England have earned the right to be considered among the favourites for the Rugby World Cup, according to Lawrence Dallaglio.

Eddie Jones' side, along with top-ranked Ireland, Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales and Rugby Championship winners South Africa, have been tipped as the most likely sides to challenge holders New Zealand in Japan.

England crashed out of their home World Cup at the first hurdle in 2015 but will aim to make amends this time around.

They start their campaign against Tonga on Sunday, before facing the United States, Argentina and France, with Jones' men having lost just twice – both times against Wales – in 2019.

Dallaglio lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 2003 and sees no reason why England cannot go on to claim rugby's top prize once more.

"They've set the bar high," the former England captain told Omnisport, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.

"There's always expectation with England in any sport, particularly rugby. We've got a history in rugby of doing well and I think they've earned that right quite frankly.

"I think the progression under Jones has been there right the way from 2015 when he declared he didn't feel we had enough world-class players.

"But I think on that journey over the last four years, you look at the team now and it's packed full of top-class international rugby players who have won Grand Slams, they've won the title a few times and domestic and European honours. So I think we can rightly go into this World Cup in Japan cautiously optimistic.

"They know they are capable of beating any of the sides in the world as they showed in Dublin in the Six Nations, as they showed in the first half against New Zealand and as they've shown in games more recently against Ireland.

"We're contenders, we're challengers and New Zealand are the team to beat. But we've got a chance."

Pressed on what else England need to do to prove their credentials, Dallaglio conceded a World Cup triumph may be required.

"How do you measure success in a side? It's what you win, tangibly," he added.

"This England team have a won a couple of Slams, they've equalled the world record for international victories under Jones, so I think the one thing they need to do is win a World Cup.

"To do that away from home would be some achievement. I'm really excited about their prospects, I'm looking forward to it. It's wide open."

Eddie Jones stressed the importance of England getting their tactics spot on against a "ferocious" Tonga outfit in their Rugby World Cup opener on Sunday.

After a group-stage exit at the last World Cup, England go into their tournament bow in Sapporo expected to be among the top challengers to holders New Zealand this time around.

The 2003 champions won three of their four warm-up matches after coming second in the Six Nations and will contest a competitive Pool C that contains Argentina, France and United States as well as their initial opponents.

"The focus this week has been about getting right for Tonga," head coach Jones said ahead of the match.

"We have had a good seven days in Japan where we have acclimatised really well. Now it is about putting in a game plan against Tonga and it is important to be tactically right. We know they are going to be ferocious and full of pride and passion. 

"They are a side if they get a bit of momentum they can be very dangerous and are well-coached by Toutai Kefu. We will need to be at our best.

"There is a good feeling about the place - I don't think there is anyone who isn't excited about getting out there."

George Ford will start at fly-half for England, with Owen Farrell captain at inside centre. Joe Marler is at loose-head prop with Mako Vunipola out.

Billy Vunipola, though, will line up against Tonga 20 years after his father and uncle represented the Pacific islanders against England in a World Cup contest.

This will be the third meeting between the teams, with the previous two – both at World Cups – having been won by England in convincing fashion with a combined score of 137-30.

England are looking for a seventh straight win in a Rugby World Cup opener and have not lost one since a defeat to New Zealand back in 1991.

The omens do not look great for Tonga, who have won only three of their last 10 World Cup encounters and come into the event with just one win from their last seven Test outings.

Distinguished former Australia international Kefu leads a squad that retains only four of the 23 players who lined up in their last World Cup match against New Zealand in 2015.

One of that quartet is Kurt Morath, the country's all-time leading points scorer with 340 and one of seven English-based players in the team. 

Key front-rower and the heaviest player in World Cup history, Ben Tameifuna, returns to the XV after being rested from a chastening 92-7 loss to the All Blacks two weeks ago.
 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England – Ben Youngs 

Ben Youngs, 30, will earn his 90th cap and become the first scrum-half to play in three World Cups for England.

His experience will be vital with England naming a XV that is their second-youngest ever at a World cup, including flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill. Youngs scored a try in his last Test outing against Italy this month.

