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.

Joe Schmidt believes the enthusiasm and confidence of Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway and Jacob Stockdale will be "contagious" for Ireland in their opening Rugby World Cup clash with Scotland.

The trio will start in the backs in Yokohama on Sunday, with Ireland having decided against risking experienced duo Keith Earls and Rob Kearney, who have been out with respective calf and thigh injuries.

Kearney's club-mate Robbie Henshaw will also miss out, though the three players are in contention to return against hosts Japan in Ireland's second Pool A match.

Schmidt, who will leave his post in charge of the world's number one side after the tournament, has no doubt Larmour, Conway and Stockdale will repay his faith, however.

"Their enthusiasm is something that's contagious, their ability to get themselves into the game," Schmidt said.

"Andrew has proven that he's got real aerial ability and that will be really useful for us. I still have the vision in my mind clearly of Jordan beating Israel Folau to a ball in the in the third Test in Sydney on our Australian tour so he is very good there as well.

"Jacob, of course, is a big man in the backfield. So, they're all feeding off each other. They're all young men who are very, very keen to impress. The best continuity, we felt, was to have the guys who have trained through the time that we've been here."

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, meanwhile, is buoyed by the experience his side will be able to call on for what is just the second World Cup meeting between the teams.

"I have seen the way they have trained and acted over the last few days," he said. "We have had two of our best ever training sessions, so as a coach, you get excited.

"I also see the experience we have in our squad and that counts for a lot in big games. This will be the first time that this team have all been fit and available. We are missing two or three players but to get a squad that has this experience for such a big game is a real bonus.

"Experience is important. Experience with form - recent form - and really good physical shape makes it even more valuable, and that is what we have with this group this weekend."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ireland – Jacob Stockdale

Having been entrusted to start, World Cup debutant Stockdale will be eager to make his mark.

The 23-year-old gained the most metres – 395 in total – of any player in the 2019 Six Nations, while also beating 23 defenders, more than any other player in the competition.

Scotland – Greig Laidlaw

If Scotland are to claim a positive result, their kicking game will likely be key, making scrum-half Laidlaw their main man for this one.

Laidlaw is on 695 points in total in Tests, with only Chris Paterson ahead of him in the Scottish record books.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Ireland have won six of their last seven games against Scotland, including their last two on the bounce.

- Scotland have opened each of their last four men's Rugby World Cup campaigns with a win, including a 45-10 triumph over this year's hosts Japan in the 2015 edition.

- The only previous World Cup encounter between Ireland and Scotland ended in a 24-15 win for the latter side in October 1991.

- Ireland have won the opening match of their last five men's Rugby World Cup tournaments, having lost their opening game at two of the three editions before this run.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick cut a news conference short after refusing to answer questions about Antonio Brown.

The Patriots' wide receiver has been embroiled in controversy since his arrival in Foxborough, with the 31-year-old's former personal trainer having accused Brown of sexual assault and rape in a civil lawsuit, while a second unidentified woman has also made allegations of sexual misconduct.

Brown has strongly denied the allegations through his attorney and he opted against discussing the matter further when he was questioned on Thursday in his first public comments since the allegations.

It emerged late on Thursday that the anonymous woman alleges Brown has sent threatening text messages to her following the accusations.

Belichick began his media conference on Friday with a statement on the Patriots' upcoming encounter with the New York Jets, before addressing Brown's situation.

"I know there are questions about Antonio," Belichick said. "We take all the situations with our team very seriously.

"There are some things we're looking into, but I'm not going to have any comment on any off-the-field situations or questions on that. Anything about football, I'm happy to answer." 

Vince Carter has re-signed for the Atlanta Hawks to begin his record-breaking 22nd NBA season aged 42.

The eight-time All-Star has been in the league since 1998, having been drafted fifth overall by the Toronto Raptors.

Carter was the Rookie of the Year in his first season and is set to become the first NBA player to feature in 22 campaigns.

