South Africa have one of the great names in sport on their side as they prepare to begin their Rugby World Cup campaign against New Zealand.

The Springboks will take on the defending champions on Saturday and they can count on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for support.

NFL great Brady is an American, and the United States are in the competition, albeit in a different pool, but he is backing South Africa.

The 42-year-old sent a video clip to the Springboks, who posted it on their Twitter page, in which he said: "Springboks, good luck to you in Japan. Kick some butt. Go Bok!"

As South Africa's caption noted: "Can't go wrong with the GOAT in your corner."

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi warned his side that defeat to New Zealand in their Rugby World Cup opener will turn every other pool match into a final.

The Proteas were famously stunned in their first game of the 2015 tournament, going down 34-32 to this year's hosts Japan in one of the greatest shocks of all time.

Rassie Erasmus' men face the reigning world champions on Saturday in Yokohama and Kolisi knows how important it is for the Springboks to make a strong start, having been humiliated in England four years ago.

"We are a very different team now – different coaching staff. We don't want to start like that and we have an opposition who also wants to start well," said Kolisi, whose side will also face Italy, Namibia and Canada in Pool B.

"There is a huge history behind us and we have learned from the past, so we have shown as much respect as we can to New Zealand, and have worked hard on our stuff.

"It makes it really tough if you lose your first game, because then basically every game is like a final."

Loose forward Kolisi cited the breakdown as a key battleground against the All Blacks, who triumphed when the two met in Pretoria last year, with flankers Sam Cane and Ardie Savea the men to watch.

"I know how good they are, I have played against them for a while. Me and Sam Cane played in the U20s, so I have seen him for quite a while. We chat and learn a few things from each other, but you can’t wait for the ref to help you at the breakdown," he said.

"Ardie has the most steals in Super Rugby, so we are going to have to sort it out ourselves and get in there quickly.

"That is where they were strong in the game in Pretoria last year – that's where they won the game."

The last meeting between the two sides was the 16-16 Rugby Championship draw in July. 

New Zealand will need to hit the ground running in their bid to win a third successive Rugby World Cup, as they begin their campaign in Pool B against South Africa on Saturday.

While hosts Japan and Russia kick off the 2019 edition of the tournament on Friday, it is tough not to look past that opening fixture and focus instead on the mouthwatering battle between two rugby heavyweights in Yokohama.

Champions in 2011 and 2015, the All Blacks are on a 14-match World Cup winning streak and are favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on November 2.

However, the Springboks held their opponents to a 16-16 draw in Wellington earlier this year on their way to winning the Rugby Championship for the first time since 2009, albeit it was a shortened season in a World Cup year.

Still, South Africa are seen by many as the main challengers to the reigning champions, even if All Blacks captain Kieran Read is confident his side know exactly what they will be up against.

"There is nothing special about the way they play. They do what they do well," he told the media. "They are physical‚ they're kicking well and they take the points when they're on offer using their strengths like their maul.

"They also have the ability to play off counter-attack and turn over ball from their backs. We know what is coming our way and that's great.

"We are in a good place to put a plan out that we think is going to match it."

A defeat would by no means be a hammer blow to either team's hopes - South Africa lost their first game four years ago to Japan but still made the semi-finals, where they lost 20-18 to New Zealand - but finishing second in the group may, if things run according to form, lead to a tricky quarter-final tie with Ireland.

The Boks will honour Chester Williams this weekend, wearing a jersey with the 1995 World Cup winner's image embedded into the numbers on the back. Williams died a fortnight ago, at the age of 49.

"Chester didn't like being the centre of attention," said South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus. "He never bragged about his role or expected anything for it, but he would have enjoyed being part of a Springbok-All Black Test match once more, I think."

Having called for a more balance approach to officiating at the World Cup, Erasmus has selected the same XV that were on duty for the 41-7 win over Japan in South Africa's final warm-up fixture, meaning Duane Vermeulen will appear in his 50th Test.

