It is little surprise to see powerhouses New Zealand start the Rugby World Cup as pre-tournament favourites.

The two-time defending champions remain the most fearsome side in world rugby and only the brave would bet against the All Blacks winning an unprecedented third straight trophy.

But the gulf between New Zealand and the chasing pack has been closed significantly, with Ireland starting the tournament as the number one ranked side.

With that in mind, three Omnisport writers give their thoughts on who will triumph in Japan, who may upset the odds and the player to watch throughout the tournament.


PETER HANSON

Winners: New Zealand

The All Blacks may not have the same air of invincibility they once held but it will still take an off day from Steve Hansen's men and a top performance from the other contenders to deny New Zealand a third straight title. Rare blips, such as the defeat to Australia and draw with South Africa in the Rugby Championship, will only galvanise this scarily talented squad, which has so much depth the likes of Owen Franks and Ngani Laumape did not even make the plane. England, Ireland, Wales and South Africa will all feel they can spring an upset, but I just don't see anyone dethroning the All Blacks.

Dark horses: Australia

It seems pretty absurd that a proud rugby nation such as Australia should be considered as outsiders, but that is the position Michael Cheika's side find themselves in. Inconsistent form over the past few years has seen the Wallabies lose some of their fear factor. You should always beware the wounded animal, though, and Australia really know how to turn it on at the World Cup. Twice champions of the world and twice runners-up, including four years ago when again they flew somewhat under the radar to make the final, discount the Aussies at your peril.

Player to watch: Sevu Reece

Exciting, electric, powerhouse New Zealand wingers go hand-in-hand with the World Cup and Sevu Reece is the next off the seemingly never-ending production line. He only made his Super Rugby debut for Crusaders in March, but finished the season as top try scorer with 15. At 22 years old, Reece still has plenty of time on his hands but he can already make a name for himself on the world stage.


PETE THOMPSON

Winners: South Africa

New Zealand will take some stopping in their bid to do what has never done before, but South Africa look well equipped to match the All Blacks' record of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup three times.

The Springboks have experienced a renaissance under Rassie Erasmus, with a formidable pack mixed with flair, and after winning the Rugby Championship in August they can become champions of the world in Yokohama on November 2.

Dark horses: Japan

Japan stunned South Africa in 2015 and home advantage can inspire them to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

Captain and number eight Michael Leitch will drive on Jamie Joseph's exciting side, who can be a joy to watch with their skill, speed and agility.

Player to watch: Faf de Klerk

Faf de Klerk is not a giant in stature, but the South Africa scrum-half can light up the tournament.

The playmaker has played a huge part in the Springboks' resurgence, pulling the strings and setting the tempo and he can get South Africa ticking on the biggest stage of all.


TOM WEBBER

Winners: South Africa

The Springboks have come a long way under Erasmus and are unbeaten in 2019. They claimed an impressive draw against the All Blacks in New Zealand in July and went on to seal the Rugby Championship, undoubtedly making them the form team heading to Japan.

Dark horses: Argentina

The Pumas have not won a Test match since beating Australia 23-19 in September 2018, but the Jaguares making it all the way to the Super Rugby final this year shows this is a group of players with serious talent. The success of their campaign will likely hinge on their opening match against France at Tokyo Stadium, with England also in Pool C.

Player to watch: Peceli Yato

Yato has shown himself to be an accomplished flanker with Clermont Auvergne in the Top 14 in recent seasons; in 2018-19 he scored more tries and made more metres than any other forward in the division. However, with Fiji in a group that includes Australia and Wales they will likely need to claim a scalp against one of those sides to have a chance of advancing.

The world's best are converging on Japan for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, where New Zealand will hope to again defend their title.

But with only 31 players able to be selected by each team, a number of notable names have not made the cut this year.

We take a look at five who might count themselves unfortunate not to be involved in the sport's biggest event.


Devin Toner (Ireland)

Ireland have not quite hit the same heights this year as in 2018 when they won the Six Nations Grand Slam and defeated the All Blacks, yet they have no shortage of options. The inclusion of Jean Kleyn, recently eligible due to the residency rule, has seen Devin Toner miss out.