Tonga - Nasi Manu

Nasi Manu has been named among Tonga's replacements and if he takes to the field it will be an emotional moment. The number eight did not play for club Benetton or his country in 2018 and could play his first Test since recovering from cancer, having undergone months of chemotherapy.

"I had tears just then," he said after Tonga's welcome ceremony. "I don't think anybody knows just how much I have been through to get here. Not only the surgery and chemotherapy, but also the physical battle to get myself in good enough shape." 


KEY OPTA FACTS

- England have won only two of their last five games at Rugby World Cups, including a 60-3 triumph over Uruguay in their most recent fixture.

- England have surpassed 40 points scored in a game on three occasions thus far in 2019; the last time they did so more times in a calendar year was in 2003 (7), including two instances in their triumphant 2003 campaign.

- No player has scored more Test tries thus far in 2019 than England flyer Jonny May, whose six tries are level with German Kessler Lordon (Uruguay) and Joe Taufete'e (USA).

- Siale Piutau's next appearance will be his 40th in Test rugby for Tonga, becoming just the fourth Tongan to reach the mark.

- Kurt Morath (73) has scored more points at the Rugby World Cup than any other player for Tonga, including a 28-point haul during the group stage of the 2015 tournament.

Ashely Giles is thrilled Eoin Morgan elected to stay on as ODI captain following England's triumphant Cricket World Cup campaign.

Morgan led England to their maiden success in a 50-over World Cup in July, with the final settled in dramatic fashion at Lord's – the tournament hosts edging out New Zealand in a super over.

Following the tournament, the 33-year-old suggested he was undecided as to whether he should stay on as captain of the limited-overs side.

However, the ECB confirmed on Friday that Morgan would remain in charge and Giles is delighted with the batsman's decision with England now having the T20 World Cup in their sights.

"Eoin took some time to decide whether, all things considered, it was right to continue," Giles told Sky Sports.

"It didn't take him too long, thankfully. I'm delighted, he's been a great leader for us and with us losing [coach] Trevor Bayliss as well it's great for the team and the environment that he's staying on.

"Having one of those two guys still there gives us consistency and now we can look to perhaps go with the team we've got and to hold two white-ball trophies within a year would be a great achievement."

Bayliss called time on his tenure as England coach across all formats at the end of the Ashes series, but Giles is confident a replacement will be finalised within the coming weeks.

"I see one coach leading the whole thing. I've been part of a set-up where there are two coaches and role-playing that out, for me, it doesn't end particularly well," Giles told BBC Sport.

"If we have one head coach and some very good assistants, we are going to have to look after those guys well. The head coach would have some time off, so it's an opportunity for those assistants to lead in different forms.

"I hope we have a shortlist in a week to 10 days and we will go through interviews. We won't rush it but it would be nice to have someone in place before we leave for New Zealand."

Giles also added Alex Hales – who was dropped ahead of the World Cup due to an "off-field incident" – should not give up hope of returning to the fold despite not being given a central contract.

"The door isn't closed. He's a very fine short-format player," Giles said. "He needs to keep working hard and getting the runs - but if he does that, who knows?"

Joe Root will captain England's Test side regardless of their new head coach, Ashley Giles has confirmed.

Test skipper Root came under pressure in the recent Ashes series as England were held to a 2-2 draw, seeing Australia retain the urn as tourists for the first time since 2001.

The uncertainty around the coaching position added to speculation regarding the Yorkshireman's future, with Trevor Bayliss leaving his role following the series.

But Giles, the managing director of England men's cricket, has confirmed Root will continue to lead the side going forward.

"There have been no questions asked [about Root's future] by me," Giles told Sky Sports News. "I would hope that is the most important thing for now.

"One of the most important things for Joe is that we now redress that balance between red and white-ball cricket and we have more focus on Test match cricket.

"And when the new coach arrives, Joe gets a choice to sit down with him and really plan and decide a way forward - with me as well - our DNA around Test cricket going forward.

"If I were Joe, and we've had these discussions, we need to start planning towards winning the Ashes back in Australia in just over two years."

England will have one coach across all formats when they replace Bayliss, with Giles adding: "It's an exciting process because it's my first big appointment and we need to get it right."

The team's central contracts for the 2019-20 season were confirmed on Friday, with Eoin Morgan, England's white-ball captain, also set to continue in his role after winning the Cricket World Cup.