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen, meanwhile, named Richie Mo'unga at fly-half on Thursday with Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown in the centres, meaning Sonny Bill Williams is on a powerful bench.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

New Zealand - Beauden Barrett

So often the first-choice number 10, the brilliant Barrett will line up at full-back against South Africa. His selection there gives New Zealand an extra playmaking option in a back division that includes inexperienced wing duo George Bridge and Sevu Reece.

South Africa - Handre Pollard

Read and the rest of the All Blacks may know what to expect from their rivals, but they still need to find a way to nullify South Africa's threat. To that extent, fly-half Pollard's kicking game - both in open play and also off the tee - will be pivotal if the Boks are to prosper.


KEY OPTA FACTS

- The All Blacks have won 16 of their last 20 games against the Springboks. Each of the last four meetings have been decided by a margin of no greater than two points.

- New Zealand's run of 14 successive World Cup wins is the longest such streak by any nation in the tournament's history.

- South Africa have lost three of their last eight World Cup fixtures, as many as they had lost in their 28 World Cup outings previously.

- New Zealand have scored at least one try in each of their last 26 World Cup outings. The last opponents to prevent them crossing the line? South Africa, back in 1999.

- Barrett beat the most defenders (16) of any player in the 2019 Rugby Championship. His 47 carries for 202 metres gained gave him the second highest totals in those categories.

- South Africa's Pieter-Steph du Toit made the most tackles (36) of any player in the Rugby Championship, as well as the most clean breaks (5) by any forward in the campaign.

It may not prove to be the case in the long run, but New Zealand feel a little vulnerable going into the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Having failed to win this year's shortened version of the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks are no longer the top-ranked side prior to the tournament in Japan.

Admittedly, they have not suffered a World Cup defeat since 2007, when they were stunned by France in a quarter-final in Cardiff. Their pedigree, plus their strength in depth, means Steve Hansen's side deserve to be considered the favourites.

Still, there is a glimmer of hope for the rest of the rugby heavyweights. The question is: who is best placed to dethrone the champions? 

 

1. SOUTH AFRICA

Could the Springboks be peaking at just the right time? They won the Rugby Championship for the fourth time this year and, after a shocking start against Japan, came as close as any nation to ending New Zealand's march towards a second straight World Cup in 2015. An early crack at the All Blacks in their Pool B opener will give them the chance to land a potentially telling blow. Also, the Boks ruled the world in 1995 and 2007. Now, 12 years on from their previous success, will the trend be repeated? They deserve to be viewed as the main contenders to the defending champions.

2. ENGLAND

It cannot possibly go any worse than four years ago, right? Eddie Jones – who was in charge of the Japan team that upset the Boks in Brighton in 2015 – is at the helm and the schedule has aided their campaign, as they have Tonga and the United States in their opening two fixtures in Pool C, giving them a chance to iron out any issues before they round out the stage by facing Argentina and France. The talismanic Owen Farrell is the key – and not just because of his outstanding kicking off the tee.

3. WALES

Warren Gatland could finish his spell in charge by doing a Six Nations Grand Slam and World Cup double. The Kiwi reached the semi-finals in 2011 and then the quarters four years ago. The reason they are not rated higher, however, is the list of absentees. Flanker Taulupe Faletau and fly-half Gareth Anscombe are missing due to injuries, scrum-half Rhys Webb is unavailable due to selection rules and attack coach Rob Howley has returned home over an alleged betting breach.

4. IRELAND

Like several of his counterparts, Joe Schmidt's tenure comes to an end with the World Cup. His final Six Nations did not go quite to plan, but Ireland top the world rankings, defeated New Zealand less than a year ago (in a game where the mighty All Blacks failed to score a try) and have plenty of experience in their squad. Much will depend on the form and fitness of fly-half Johnny Sexton - can he help the team recapture the form they displayed in 2018? While Pool A looks to be plain sailing, they face the prospect of New Zealand or South Africa in the last eight.

5. AUSTRALIA

The beaten finalists from four years ago will be relying on experience to go one better than 2015. Michael Cheika has often seemed on the brink as their head coach, but he raised hopes by beating New Zealand 47-26 in Perth in August. Still, they lost the rematch 36-0 on the road and are minus their leading strike weapon in Israel Folau, who is locked in a legal dispute with the Australia Rugby Union following his sacking for comments on social media. Without him, they will be more workmanlike than eye-catching in attack. 