He will also be the first to play in four different decades when he steps on the court in 2020, while his 1,481 career games put him first among active players and fifth all-time.

After lengthy stints with the Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets - then the New Jersey Nets - Carter has had short stops with the Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings.

He joined the Hawks ahead of the 2018-19 season and averaged 7.4 points in 17.5 minutes per game across 76 appearances.

Carter, who won gold with the United States at the 2000 Olympic Games, confirmed in May he would be looking to return for the coming campaign.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner has confirmed Nico Hulkenberg is not being considered for a seat alongside Max Verstappen in the 2020 Formula One season.

Hulkenberg is without a team for next year after Renault signed Esteban Ocon, while a mooted move to Haas did not come to pass as Romain Grosjean's services were retained this week.

Haas boss Guenther Steiner explained on Friday: "We talked with [Hulkenberg] and, in the end, decided to go with Romain."

Appearing alongside Steiner at a news conference at the Singapore Grand Prix, Alfa Romeo's Frederic Vasseur and Red Bull chief Horner were also asked about the possibility of bringing in Hulkenberg.

"We are focused with Antonio [Giovinazzi]," said Vasseur.

Red Bull's second driver for next season remains uncertain. However, Horner insisted they will choose between Alex Albon, who holds the seat, and Toro Rosso duo Daniil Kyvat and Pierre Gasly.

"We don't need to be in any rush," Horner said. "All the drivers that are under consideration are under contract, so we're in a unique position where we don't need to rush anything.

"So we'll take the fullness of time to look and evaluate the progress of Alex and measure it against Dany and Pierre.

"Nico isn't on our list. He's a great driver and it would be a great shame not to see him continue in Formula One next year.

"He's a professional driver that arguably hasn't achieved his potential in Formula One.

"I very much hope for him that he does find a seat because he's better than some other drivers that are on the grid and he should be in Formula One."

Red Bull were primed to challenge in Singapore with Verstappen performing well in practice on Friday.

The Dutchman was fastest in FP1 with a time of one minute, 40.259 seconds, just ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

Charles Leclerc and Valtteri Bottas retired early from that session, with the latter crashing into the barrier at turn 19.

Lewis Hamilton then edged out Verstappen by 0.184secs in FP2, running a best time of 1:38.773.

Sam Stosur has the chance to land her first WTA title since 2017 when she takes on Sofia Kenin in the final of the Guangzhou International Women's Open on Saturday.

The Australian, the 2011 US Open champion, hit back to see off Viktorija Golubic 2-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-1 on Friday and advance to her first title match since Strasbourg in 2017.

"I just tried to hang in there and find a way to start playing a bit better," said Stosur, who will return next week to the world's top 100 as a result of her run in China.

"She's very tough to play against so I'm just happy to get through. 

"This is where everyone wants to be, so to now make it to the final, I'm really happy and I'll give it my best shot on Saturday."

Third-seeded American Kenin also required three sets to battle past Anna Blinkova 7-6 (7-2) 4-6 6-1.

In Seoul, second seed Ekaterina Alexandrova overcame being a break down in the deciding set to beat Kristie Ahn 6-7 (0-7) 6-4 6-4.

The big-serving Russian, who fired down 22 aces, will meet fourth seed Magda Linette in the semi-finals. Linette was an impressive 6-2 6-3 victor over Kirsten Flipkens.

The other last-four clash pits Karolina Muchova against Wang Yafan.

Muchova beat Priscilla Hon 6-3 6-3 while Wang dropped just four games in easing past Paula Badosa.

Japan coach Jamie Joseph acknowledged the pressure of hosting the Rugby World Cup led to a nervous performance from his side against Russia.

Tournament hosts Japan won 30-10 in the opening match on Friday, though trailed for much of the first half following Kirill Golosnitskiy's early try.

Kotaro Matsushima stole the show with a hat-trick, however, edging Japan in front prior to the interval having previously reduced the deficit, before rounding off the victory in the second half.