He has been given a limited-overs contract again, with Jofra Archer awarded an all-format deal.

The paceman starred in his first international campaign, playing key roles as England won the Cricket World Cup and drew the Ashes.

Rory Burns has been handed a Test contract following his performances against Australia, although Joe Denly got a white-ball deal.

Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, previously contracted across all three formats, received limited-overs agreements, while Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett and David Willey missed out completely.

Jack Leach and Sam Curran were granted incremental deals.

Owen Farrell will start at inside centre and captain England as George Ford takes the place at fly-half for their Rugby World Cup opener against Tonga.

Farrell and Ford have battled for the number 10 spot for England, but Eddie Jones has opted to start both playmakers in Sapporo on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Ben Youngs is set to make his 90th appearance for his nation in the Pool C clash.

England head coach Jones warned his team they would need to be at their best against Tonga.

"The focus this week has been about getting right for Tonga. We have had a good seven days in Japan where we have acclimatised really well, our sleep patterns are good and the physical conditioning of the players is outstanding. We have been able to add a bit more on our team togetherness and cohesion too," he said on Friday.

"Now it is about putting in a game plan against Tonga and it is important to be tactically right. We know they are going to be ferocious and full of pride and passion.

"They are a side if they get a bit of momentum they can be very dangerous and are well-coached by Toutai Kefu. They have a great World Cup record and we will need to be at our best on Sunday.

"I don't think there is anyone who isn't excited about getting out there on Sunday and there is a good feeling around the place.

"We are delighted to be up here in Sapporo and to play at the stadium will be a unique experience for us and something the team is looking forward to."

England: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Lewis Ludlam, Willi Heinz, Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph.

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. 

Jonny Wilkinson believes England can win the Rugby World Cup but must first focus on negotiating a potentially tricky path to the semi-finals.

England will be expected to advance to the knockout stages from Pool C, where they are alongside France, Argentina, the United States and Tonga.

Australia or Wales will likely then await Eddie Jones' men in the quarter-finals.

Wilkinson, who starred as England won the World Cup in 2003, reckons the current squad are capable of lifting the trophy in Japan, but suggests the difficulty of a last-eight tie cannot be downplayed.

"I think England can definitely go all the way," Wilkinson, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019, told Omnisport.

"I think the issue with the World Cup is, for me, there are three stages: the group stage, the quarter-finals and the end of it. That's how it always broke down for me.

"The group stage is key - you've got to break out of it in good shape - then the quarter final is in that nasty place.

"You know, if you go out at the quarter-finals, it's not good enough. But it's such a big game and you play the big teams.

"The semi-final and final looks after itself. If they get to a semi, they're good enough to ride that wave all the way. I think they'll be so excited about it that they won't let their chance slip."

England did not even get out of their pool on home turf four years ago, finishing behind Australia and Wales, and Wilkinson sees that tournament as an example of how tough the World Cup can be.

"I really do think that the World Cup four years ago was a huge amount of scrutiny going in, because it was a home World Cup and thus lots of expectation," he said.

"It was a tough first game against Fiji, a good team, then a brilliant hour against Wales. Suddenly, things don't go your way, you end up losing momentum and then you're going into a must-win game against Australia, who are in fire.

"So it was never a million miles away and that's unfortunately the ruthlessness of the World Cup."

Wilkinson also highlighted the dangers of France and Argentina this year, with points – rather than performances – the only aim for England in those key group fixtures.

"A lot of teams you put in the favourites category, but these teams float around under the radar and are dangerous," he said. "No-one has done more damage to people's dreams than underdogs France.

"Unfortunately, they're in England's group and so, unfortunately, are Argentina. And France and Argentina have a very particular relationship when it comes to World Cup.

"It will be very interesting to see how that group shapes up, but for England it has to be pretty ruthless. It doesn't matter how you do it, you've just got to make sure you've got the most points."

Joe Root remains the obvious candidate to serve as England Test captain, according to former skipper Andrew Strauss.

Root's side concluded a thrilling Ashes battle against Australia with a series-levelling win at The Oval last week, although a 2-2 draw in the five-match rubber was not enough to regain the famous urn.