Remarkably, that law and Joe Schmidt's decision resulted in criticism from World Rugby vice-president Agustin Pichot, who posted on Twitter: "I will be asking WR [World Rugby] for answers. I feel sorry for [Toner]."

Schmidt responded: "I think [Pichot] has a number of big opinions, but they're not ones that are relevant for us. Considering he is involved in World Rugby, he could have a look at what the rules were and not have so many things to say because for us it is tough enough to do our job and tough enough for me to have a conversation as I did with Dev."


Ben Te'o (England)

With some key men fit again and available, experienced centre Ben Te'o paid the price.

Head coach Eddie Jones was understandably questioned on the decision and explained: "I'm not going to go into reasons why he wasn't selected. We've had conversations; he understands it. Whether he agrees with it is another matter. We've had that discussion with him and he's just not in our top 31 players at the moment."

Te'o will instead be plying his trade with Toulon during the tournament, having been called in as cover for their World Cup stars.


Owen Franks (New Zealand)

Not many teams have the luxury of leaving out a 31-year-old with 108 Tests to his name. But not many teams have the depth of New Zealand, unfortunately for Owen Franks.

Franks had started each of the past two World Cup finals, playing the full 80 minutes in the 2011 triumph over France, but will not feature in the All Blacks' latest title defence.

Steve Hansen, who also left out Ngani Laumape, said: "[Franks] is one of the great All Blacks, he's played over 100 Tests. But unfortunately we believe the game requires us to have big, mobile ones and threes and, in this case, we think the other guys are more so. It was a tough decision."


Mathieu Bastareaud (France)

France named their initial World Cup squad in June and, while there were changes before the final selection was confirmed, Mathieu Bastareaud was not given the opportunity to force his way back into the side.

Bastareaud was Les Bleus' vice-captain as recently as the Six Nations, but his role in an underwhelming campaign appeared to count against him when coach Jacques Brunel named a youthful group.

Morgan Parra and Teddy Thomas missed out, too, although Brunel insisted Fabien Galthie, who will take over as coach following the tournament, had no role in the decisions.


Rob Evans (Wales)

Loosehead prop Rob Evans was one of the stars of Wales' Six Nations Grand Slam campaign this year but, along with Samson Lee, did not do enough to make Warren Gatland's 31-man squad.

It appears injury issues counted against Scarlets star Evans, who has played 36 Tests, although he is fit again following a shoulder operation at the end of last season.

Gatland explained Wales were preferring more "durable" options, saying: "Rob hasn't trained a lot in the lead up to the warm-up matches. He came in with a shoulder injury, then he's picked up a neck injury and a couple of back issues. Rob hadn't played a lot."

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.

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.

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

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."

Devin Toner has missed out on Ireland's 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup.

Toner has been a regular since Schmidt took charge in 2013, but the 33-year-old will not travel to Japan.

South Africa-born second row Jean Kleyn, who only recently qualified to play for Ireland under the residency rule, has made the cut and the Munster man is one of 19 World Cup debutants in coach Joe Schmidt's selection.

Rory Best, set to feature at his fourth and final World Cup before retirement, captains the squad, with Sean Cronin, Keith Earls, Cian Healy, Rob Kearney, Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton having also appeared at the showpiece event in 2011 and 2015.

Luke McGrath has overcome competition from Kieran Marmion to take the second scrum-half spot, behind first-choice Conor Murray.

"It was a difficult thing right from the start to have the 45 that we had," said Schmidt, whose side sit second in the world rankings after their win over Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

"We went down to 40 players and to go from 40 down to 31 was really difficult, but we had a process whereby we looked back through every training, looked through the games.  

"There were some guys who obviously had more experience and probably had more credit in the bank and were more established, and there were other guys who were trying to force their way into group and trying to get a balance of current form versus previous performance, it's always a very difficult conundrum to try to solve."

Ireland start their tournament against Scotland at the Yokohama Stadium in Tokyo on September 22.

Ireland's Rugby World Cup squad in full:

Forwards: Rory Best, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne, Iain Henderson, Jean Kleyn, Peter O'Mahony, Andrew Porter, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, John Ryan, Niall Scannell, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier.

