressed enough off the bench against Ireland last time out to earn a place on the plane to Japan and is named at fly-half, with Tomos Williams starting at nine.

An exciting backline sees Hadleigh Parkes link up with Jonathan Davies at centre, while Josh Adams, George North and Leigh Halfpenny make up Wales' back three.

"This is our final preparation match so it is important we get enough rugby into us, get rugby ready ahead of our opener against Georgia which is just over two weeks away," said Gatland, whose squad depart for Japan on Wednesday.

"It is important we hit the ground running in Japan and we give the players enough time on the field.

"Saturday is the first time these players would have taken to the field as members of the World Cup squad, it has been a big week and it is a big opportunity for players to put their hand up and secure spots for the starting XV in Japan."


Wales team to face Ireland: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Rhys Patchell, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Elliot Dee, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones, Aaron Wainwright, Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty

Replacements: Ken Owen, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Josh Navidi, Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar, Liam Williams

Joe Marchant will make his first Test start against Italy in England's final Rugby World Cup warm-up game in Newcastle, even though he is not in the squad for the tournament itself.

England named their 31-man squad on August 12 and Harlequins centre Marchant was absent from the final list, but head coach Eddie Jones has selected the 23-year-old alongside Piers Francis in the midfield to face Italy in what the head coach has termed "a mix-and-match selection policy".

Ruaridh McConnochie, who was the only uncapped player named in the World Cup squad, will make his debut on the wing for a team that will be captained by Owen Farrell and will once again feature Billy Vunipola.

Marchant's previous two appearances - against Wales last month and Ireland two weeks ago - have both come from the bench.

His inclusion raises doubts about the long-term fitness of Jonathan Joseph, who pulled out of the Ireland game with muscle soreness, and Henry Slade, who has not featured in any of the World Cup warm-up games due to a knee injury.

"We are delighted to be playing against Italy, one of our traditional Six Nations rivals and the game for us is another important step to develop our game fitness and game strategy," Jones said in quotes published on England's website.

"We have gone with a mix-and-match selection policy to develop our adaptability and the team’s ability to cope with any situation."

 

England: Anthony Watson, Ruaridh McConnochie, Joe Marchant, Piers Francis, Jonny May, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs, Joe Marler, Jamie George, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Mark Wilson, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler, Charlie Ewels, Matt Kvesic, Willi Heinz, George Ford, Joe Cokanasiga.

Wallabies veteran Tatafu Polota-Nau has announced he will retire from Tests at the end of the year.

Polota-Nau, 34, is set to make his 90th appearance for Australia against Samoa in Parramatta on Saturday.

It could be his last game for the Wallabies, the Leicester Tigers hooker having only been named on standby for the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

"It is [special] because the west has given me the opportunity to take rugby with both hands and go for it," Polota-Nau said on Wednesday.

"If it wasn't for Parramatta Two Blues picking up the skill set I possessed back in schoolboys days, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to don the green and gold.

"It's a privilege really to wear the Wallabies jersey.

"It's another opportunity to wear the gold jersey, most likely for the last time, and it's been a hell of a journey and I have been incredibly fortunate to wear the jersey every time."

Polota-Nau joins fellow Wallaby Sekope Kepu in announcing his retirement from Tests this week.

Johnny Sexton felt he was "blessed" after it was confirmed a thumb injury would not keep him out of Ireland's Rugby World Cup squad.

Sexton has not featured for Ireland this season but is likely to feature against Wales in their final warm-up match on Saturday.

The 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year had been struggling with a thumb injury over recent weeks, but Joe Schmidt included him in the squad for Ireland's World Cup campaign, which begins against Scotland on September 22.

Sexton has confirmed he sustained the injury during a training game and, after a month in a splint, his thumb has healed sufficiently enough for him to be able to make his 84th appearance for Ireland on Saturday, before heading to Japan.

"It’s all good, it was just an unfortunate injury really," Sexton told RTE.

"[I was] playing touch rugby, fitness games and got my hand caught in between someone's legs and I dislocated my thumb.

"Look, I was blessed that it ended up being fine. It was four weeks in a splint and then looking after it, then get out and get comfortable with the ball again and reintroduce the contact.

"Yeah, it could have been a hell of a lot worse. It could have been one of them nightmare scenarios where you have to get an operation and then you are struggling to play any rugby before you go."

Though Sexton acknowledged it was difficult to cope with the thought of possibly missing out on the World Cup, the 34-year-old said the injury did enable him to focus on other areas in order to boost his fitness.

"I did a lot of extra running sessions and conditioning, which is good for me. It's been a long time since I got a long block," Sexton said.

"Sometimes after Lions tours you get a few weeks and then you are back into it and then the next season you are looking after injuries [so] it was good to get an extended pre-season really.

"Hopefully I’ll see the benefits of it on Saturday if I get out there. That first match back is always a shock to the system so I'm nervous about that but looking forward to it as well."

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