Strauss presided over back-to-back Ashes triumphs in 2009 and 2010-11 and feels Root, who was beaten 4-0 in Australia in 2017-18, will be stronger for the experience.

However, the 42-year-old former opener warned the Yorkshireman must balance the burden of captaincy against his output with the bat.

Root failed to convert any of his four Ashes fifties into three-figure scores over the course of the English summer, with such efforts dwarfed by Australia run machine Steve Smith.

"I think he's learnt a lot on the job. He's had some tough circumstances to deal with," Strauss, who was appointed chair of the ECB's cricket committee last week, told Omnisport.

"Obviously, the Ashes away in Australia wasn't a happy time for us.

"But he would have been buoyed by the performance at The Oval and he's the obvious guy to keep going.

"He's learnt all the lessons there are to learn and now it's about him evolving and developing as a captain, but also making sure he looks after his own game at the same time.

"We need him to be putting in those sort of performances, maybe not Steve Smith level, but somewhere close. He's definitely capable of doing that."

Among the pluses from England's 135-run triumph at The Oval was a third half-century in as many matches for Joe Denly, whose battling displays have suggested an alliance with Rory Burns at the top of the order might yet be something more than makeshift.

Sam Curran impressed on his first outing of the series with some lively left-arm seam bowling and Strauss believes the all-rounder and his Surrey team-mate Ollie Pope are candidates to freshen up the Test side during the forthcoming tours of New Zealand and South Africa.

"I don't think you're going to get wholesale changes," Strauss told reporters at the BMW PGA Championship Pro-Am. "They might have a look at one or two, someone like Ollie Pope – hopefully Sam Curran will get a bit of a run in the side as well.

"I think it was great to see Denly and Burns earn themselves a bit more time and show that they're capable of opening the batting.

"You've got to start somewhere and they might end up being that partnership.

"We need a bit more consistency in our Test cricket, that's for sure. We've got the makings of a very good team but it's about learning how to win and how to make sure that you don't put yourself under real pressure, which maybe we've done too often."

England are yet to name a replacement for outgoing head coach Trevor Bayliss, with Chris Silverwood expected to take interim charge in New Zealand.

Strauss agrees with his successor as England's director of cricket, Ashley Giles, that one coach overseeing all three formats is preferable, although he feels increased specialisation below is likely.

"I think Ashley Giles has said he prefers one coach overseeing things and then maybe some specialist support staff or assistant coaches," Strauss added.

"The challenge is so much cricket coming up in all three formats. With the World Test Championship and a global event every year we've got to be very consistent and good in all formats.

"I think that leads to specialist support staff but it also probably leads to specialist players as well. We'll see how they go with that."

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.

Manu Tuilagi can help England do some "serious damage" at the Rugby World Cup, according to former England international Andy Goode.

Leicester Tigers star Tuilagi was involved in the 2011 finals as a 20-year-old but missed the tournament in England four years ago after being convicted of assaulting two female police officers and a taxi driver.

Having put disciplinary and injury problems behind him, the Samoa-born centre has re-established himself as a key component of Eddie Jones' side and was named man of the match for a blistering performance in the 57-15 demolition of Ireland at Twickenham last month.

Goode's second spell with Leicester ended shortly before Tuilagi made his debut but, having experienced going up against the 28-year-old, he is expecting big things in Japan.

"I can't wait to see him play in the World Cup and I've been on the other side of it, when he's been charging at me, and it's not what you want to see, believe me," Goode told Omnisport.

"He almost single-handedly beat the All Blacks in 2012 [in a 38-21 win], producing one of the best performances you will see in an England shirt.

"Obviously, he's had some awful luck with injuries, but he looks very fit and his workload has been managed, so I'm expecting big things of him.

"I am so excited to see this England side with the ball-carrying ability of Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi. They can do some serious damage.

"England are riding on the crest of a wave at the moment, I've been very impressed with them heading into the tournament, they look very fit with a real hunger to go there and make a massive impact.

"It's the most open World Cup there has ever been. New Zealand are rightly favourites, but there are several sides capable of winning it. The All Blacks will obviously be tough to beat, but they are not as big a favourites as what they have been in recent years."