Backs: Bundee Aki, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose, Jonathan Sexton, Jacob Stockdale.

Warren Gatland acknowledged six positions in Wales' Rugby World Cup squad are still to be decided in the wake of their final warm-up match, with Cory Hill a doubt due to a leg fracture.

Wales' squad for the tournament in Japan is set to be announced on Sunday and Gatland's players were given one final opportunity to impress against Ireland on Saturday.

However, they were beaten 22-17 in Cardiff after a poor first-half showing.

The performances of certain individuals still appeared to give Gatland much to ponder, though, as he confirmed his plans to debate Wales' various options.

"We're going back to the hotel tonight to sit down and it'll take a few hours," he told a news conference. "There are probably six positions really up for debate."

Gatland confirmed Hill's inclusion was one issue that was still to be settled, revealing the 24-cap lock has been absent from the warm-up games due to a leg fracture.

"Our big discussion tonight is with Cory Hill," he explained. "He's got a fracture in his leg.

"We scanned yesterday [Friday] and he has a very small fracture which will probably keep him out until game two or three. It'll be a big discussion point as to whether we take him or not."

Another area of contention would appear to be at fly-half, where Jarrod Evans started against Ireland before Rhys Patchell came off the bench to score a smart late try.

Gatland insisted Patchell's role in Wales' attempted second-half fightback would not necessarily give him the edge over Evans.

"There's no doubt that Rhys came on and did a good job," the head coach said. "But it's a hell of a lot easier coming off the bench when there's no pressure on you.

"It was hard for Jarrod in the first half when the team isn't going as well as it could."

Saturday's defeat means Wales, the world's top-ranked side, will fall to number four in next week's update.

Ireland did not do enough with a narrow margin of victory to take top spot in the rankings, but they will climb to second as New Zealand return to the summit.

Next week's remaining warm-up fixtures are set to decide who will head to the World Cup as the number-one team.

Ireland bounced back from last week's dismal defeat to England with a much-improved display and a 22-17 win in Wales in their latest Rugby World Cup warm-up.

Jacob Stockdale scored twice in the first half to secure bragging rights for the Irish in the first match of a double-header between the sides across consecutive weekends.

The display was extremely encouraging considering what had gone before for Joe Schmidt's side, although they were kept off the top of the rankings, having needed a 15-point victory against the world's number one side.

A late flourish from Wales in Warren Gatland's final home match could not quite complete a comeback.

Ireland's improvement was evident from the off and Jack Carty kicked the game's first points after nine minutes, although Jarrod Evans - making his first Test start - levelled the scores for Wales with a penalty in front of the posts.

Opportunities in open play were initially few and far between until a glorious weaving run from Andrew Conway created the opening try.

The winger raced away from three challenges and then unselfishly passed to Stockdale on the left to dash through.

And Stockdale had his second before the break as he preyed on a loose Wales pass and toed the ball clear of the recovering red shirts to dart across the line.

Wales enjoyed a better spell immediately after half-time but were soon on the back foot again and saw Leon Brown sent to the sin bin following a collapsed scrum as Ireland piled on the pressure.

A blatant forward pass denied Conway a try on the right, yet there was no let-up and Rory Best helped drive Wales back to secure a penalty try following a series of re-set scrums.

The home side belatedly got a breakthrough try with some lovely footwork from Owen Lane, with Ireland then suddenly hanging on as Elliot Dee lunged just short of the try-line.

Bundee Aki's challenge on an airborne James Davies meant Garry Ringrose's counter-attacking score was struck off, and Rhys Patchell's impressive late try could not rescue a Welsh result.

Wales' Josh Navidi has vowed to embrace the captaincy role against Ireland on Saturday having been handed the chance to lead his country for the first time.

Ireland visit the Principality Stadium for Wales' final match on home soil before the Rugby World Cup, with head coach Warren Gatland ringing the changes.

He announced 14 alterations to his starting XV following the victory over England, with Navidi one of those coming into the team.