6. SCOTLAND

Scotland are in a pool that, apart from Ireland, looks softer than some of the alternative options. They will not take hosts Japan for granted in their final round-robin fixture and, if they do progress, will have to cause an upset against either New Zealand or South Africa in the next round. Gregor Townsend has plenty of World Cup experience from his playing days, but this is his first in charge of the national team - expect the Scots to be in some highly entertaining contests but the last four looks a long shot.

7. ARGENTINA

Los Pumas languish outside the top 10 in the rankings but have made the semi-finals at two of the last three World Cups. The reason they are listed so low here, though, is their group. Only two can progress and having been drawn alongside England and France, Argentina face a challenge to make the quarters. Mario Ledesma's squad is dominated by players from Jaguares, who reached the Super Rugby final for the first time this year, but will lean on the Stade Francais' Nicolas Sanchez to provide control.

8. FRANCE

There was a time when France were the team you wanted to avoid in the knockout stages (just ask New Zealand 12 years ago, while they only won the 2011 final 8-7 against Les Bleus). Yet this current bunch are not living up to previous versions, with a distinct lack of flair put down to a domestic game now dominated by big-name overseas recruits occupying key positions. Sure, France have turned it on for the big occasion in the past, but the 2019 squad should concentrate first on making it out of their pool.

AND THE REST...

Japan have improved since 2015. Italy? Not so much. The hosts can justifiably think a quarter-final slot is within reach, but the Azzurri look doomed in Pool B alongside the All Blacks and the Boks. Currently placed inside the world's top 10, Fiji will likely have to beat one of Australia or Wales just to make it out of their group. The other nations will hope for damage limitation against the big boys and aim to take points off each other in their remaining fixtures. 

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen claims rival boss Rassie Erasmus was wrong to question standards of Test refereeing ahead of South Africa's Rugby World Cup opener.

The All Blacks face the Springboks in the first match of their title defence, yet the build-up to a mammoth clash between the world champions and Rugby Championship winners has been overshadowed by Erasmus' criticism of the officiating.

The South Africa boss claimed it is a "well-known fact" that New Zealand have in the past received preferential treatment from referees.

Hansen feels Erasmus has blatantly attempted to put pressure on Jerome Garces, Saturday's man in the middle, and suggested both teams would benefit from letting the referee get on with his job.

"It's pretty obvious what they're trying to do and, while I've got a lot of respect for South Africa and particularly Rassie, I think he's a great coach, I don't agree with what he's doing," Hansen told reporters.

"He's trying to put pressure on referees externally and they're under enough pressure already. They don't need us coaches doing what he's doing.

"It doesn't matter who your ref is. As a coach or a team, you can always find things after the game that they didn't do and you can get emotional about that and think that they're picking on you and not on the opposition. We've done it ourselves.

"At the end of the day, they try to do the best they can do. Yes, they don't always get it right all the time and we've suffered from that just like other teams have.

"It's a big game, we just need to let the ref get on with it and prepare for it himself."

He added of the officials' ability to cope with the pressure: "They're not stupid people, so you'd hope [they can deal with it]."

Garces has run the rule over five previous Tests between New Zealand and South Africa - each of them All Blacks wins - sending off Springboks centre Damian de Allende in 2017.

However, the French referee also dismissed Scott Barrett for the All Blacks against Australia last month.

Barrett said ahead of meeting Garces again: "There's obviously a fine line and I've learned from that and am keen to move on.

"The laws are there for a reason, to protect players and player welfare, and I've been working hard and keen to address that. We've had the briefing and we're well aware how they'll be reffing high shots and foul play."

The All Blacks have named an experienced line-up for their Rugby World Cup blockbuster against South Africa on Saturday.

Beauden Barrett, a star at fly-half, will start at full-back for the two-time defending champions when they open their campaign against the Springboks in Yokohama in Pool B.

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen talked up his team, including what he believes is a strong ability to have impact off the bench.