England failed to get out of Pool A when hosting the tournament four years ago, and Goode hopes the players have learned how to manage matches better following that disappointment.

"The players who were involved four years ago can use that failure to their advantage and I have no doubt they will," he said. "The likes of Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs, they have much more experience under their belt and will have learned a hell of lot from the way England let that slip away.

"England's game management in the match against Wales, when they let go of a lead and could have drawn it but showed a lack of clear thinking to miss out on a draw, I'd be surprised if you see a repeat of that."

Mako Vunipola and Jack Nowell are not expected to be fit until after England's opening two matches against Tonga and the United States, but Goode thinks their return could prove a timely boost.

"The injection of a Jack Nowell and Mako can be huge, they will be hungry and ready to fire after missing the start of the tournament," he added.

"You then just have to hope there are no other serious injury setbacks, which is where that bit of luck you need comes into it. Every side needs an element of luck to win a World Cup."

 

Key matches for the Rugby World Cup, including home nation and knockout stage games, will be aired at more than 500 Greene King pubs nationwide.

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."

So, what did exactly did the 2019 Ashes series tell us? Steve Smith can definitely bat, Jofra Archer is seriously quick and no cause is ever seemingly lost when Ben Stokes is still at the crease.

Delving a little deeper, the five Tests made clear the obvious flaws in both teams, but also demonstrated their strengths. Now, though, they can draw breath, recharge their batteries and start thinking about the future.

Australia, who retained the Ashes courtesy of a 2-2 series draw, return to the Test arena against Pakistan in late November and with spots up for grabs, all eyes will be on the start of the Sheffield Shield season. England, meanwhile, have tours to New Zealand and South Africa to look forward to before the year is out.

Having examined the state of both squads at different stages during the year, we now offer one final assessment while also looking ahead to the future.

 

BATTING

Not even retaining the urn has been enough to silence the questions that were already there before the Ashes about Australia's batting.

Smith's heroics were enough on this occasion, but coach Justin Langer has work to do going forward.

David Warner, who should be Australia's second-best batsman, became Stuart Broad's bunny, making just 95 runs at an average of 9.50 during the series and falling to the England paceman seven times.

Between Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Marcus Harris, Australia's opening stands during the Ashes were an average of 8.50 runs, immediately putting themselves under early pressure.

Marnus Labuschagne was a revelation after getting his chance, scoring 353 runs at an average of 50.42 to cement his place in Australia's top-order. But, going forward, places are up for grabs.

Matthew Wade combined two centuries with eight scores of 34 or less, while Travis Head (who averaged 27.28) and Usman Khawaja (20.33) were both dropped during the series.

Harris and Wade top-scored in the Shield last season, but the likes of Kurtis Patterson, 26, Will Pucovski, 21, and Jake Lehmann, 27, should all be sensing an opportunity.

Given the others have failed to take their chances, albeit in tough conditions, perhaps the time has come to build around Smith and Labuschagne while preparing for the future.

Like their opponents, England have gaps to fill in the top six.

Rory Burns (390 runs at 39) had success at the top of the order, but the gamble on Jason Roy failed to pay off. Joe Denly may have received a stay of execution with his 94 at The Oval, but it is hard to see how a 33-year-old who has spent recent domestic seasons further down the batting list is the long-term answer.

Joe Root had made clear in the past that three is not his favoured role, so it will be interesting to see if Trevor Bayliss' replacement is happy to drop him one position lower.

The team's success in the longest format has often come courtesy of rearguard actions in difficult situations, but the time has come to start batting big.

Stokes (441 runs at 55.12) showed the way with two second-innings hundreds, but Jonny Bairstow has reached 50 only once in his last 14 Test innings and Jos Buttler is in the strange position of being picked as a frontline batsman that comes in at seven.

A busy winter schedule offers an opportunity to blood some fresh faces. Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley are the two openers regularly talked about as possible candidates to have a go alongside Burns. 

Ollie Pope is waiting for another crack at international cricket, while Ben Foakes could return behind the stumps for the struggling Bairstow, who should perhaps consider giving up the gloves to focus completely on his batting. 


BOWLING

Unlike their batting, Australia's bowling is far more settled and with good reason.