It caps a fine rise for the Cardiff Blues back-rower, who has only played 17 times for his country.

"It is a massive honour. I've had loads of messages from people, which is nice. My family are ecstatic as well, and it will be nice to lead the team out," Navidi said on Friday.

"Gats [Gatland] came up to me after a units session and asked me would I like to lead the team. It's something you can't turn down, really.

"I will try and keep the emotions down. It's another game of rugby, but obviously nice to lead the team out, embrace the moment and then get into it.

"I am not much of a talker, to be honest. Hopefully, I can lead from the front, and everyone else will follow.

"As a youngster I captained Bridgend Athletic, and my school. I have done it a bit with the Blues over the years too.

"Alun Wyn [Jones], I have played quite a lot with him recently, and obviously Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees at the Blues, and it's little things you pick up on through them. It just brings your game forward, and hopefully I can pass it on to others.

"But to be honest, I have never thought about it [being captain], with the leaders in the group with Wales.

"You have got Alun Wyn, Ken Owens and Jonathan Davies, who are massive figures in the team, and it's something that I've never thought I would come across - I thought just getting the red jersey is enough - so it will be nice."

Wales will face Ireland again on September 7 in Dublin for their final pre-World Cup warm-up.

Their campaign begins 16 days later, against Georgia in Toyota City.

Warren Gatland has urged his Wales players to prove their Rugby World Cup credentials against Ireland and highlighted a shoot-out for the fly-half position.

Wales have made 14 changes for their warm-up fixture against Ireland at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, with Jarrod Evans getting the nod at number 10 and Rhys Patchell among the replacements.

Owen Lane and Rhys Carre will make their Test debuts as Josh Navidi captains the side in their final match before Gatland names his 31-man squad for the tournament in Japan.

James Davies is the only survivor from the team that beat England 13-6 on August 17, while Ireland come into the game following a 57-15 thrashing at the hands of Eddie Jones' side at Twickenham on Saturday.

"There are a number of positions still up for grabs. Players are well aware of how important this game is and the opportunity they have," said Gatland.

"They're under pressure after last week's performance so it's a great challenge for us.

"They're coming here knowing they've been criticised, they'll be hurting. I couldn't ask for a better game for this group of players."

On the race to compete with Dan Biggar for the fly-half position at the World Cup, Gatland added: "Jarrod gets an opportunity. We know a little bit more about Rhys Patchell, so the pressure is on him [Evans] and he understands that fully.

"It's about coming out, starting a game and controlling a game. Rhys will get the second half and it's about him coming on and making an impression.

"The two of them are aware they'll get the chance and it's probably a shoot-out between the two of them."

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt has also rung the changes for the meeting in Cardiff, with Iain Henderson, Peter O'Mahony, Jacob Stockdale and Bundee Aki the only players to retain their spot.

Niall Scannell comes in for captain Rory Best, who is named among the replacements, while Johnny Sexton, Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw miss out again.

 

Wales: Hallam Amos, Owen Lane, Scott Williams, Owen Watkin, Steff Evans, Jarrod Evans, Aled Davies; Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias, Samson Lee, Adam Beard, Bradley Davies, Aaron Shingler, James Davies, Josh Navidi.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rob Evans, Leon Brown, Jake Ball, Ross Moriarty, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Jonah Holmes.

Ireland: Will Addison, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O'Mahony, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Rory Best, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Garry Ringrose, Dave Kearney.

Brian O'Driscoll is concerned by Ireland's form a month out from the Rugby World Cup but believes they can swiftly turn their fortunes around.

Ireland were the dominant team in world rugby in 2018, winning the Six Nations Grand Slam and defeating world champions New Zealand.

But this year has been a different story, with a humbling 57-15 reverse to England in Saturday's World Cup warm-up at Twickenham providing cause for concern.

Yet former Ireland star O'Driscoll is backing Joe Schmidt's men to respond, potentially starting with back-to-back fixtures against Wales before the tournament in Japan.

"It's concerning in that you would prefer to be playing with huge confidence," O'Driscoll, a Land Rover ambassador, told Omnisport.