But Brave Blossoms coach Joseph conceded Japan found it hard to cope with the pressure in Tokyo.

"The game showed that the boys were nervous, as we spoke about before the game, there's so much expectation on the guys," said Joseph, who replaced current England coach Eddie Jones as Japan's boss.

"I thought we prepared well for it but it's not until you get out there amongst it and then you realise just how much pressure there is on the guys.

"I'm proud of the way they came through it in the end. We made a lot of unforced errors, our kicking game was pretty poor tonight so we’ll have to fix that up quickly.

"But you’ve got to take your hat off to the Russian guys because they really took it to us and put us under a lot of pressure.

"Tactically we didn't change a lot. We managed to take the sting out of the Russian offence, they looked a little bit tired and we just managed to execute a bit better and took our chances."

Japan captain Michael Leitch echoed Joseph's sentiments, though believes the Brave Blossoms are now well prepared to face the world's number one side Ireland next up in Pool A.

"Straight away they put us under some extreme pressure with their gameplan and physicality, they really tested us," Leitch said.

"There were big nerves, 100 per cent. First game out of the way and we can start looking forward to Ireland.

"I'm happy, we showed great resilience to not go into our shell and keep playing. I think we're in the right spot to take on Ireland."

Angelique Kerber was the only player to book her place in the Pan Pacific Open semi-finals on Friday as rain washed out three other matches.

Kerber was in action against Madison Keys and advanced courtesy of the American's retirement in Osaka.

Keys had pegged the German back by winning the second set but then succumbed to injury having been broken at the start of the third, down 6-4 4-6 2-1 when she called time.

Kerber said: "It was a really good match in the first two sets and this is never the way that you want to win the match.

"I hope Madison will recover really soon so she is ready for the next tournaments.

"I tried to give everything I could today and I'm looking forward to playing the next round."

However, the three-time grand slam champion was still waiting to learn the identity of her last-four opponent after the weather intervened.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova broke for a 2-0 lead over Misaki Doi in the opener before the rain started to fall, suspending the match for several hours before it was put back to Saturday.

Hometown hero Naomi Osaka, the former world number one, did not get on the court at all against Yulia Putintseva. Elise Mertens was also made to wait to take on Camila Giorgi.

Kotaro Matsushima scored a superb hat-trick as hosts Japan overcame a brief first-half scare to beat Russia 30-10 in the Rugby World Cup opener.

The home side made a sloppy start and consequently trailed to 20th-ranked Russia and Kirill Golosnitskiy's converted try for much of the opening period in Tokyo.

But Matsushima, having already reduced the arrears, edged Japan in front just before the half-time whistle and set up a far more straightforward second period.

Pieter Labuschagne went alone for a powerful third try and then Matsushima secured a potentially precious bonus point, becoming the first Japanese player to score a World Cup treble.

A long way from the procession that would follow, the nervy Brave Blossoms had been punished inside five minutes as William Tupou completely misjudged Vasily Artemyev's high kick and allowed Golosnitskiy to steal in for the opening try.

But the hosts kept their cool and responded in fine fashion, with Timothy Lafaele and Yutaka Nagare combining stylishly to open up space for Matsushima to dart through on the right.

It looked as though Russia might get to the break with a narrow lead still intact when Matsushima saw a second try struck off, having lost control of the ball as he lunged for the line under a tackle from Artemyev.

However, the Japan finisher made no mistake on the stroke of half-time, being found wide open to sprint in for a vital score.

Yu Tamura dispatched a simple penalty shortly after the restart to stretch Japan's advantage, before a brutal Labuschagne try followed as he ripped the ball from Andrey Ostrikov and streaked clear.

A gutsy Russia display was rewarded with three points from the boot of Yury Kushnarev, but Tamura hit back with a penalty of his own and Matsushima slalomed through to wrap up victory after Artemyev gifted away a tired kick.