Pat Cummins won the Allan Border Medal in February and the paceman showed he can lead his nation for years to come. The 26-year-old played all five Tests – a fine feat for a player with his injury history – and was comfortably the leading wicket-taker in the Ashes with 29.

Cummins took his 29 wickets at an average of 19.62 and economy rate of 2.69.

Such is the depth and talent in Australia's attack, Mitchell Starc played just one Test, selectors perhaps looking elsewhere to capitalise on the English conditions.

Josh Hazlewood has long been expected to be the man in such situations and he grabbed 20 wickets at 21.85 in four Tests.

Peter Siddle and James Pattinson played three and two Tests respectively and while their spots are far from certain, the ability of the attack to deliver as a unit would have pleased Langer.

They were helped by Nathan Lyon, who bowled more overs than anyone else on his way to 20 wickets at 33.40.

Siddle (34) is the oldest of the group, but Cummins, Hazlewood (28), Starc (29) and Pattinson (29) look to have several years ahead of them in an excellent sign for Australia. Even Mitchell Marsh took his chance with the ball in the fifth Test, grabbing seven wickets, although the all-rounder is often criticised for his performances.

The bowling was expected to be Australia's strength during the series and it proved just that, with few signs of it being an area of concern going forward.

Similarly, for England, there are reasons to be cheerful over the attack. Broad benefited from the chance to hone his skills in county cricket prior to the Ashes - and went on to torture Warner and the rest of the left-handers.

While his regular new-ball partner prospered, James Anderson endured a wretched campaign. Forced off after four overs of the opening Test with a calf injury, the Lancastrian failed to reappear in the rest of the series. He remains committed to playing at the highest level again, but England should not need to rush their leading wicket-taker back.

That is mainly because of the emergence of the blistering Archer. He claimed 22 wickets in four Tests, knocked down the seemingly immovable Smith at Lord's and provided an added dimension to an attack otherwise lacking variety.

Sam Curran's patience was finally rewarded with an outing in the fifth Test, where he again demonstrated his knack of making things happen, but Chris Woakes flattered to deceive, both with bat and ball.

Craig Overton's selection at Old Trafford was an unexpected call and maybe brother Jamie, as well as another Somerset bowler in Lewis Gregory, may get a go ahead of him in future.

As for the spin department, Jack Leach became a cult hero among fans and an easy fancy dress costume for a day at the Test.

The captain-coach axis must also work out what they see as the future role for Moeen Ali, a player far too talented to be left languishing outside of the national set-up.


CURRENT OUTLOOK

Smith's form tilted the balance enough in Australia's favour to secure a 2-2 result, but now it will be fascinating to see how both nations develop as they go their separate ways.

For England, the preparations for the tour Down Under in 2021-22 should begin immediately, or else they may be waiting a little longer to get the urn back.

Australia coach Justin Langer believes opener David Warner will benefit from playing cricket away from Stuart Broad in the coming months after the England bowler got "into his head".

Warner endured a miserable Ashes series despite Australia retaining the urn in a 2-2 draw, making double figures only twice across 10 innings.

He had three consecutive ducks at one stage and was dismissed by Broad seven times, making him the batsman dismissed most often (12 times) by the Nottinghamshire star in his Test career.

Langer still believes Warner is a "champion player", though, and hopes he can now recover following the series, with the next Ashes not until 2021-22.

"I think, talking frankly, he let Stuart Broad get into his head and he thought way too much about it," said Langer.

"I've seen it before, even with the great players, every now and then they have a series [like this] – and I'm talking about the all-time great players. I remember Gilly [Adam Gilchrist] with Andrew Flintoff.

"I remember seeing Steve Waugh sit on the team bus in South Africa and the guy had been a run machine for so long, he got out just before stumps and I, in a sick sort of way, thought it was the best thing I'd ever seen.

"I didn't think great players had lean runs. I used to have lean runs all the time but even great players have lean runs and David – we know he's a very good player, there's no question about that – had it tough, particularly against Stuart Broad.

"I used to have it against Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] and I couldn't solve the issue and it's so hard when you try to problem solve and then you're in the middle of a big series trying to solve the puzzle.

"In this instance, I don't think David solved the puzzle, and he'll be first to admit that.