"In the first warm-up games, you have a stuffy victory against Italy and then a resounding defeat to England, who just looked like a completely different level.

"Of course, I'd be concerned that the confidence appears to have taken a dent and you want to go in [to the World Cup] feeling as though you can play your best rugby or you have your best rugby in close parameters to where you're at. That doesn't seem to be the case at the moment.

"But sport can be fickle and it can turn around very, very quickly as well. We saw the All Blacks beaten badly by Australia and coming around the following week and hammering them at home, nilling them. You can turn it around.

"What I'm sure will disappoint Joe Schmidt the most is that the lads just didn't seem like the same accuracy and same levels expected of them were delivered at the weekend.

"But they have a chance this weekend of putting that right. That's the beauty of having a game the following week after a big defeat."

If Ireland can rediscover some confidence, O'Driscoll suggests recent results should not quell optimism ahead of the World Cup.

"It's happened with New Zealand for a number of World Cups, where they've peaked in between and not quite been able to manage it on the biggest stage," he said.

"That's the question with Ireland now, they've not quite delivered at a World Cup level. But that doesn't mean this time [they] can't turn that around.

"It's not ideal preparation so far, but the way the group works, playing Scotland and Japan - they're capable of winning both of those games and also the two other games [against Russia and Samoa].

"Finish top of the group and you have the game of your life against New Zealand or South Africa - win that and you're in a semi-final.

"That really simplifies it, but any team will tell you, get to a semi-final and of course you're capable of winning a World Cup. You're one game away from playing in a World Cup final."

 

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Jamie Heaslip is confident Rory Best is the right man to lead Ireland and will prove his worth as the pressure builds heading into the Rugby World Cup.

Captain Best's role has come under scrutiny this year as Ireland have failed to build on an outstanding 2018 in which they won the Six Nations Grand Slam and then defeated world champions New Zealand.

Joe Schmidt's men finished third in the 2019 Six Nations and then, in last week's World Cup warm-up, crashed to a record loss against England.

But 95-cap former Ireland international Heaslip, who played with Best, is confident the skipper will take the right approach following that reverse, calmly rallying the side as they face Wales in consecutive weeks before travelling to the tournament in Japan.

Best has confirmed he will retire from professional rugby following the World Cup.

"Rory's come in for a lot of criticism, particularly over the last week," Heaslip, a Land Rover ambassador, told Omnisport.

"But you look back at his tenure now – I think it's three years he's been captain – and the success of that team while he's been at the helm.

"Ireland have beaten every Tier 1 nation in the last two years. That type of consistency shows the leadership he's obviously showing day in day out in that camp.

"He would have been disappointed with his own performance last week and will be very eager to get another opportunity – just like every other player in that matchday squad from last week – to showcase what he can do on the field.

"And I would imagine his leadership qualities are coming out in full force this week, in terms of being up against it and the performance not being good enough.

"They were exploited by the other team, the pressure is starting to pile up, and it takes a really calm, level-headed person – just like Rory is – to this week get the players together and focus on the new task.

"He will captain them in that way. That's where Rory will show his real value to the team."

Heaslip is not overly concerned by the team's form either, with the exception of a "one-off" against England, and believes performance levels are not too far from where they were last year.

"I think they're in the exact same position [as in 2018], if I'm honest," he said. "Less than 12 months ago, everyone was saying these guys were going to win the World Cup after beating New Zealand.

"If you actually look at the games, the margin of winning and losing is so fine.

"You look at the first game of 2018, straight out of the gate, they don't score any tries, kick all the points, France score a try against them, and if it wasn't for a 41-phase drop goal effort from the halfway line – you couldn't write this stuff – they don't win the Six Nations, they don't win the Grand Slam.

"In 2019, you could say the same thing where the margin for the opposition to win the game is not that big. The margin for losing at international level is so fine.

"I think Ireland have actually been very consistent over the last 18 months, two years, the past World Cup cycle even. I think they're in exactly the same position. They're a bloody good team."

 

Land Rover is official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019. With over 20 years of heritage supporting rugby at all levels, Land Rover is celebrating what makes rugby, rugby. #LandRoverRugby

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