"Any combination of players in our squad could have justified their selection, but in the end we believe the 23 we have selected is the right group for this opposition," he said on Thursday.

"In today's rugby environment, you need to have the mindset that it's not just about who starts, it's also about what the players coming off the bench can provide. As an example, we have a great one-two punch with Dane [Coles] and Codie [Taylor] at hooker and Aaron [Smith] and TJ [Perenara] at half-back."

While 12 players are set for their Rugby World Cup debuts, the All Blacks' team includes a total of 1,061 Tests in experience.

Hansen has been happy with his team's preparation ahead of a tough opening game against the Springboks.

"Since transferring from our camp in Kashiwa to Tokyo we have moved into Test match mode this week and our focus has been building throughout the week," he said.

"We've had a very good week's training in the heat and rain here in Tokyo, the facilities have been excellent and our Japanese hosts have been outstanding."

Hansen added: "The challenge of playing one of our oldest and most respected foes in the opening Test of RWC2019 has us excited and energised by what lies ahead. Each time we play South Africa, it's a tight battle and a real arm wrestle.

"To perform at our very best, we'll have to play with real clarity, intent, energy and clear heads. Both teams will have their moments and it'll be our job to ensure we limit theirs and take full opportunity of ours."

New Zealand: Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Nepo Laulala, Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Kieran Read.
Replacements: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Shannon Frizell, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Ben Smith.

The All Blacks have named an experienced line-up for their Rugby World Cup blockbuster against South Africa on Saturday.

Beauden Barrett, a star at fly-half, will start at full-back for the two-time defending champions when they open their campaign against the Springboks in Yokohama in Pool B.

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen talked up his team, including what he believes is a strong ability to have impact off the bench.

"Any combination of players in our squad could have justified their selection, but in the end we believe the 23 we have selected is the right group for this opposition," he said on Thursday.

"In today's rugby environment, you need to have the mindset that it's not just about who starts, it's also about what the players coming off the bench can provide. As an example, we have a great one-two punch with Dane [Coles] and Codie [Taylor] at hooker and Aaron [Smith] and TJ [Perenara] at half-back."

While 12 players are set for their Rugby World Cup debuts, the All Blacks' team includes a total of 1,061 Tests in experience.

Hansen has been happy with his team's preparation ahead of a tough opening game against the Springboks.

"Since transferring from our camp in Kashiwa to Tokyo we have moved into Test match mode this week and our focus has been building throughout the week," he said.

"We've had a very good week's training in the heat and rain here in Tokyo, the facilities have been excellent and our Japanese hosts have been outstanding."

Hansen added: "The challenge of playing one of our oldest and most respected foes in the opening Test of RWC2019 has us excited and energised by what lies ahead. Each time we play South Africa, it's a tight battle and a real arm wrestle.

"To perform at our very best, we'll have to play with real clarity, intent, energy and clear heads. Both teams will have their moments and it'll be our job to ensure we limit theirs and take full opportunity of ours."

New Zealand: Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Nepo Laulala, Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Kieran Read.
Replacements: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Shannon Frizell, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Ben Smith.

South Africa have named an unchanged side for their mouthwatering Rugby World Cup opener against New Zealand in Yokohama on Saturday.

Coach Rassie Erasmus will stick with the same XV and eight replacements that saw off hosts Japan 41-7 in a warm-up game two weeks ago.

It represents the first time the Springboks have stuck with the same side since the 2015 World Cup semi-final, which New Zealand edged 20-18 at Twickenham, while number eight Duane Vermeulen will win his 50th Test cap.

The only alteration from the team that played out a 16-16 Rugby Championship draw against the All Blacks in Wellington in July is fit-again captain Siya Kolisi starting at openside flanker in place of Kwagga Smith.

"We have 31 players in the squad, any of whom I would be happy to select, but this is a line-up that has worked well as a starting combination with real momentum to come from the bench," Erasmus told a news conference.

"They have emerged together over the past 18 months as our game has developed and matured. We've prepared well and we're looking forward to what will be another extremely close match.

"I think the thing that makes it special, if you ask anybody right now who is going to win this Test match, you know, I don't think anybody can bet on any of the two teams.