 

FIFTH-MINUTE FRIGHT FOR HOSTS

Japan kicked off their 2015 campaign with one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history when they downed South Africa, but it was they who had to fend off an upset this time. The pressure of playing as hosts appeared to get to them as they were penned in early on and, having escaped when one kick was charged down, Tupou's fumble let Russia through.

MATSUSHIMA THE MAN FOR JAPAN

Russia had opportunities on the counter-attack later in the first half, yet they lacked a man as clinical as Matsushima. The Sunwolves star repeatedly got himself into space on the right wing and his pace took him away from recovering opponents for a pair of crucial scores before the interval, adding gloss with a late third.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Having successfully negotiated this potential banana skin, Japan have a week off before returning to their traditional role as underdogs for a highly anticipated clash with Ireland. Russia face Samoa next.

Cameron Murray scored key tries late in each half as South Sydney Rabbitohs overcame a heroic effort from Manly Sea Eagles to triumph 34-26 at ANZ Stadium and reach the NRL preliminary finals for a second successive year.

Manly have exceeded all expectations under Des Hasler this year and could be hugely proud of their performance in a pulsating and bruising semi-final featuring multiple swings in momentum.

Yet it was the Rabbitohs who ultimately prevailed as John Sutton and Murray crossed inside the final 13 minutes with Jake Trbojevic in the sin bin for Manly.

The Sea Eagles also saw Brad Parker yellow-carded in a frantic second half, while the hosts were hampered by the loss of three players - Alex Johnston, Adam Doueihi and Sam Burgess - to head injuries.

Souths are likely to be particularly concerned over the availability of Johnston as they prepare to face Canberra Raiders for a place in the Grand Final, after the wing came off worse in a sickening clash of heads with team-mate Doueihi as Jack Gosiewski crossed to put Manly ahead for a third time.

Prior to that, Moses Suli had played a starring role, producing powerful hand-offs to assist one try and score another as the Sea Eagles erased a 10-0 deficit to move into the box seat. 

The Bunnies had Cody Walker sin-binned for striking Gosiewski in the first period, which ended with them leading 18-16 courtesy of Murray's first try in the 40th minute.

Both regular-season meetings between these sides had been decided by a solitary point and this contest remained similarly tight after the interval.

Suli's score put Manly back in front, but Adam Reynolds pulled the Bunnies level with a penalty after Parker was yellow-carded for a cynical trip and Souths took advantage when Manly were reduced to 12 men for a second time, Trbojevic having pulled Dane Gagai back off the ball.

Sergio Parisse will earn a share of Rugby World Cup history on Sunday but insists his focus is on victory for Italy against Namibia.

The Azzurri begin their campaign in Higashiosaka this weekend and, as expected, captain Parisse has been selected by Conor O'Shea to lead the side.

This appearance will make the Italy skipper just the third player to feature at five World Cups, joining compatriot Mauro Bergamasco and Samoa's Brian Lima.

Parisse is also due to collect his 141st cap, meaning he moves level with Brian O'Driscoll as the second most-capped player of all time behind Richie McCaw.

But Parisse is determined to deliver team success rather than worrying about his individual achievements.

"I cannot wait to play on Sunday," he said. "The preparation has been long and intense and we have built up well. We have prepared for this game against Namibia in the best way possible.

"It will be important to find our feet quickly. Playing my fifth World Cup for Italy is a point of pride but, at the moment, I'm not thinking about it. The team is the priority."

Coach O'Shea must also remain focused on the task at hand despite continued confusion over whether he will remain in his role beyond the tournament.

It had been suggested Franco Smith would replace O'Shea, although that was denied, and reports linked Rob Howley with the job before the Wales backs coach was sent home from Japan over an alleged breach of betting regulations.

Discussing the clash with Namibia, O'Shea said: "We have been preparing for this moment for a long time, going through several stages. Now we will finally take to the field.

"We have worked to a good level and now we want to demonstrate our value on the field. Our only goal now is to start the World Cup in the best way and get a good result against Namibia."