"He'll probably be very relieved he gets on the Qantas flight in a day's time and doesn't have to face Stuart Broad for a while, I reckon. But there's plenty of upside still to his batting.

"I've learned over a long period you never write off champion players – it doesn't matter what sport, you never write off champion players. They tend to come good, don't they?

"So he's had a tough series, no doubt about that, but he's also a champion player, so usually with champion players, they get a bit more time to come good."

The Ashes battle is over for this year - England fought hard and made sure they avoided a series defeat on home soil, but a 2-2 result sees Australia retain the urn.

Steve Smith was the catalyst for triumphs at Edgbaston and Old Trafford but, in the main, ball dominated bat.

Pitches offered some assistance to the two high-quality seam attacks and with the English weather occasionally getting involved, there was rarely a dull moment across the five matches between the old rivals.

After the first drawn series since 1972, we have picked some of the notable numbers from Opta...

 

2 - In making scores of 144 and 142 in the opening Test in Birmingham, Smith became the fifth player to record two centuries in the same Ashes Test.

4 - Nathan Lyon is just the fourth Australian bowler to reach 350 Test wickets. He moved above Dennis Lillee into third place on the all-time list for his country, with just Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne now above him.

5 - With victory at The Oval, England are still unbeaten in a Test series on home soil since June 2014. Sri Lanka were the last visiting team to prevail, recording a 1-0 triumph under Angelo Mathews.

7 - Stuart Broad dominated his personal duel with David Warner, dismissing the Australia opener seven times while conceding just 35 runs against him.

8 - England's eight-match unbeaten streak in Tests at Edgbaston came to an end; the last time they had previously tasted defeat at the venue was in 2008 (against South Africa).

10 - An impressive run of successive half-centuries in Ashes games for Smith came to an end in his final knock of the series. The right-hander was caught at leg slip off the bowling of Broad for 23 in the fifth Test.

16 - Broad got more left-handers out than anyone else (16); he averaged just 13.7 against them, compared to 56.3 against right-handed batsmen. 

20 - England had played 20 successive Tests without a draw before the game at Lord's, where rain wiped out the entire first day's play of the second Test.

29 - Pat Cummins set an unusual record - his tally of wickets is the most in a Test series by a bowler without claiming a five-for in any innings.

135 - Ben Stokes posted his highest Test score against Australia with an unforgettable match-winning knock at Headingley that included eight sixes.

390 - Left-hander Rory Burns was easily the top-scoring opener for either team. Australia's trio of David Warner (95 runs), Marcus Harris (58 runs) and Cameron Bancroft (44 runs) all struggled for the visitors.

Frank Lampard has no set expectations for Tammy Abraham this season but believes the Chelsea striker has given himself every opportunity of earning an England call-up.

Abraham scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 win over Wolves on Saturday, taking his tally of Premier League goals to the season for seven, with all of them coming in Chelsea's last three outings.

The forward missed out on Gareth Southgate's most recent England squad, though he has since moved level with Sergio Aguero at the top of the Premier League scoring charts.

Abraham is also eligible for Nigeria should he decide to snub an England call-up, though Lampard is certain the 21-year-old has the mentality to succeed if he is selected by Gareth Southgate.

Chelsea's head coach also insists he always had full faith in the youngster to lead the line this term regardless of their transfer ban.

"I never had clear expectations for him, only that I believed in him and trusted him," Lampard told a news conference ahead of Chelsea's Champions League meeting with Valencia on Tuesday.

"A lot has been made of the [transfer] ban giving young players the potential opportunities, but I thought the time was right to give Tammy the opportunity at this club anyway because of the quality he's got.

"I'm really delighted he's got his goals, there's more still to come. He's in a place now where he just needs to sustain and improve even more, and I think with his mentality and how he is I hope to see that.

When asked about Abraham's England chances, Lampard said: "It's not a question for me.

"I've just spoken about how I feel about Tammy. He's put himself in the bracket for England with being top scorer at this point.

"It's one for Gareth, I'd hate to step on his toes but it's clear with what Tammy is doing he's going to be wanted."

Prior to this season, Abraham had spent the past three campaigns out on loan at Bristol City, Swansea City and Aston Villa, respectively.

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