"I guess if you ask our boys we think we've got a really good chance, I think if you ask Steve [Hansen, New Zealand coach] and their team, they'll think they think they have a really good chance. Hopefully the referee is not too sure."

Indeed, referee Jerome Garces found himself to be the focus of what appeared to be some pre-match mind games on Erasmus' part.

"Even referees buy into that respect [for the All Blacks]," he said. "And because you are playing so well, referees almost find it tough to penalise you in 50-50 decisions."

"I think it was a well-known fact that it was really tough at times when teams were under the pump, some of the 50-50 decisions went their way because they deserved that, being number one for so long."

After taking on the world champions, South Africa will also face Italy, Namibia and Canada in Pool B.

South Africa team to play New Zealand: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, RG Snyman, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn, Jesse Kriel

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.

Rassie Erasmus' tremendous development of the South Africa squad has made Bryan Habana extremely optimistic about their Rugby World Cup hopes.

Former Stormers and Munster boss Erasmus in March 2018 took over from Allister Coetzee, whose dismal spell at the helm included 11 wins in 25 Tests and the Springboks' heaviest loss – a 57-0 drubbing at the hands of New Zealand in the 2017 Rugby Championship.

Coetzee was appointed in 2016 and in his first year suffered eight defeats in 12 Tests.

Although Erasmus lost his first match at the helm, he engineered a series success against England and ended a nine-year wait for an away victory against New Zealand in 2018.

The Springboks head into the World Cup undefeated this year and having won the Rugby Championship for the first time since 2009.

"Given that 2016, 2017 [were] pretty disappointing years, 2018 - Rassie's first year in charge - also only a 50 per cent win ratio, a really poor Super Rugby season for all of the South African sides, so going into this Rugby Championship, [there was] a lot of uncertainty," Habana told Omnisport, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.

"Fast forward four weeks post the start of that championship and I think the optimism, the positivity and excitement around this Springboks side leading into a World Cup is absolutely incredible, and justifiably so given that they've gone out and won a Rugby Championship for the first time since 2009.

"It's the first time since 98 that they've gone unbeaten in the competition, albeit a shortened competition. They've really come to the fore in a massive way over the last month and a half, and what has been even more brilliant to see is that a year ago you didn't really know who your 31, 23, or even starting 15 were, given that you're not quite sure what the talent was.

"All of a sudden, Rassie's conundrum of having to choose only 31 players going into the this World Cup was a fantastic one to be in, given that development from a squad perspective that he's been able to achieve over the last 18 or so months.

"It all bodes really well in a World Cup that is probably going to be the most unique we've ever, ever seen. Unique by the fact that the top six teams realistically go into this competition with a pretty decent chance of winning it, realistically."

A late draw against the All Blacks was key to the Springboks' Rugby Championship triumph and they begin their campaign in Japan against the two-time defending champions in Yokohama on Saturday.

Habana said: "I don't think it's just the draw that will be fresh in South Africa's mind. I think the win in Wellington in the Rugby Championship last year, the first time a South African side has ever gone to Wellington and scored five tries against a New Zealand outfit, to then win it for the first time since '98 in Wellington was incredibly special.

"I think they'll take a lot of confidence out of that going into what is almost a decider against New Zealand because [over] the last three games everything is all equal - they've both won one, lost one and then drawn one. The points difference is zero at the moment.

"What an epic game to start out a brilliant tournament against the number one side in the world, the current reigning champion of the tournament.

"The South African side will be able to go into that game with an incredible amount of confidence, knowing what they've achieved against New Zealand in the last 12 months."

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."

Talk of two-time defending champions New Zealand being vulnerable as they bid to make Rugby World Cup history will be music to the ears of Steve Hansen.

The All Blacks start their quest to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for an unprecedented third time in a row as favourites, and rightly so.

Yet New Zealand are not the all-conquering force that have taken on all comers for so many years and slipped to second in the rankings behind Ireland ahead of the tournament in Japan.

Chinks in the armour were exposed during a Rugby Championship campaign that New Zealand finished in third spot after they were soundly beaten by Australia and drew with South Africa.