Tjiuee Uanivi will captain Namibia, while Eugene Jantjies becomes their first player to appear at four World Cups.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Italy - Edoardo Padovani

The Azzurri finished the 2019 Six Nations bottom of the pile after seeing their run of consecutive defeats in the competition stretch to 22 matches. However, Padovani at least proved a bright spark, scoring tries against Scotland, Wales and Ireland as Italy threatened the occasional scare.

Namibia - Tjiuee Uanivi

Former Namibia captain Renaldo Bothma confirmed his international retirement ahead of the squad announcement, with Johan Deysel taking on the role. But the new skipper's absence from the opener sees the responsibility on the shoulders of deputy Uanivi increase further.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Italy won the sides' previous meeting 49-24 in 2001, but Namibia had come out on top in their prior two meetings in 1991.

- Not since 1991 against the United States have Italy began a World Cup campaign with a victory, losing their past six openers.

- This will be Namibia's 20th World Cup match and they are still looking for their first win at the tournament.

- Italy's only away Test win in their past 16 such matches came in Japan against the World Cup hosts in June last year.

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."

Gregor Townsend has named Duncan Taylor and Sam Johnson together at centre for Scotland's Rugby World Cup clash with Ireland.

The two sides meet in Yokohama on Sunday, with Ireland heading into the tournament as the top-ranked nation in the world.

Scotland coach Townsend has opted for a centre pairing who have played together only once, while Exeter Chiefs full-back Stuart Hogg features in the back three alongside Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour.

Townsend is anticipating a tough test for his side's opening match, but is excited by the challenge.

"In Ireland we face a quality opposition who, over the past number of years, have earned the right to be the number one ranked side in the world," he said.

"We know them well and are well aware of the strengths they possess throughout their squad. We expect them to play very well, as they did in their most recent games against Wales, so only our best performance will do in order to win.

"The prospect of facing them in the opening round of a Rugby World Cup is a fantastic challenge for our players and supporters around the world."

British and Irish Lions duo Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell return at scrum-half and stand-off respectively, with 10 changes made from the side that defeated Georgia earlier this month.

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. 

Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour will start Ireland's Rugby World Cup opener against Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday.

Joe Schmidt has given the pair the nod for the Pool A clash, opting not to risk experienced duo Keith Earls and Rob Kearney as they continue to regain fitness following respective calf and thigh problems.

Earlier in the week, defence coach Andy Farrell said wing Earls and full-back Kearney could make the Scotland match but a more cautious approach has prevailed.

Kearney's Leinster team-mate Robbie Henshaw is also an absentee but all three players are in contention for a return against hosts Japan on September 28.

Garry Ringrose is preferred ahead of Chris Farrell to partner Bundee Aki at centre in Henshaw's absence.

Jack Carty of Connacht will deputise for fly-half Johnny Sexton among the replacements as Joey Carbery only resumed training this week following an ankle injury.

Jack Conan is also on the bench, with CJ Stander selected at number eight.

Ireland team to face Scotland: Jordan Larmour; Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Niall Scannell, David Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath, Jack Carty, Chris Farrell.

The play-off chasing Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers boosted their wild-card hopes in MLB action on Thursday.

Cleveland moved back into a tie with the Tampa Bay Rays for the second wild-card spot in the American League with a 7-0 win over the Detroit Tigers.

The Brewers moved one game up on the Chicago Cubs by virtue of their 5-1 win over the San Diego Padres and Cubs' 5-4 loss to the St Louis Cardinals.

The Cubs made an exciting late push in their game, rallying from three runs down to tie it up 4-4 in the ninth inning, but a Matt Carpenter homer in the 10th off Craig Kimbrel – who was making his return from injury – put the game out of reach.

The race in the National League Central is now all but settled for the Cubs. St Louis lead by four games with six matchups with Chicago remaining in the season. The Cubs would have to go 5-1 in those games just to tie the Cardinals.