The Springboks were crowned champions, making a strong statement just six weeks before the two heavyweights do battle in their Pool B opener in Yokohama.

Ireland have beaten Hansen's side twice in the last three years and South Africa consigned them to defeat in a Wellington classic 12 months ago.

The juggernaut has been halted, but there is no doubt it can fire up driven on by inspirational captain Kieran Read - hungry to end his international career by lifting the famous trophy yet again in November.

Australia were put in their place a week after rocking the 14-man All Blacks in Perth, going down 36-0 at fortress Eden Park just eight days later.

Hansen must be rubbing his hands together reading or hearing about his side being fallible as they prepare to try and make history and give him the perfect send-off.

The All Blacks supremo declared Ireland are favourites to dethrone New Zealand after his side were beaten in Dublin last year, but sounded a warning upon arrival in Tokyo.

"To try and do things that have never been done before is a hallmark of what New Zealand people are about." he said.

"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 when life wasn't like it is today.

"They became pioneers. That's important in life and particularly in sport; you've got to strive to be leaders rather than followers. We have an opportunity that no one else at the tournament gets; we can shy away from it or get really excited about it. We are really excited by it."

One look at the list of New Zealanders who failed to make the squad shows the challenge their rivals face in trying to end their dominance.

Test centurion Owen Franks was sensationally omitted along with outstanding centre Ngani Laumape, highlighting the embarrassment of riches at Hansen's disposal.

Liam Squire is also absent, but Hansen has such an abundance of quality to call upon that New Zealand remain the team to beat.

The fear factor may not be what it was, but write the All Blacks off at your peril.

Sam Warburton believes New Zealand captain Kieran Read deserves to be a Rugby World Cup-winning skipper and can foresee a successful All Blacks campaign.

Read will retire after the upcoming World Cup, where New Zealand are chasing a third straight title and fourth in total.

The 33-year-old featured in the 2011 and 2015 successes but only replaced Richie McCaw as the All Blacks captain in 2016, meaning he has not yet led the team at a finals.

Warburton was Wales skipper at consecutive World Cups and believes Read fits the role of a successful leader.

"You look at World Cup winners and - I won't say names - some people you come across, it doesn't suit them, no disrespect," Warburton told Omnisport.

"Then there's some people like Kieran Read who comes across the table and he just suits being a World Cup captain. He's got that iconic, legendary status.

"If he doesn't win a World Cup, he'll always be a legend and an icon of the New Zealand game anyway, but he's been such a good player and ambassador for New Zealand rugby, you think he's the type of person who deserves the accolade to be a World Cup-winning captain.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see New Zealand lifting the World Cup with Kieran Read. It would suit him very well. He's been a legendary player.

"He deserves to achieve all the success that he already has achieved and further success still."

As two-time defending champions, New Zealand are the team to beat in Japan but Warburton does not believe any side with serious title ambitions should be looking to avoid the All Blacks.

"It depends what your motivation is. If your motivation is just to have a really good run in the World Cup, then you want to avoid New Zealand," he said.

"If your motivation is that you're going to win the World Cup, then it doesn't matter where you're going to meet them. You've got to beat them anyway.

"Some teams will be thinking, 'If we can get to a quarters or a semis, this would be brilliant, so we want to win our group to avoid New Zealand'.

"There's going to be some teams thinking, 'I don't care how we get there, we're going to beat every team to get to the World Cup final'. It depends how the team's thinking.

"Fans will obviously want to see you play New Zealand in a final because they'll want to see you have a good run.

"But if you're going to doubt yourself in a quarter, then it makes no difference if it's the quarter or the final. You're doubting yourself for the final, you've written the final off.

"For me, it doesn't actually matter when you play these teams. I think if you want to win the World Cup, you want to win it the hard way so you get the respect of the whole world that you've deserved to win it.

"You don't want an easy run to the final. So for me, personally, it wouldn't matter. But I can understand why some teams would rather meet New Zealand later on."


Open Side by Sam Warburton (HarperCollins) is out on 19th September.

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.

Page 1 of 36
© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.