However, the Brewers do remain just three games behind, and if the Cubs were to go 5-1, they could possibly take the lead in the division.

 

Elmore powers Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Jake Elmore went three for five with a double and two RBIs in the team's 6-5 defeat to the Seattle Mariners in extra innings.

Boston Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez tossed six innings while allowing one unearned run and striking out 10 in a 5-4 win over the San Francisco Giants. The win was Rodriguez's 18th of the year.

Brett Gardner went two for three with a home run, three runs scored and three RBIs as the New York Yankees won 9-1 against the Los Angeles Angels to clinch their first AL East title since 2012.

 

Padres pair struggle

Wil Myers and Hunter Renfroe combined to go 0 for eight with two strikeouts in the Padres' loss to the Brewers.

 

Acuna nearing MLB feat

Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. is now three stolen bases away from a 40/40 season as he hit his 40th home run of the year in a 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

Thursday's results

Atlanta Braves 5-4 Philadelphia Phillies
Seattle Mariners 6-5 Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Brewers 5-1 San Diego Padres
Boston Red Sox 5-4 San Francisco Giants
Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 Baltimore Orioles
New York Yankees 9-1 Los Angeles Angels
Cleveland Indians 7-0 Detroit Tigers
St Louis Cardinals 5-4 Chicago Cubs
Minnesota Twins 8-5 Kansas City Royals

 

Phillies at Indians 

The Phillies are just about out of the wild-card race as they sit four games adrift of the Brewers for the second spot, but as John Belushi famously asked: "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" Of course not. The Phillies technically have time to get back into a playoff spot, but they have to be just about perfect. The problem is the Indians are also fighting for a playoff spot so they will not be an easy out.

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.

Gardner Minshew II was the star of the show as the rookie quarterback inspired the Jacksonville Jaguars' 20-7 win over the Tennessee Titans.

Minshew commanded Thursday's game and led the Jaguars to their first victory of the NFL season following a 0-2 start.

Maybe it was the moustache, maybe it was the air raid offense he perfected at Washington State, whatever it is, it seems to be working for Minshew. 

He had some assistance from Jacksonville's defensive unit, who held Marcus Mariota and company scoreless until the fourth quarter.

Here are three takeaways from the Jaguars' home win over the Titans.

 

Minshew is more than a fourth-quarter wonder

The quarterback turned heads in the Jaguars' close Week 2 loss against the Houston Texans, and he carried the momentum he built in that fourth quarter to Thursday's game.

Minshew got going early, capitalising on a botched Titans punt return. He turned the fumble into the first score of the game and never stopped. 

He showed off an almost perfect long ball, something he did more than people thought in his one year under Mike Leach at Washington State.

Minshew has seemed to fit in nicely after taking the place of an injured Nick Foles in Week 1. He finished 20 for 30 with 204 yards and the two touchdowns against the Titans.

What backfield?

It is a silly question considering the talent both teams have at the running back position and Derrick Henry's performance last season against the Jaguars in primetime. He ran for 238 yards and four touchdowns, including a 99-yard score stiff-arming any Jaguar in his way. 

But that certainly was not the case for Henry and the Titans or Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars on Thursday.

The respective run games were held to minuscule yards, until late in the game.

Fournette finally showed signs of the Fournette we all know. He had negative-eight yards rushing before the longest run of the night, a 69-yard carry.

Both teams finished with less than 100 yards on the ground. The Titans finished with 91 yards (Henry 44) and the Jaguars had 88 (Fournette 66).

Marcus Mariota continues to struggle

This could be as much Mariota as it was the Jaguars' defense (and the Titans' offensive line) but the fifth-year quarterback keeps on struggling early this season.

He did not have his best outing against the Indianapolis Colts last week and again failed to deliver on Thursday.

Mariota continued to hold the ball a bit too long, a miscue highlighted near the end of the fourth quarter when he was tripped up waiting for his receivers and was sacked a total of nine times.

He finished 23-of-40 passing for 304 yards.

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