England head coach Steve Borthwick has highlighted World Rugby’s inconsistent approach to disciplinary issues.

Tom Curry was sent off in the third minute of Saturday’s World Cup victory over Argentina for a dangerous tackle and received a two-match ban, yet similar incidents involving South Africa’s Jesse Kriel and Martin Sigren of Chile failed to produce a dismissal, citing or suspension.

It has raised concerns over the officiating of illegal challenges involving the head.

Borthwick also highlighted that when Owen Farrell was sent off for a dangerous tackle against Wales and then cleared by a disciplinary hearing, World Rugby intervened by appealing against the decision.

“There has been a large amount of commentary from different sources about what appears to be a lack of consistency and transparency in the decision making process,” Borthwick said.

“Now it’s not my role to comment on that, it’s World Rugby’s. I also note there was a tremendous amount of comment from World Rugby on Owen Farrell for a couple of weeks during our preparation for this tournament.

“It was a situation that went on and on with lots of comment from World Rugby. I note there hasn’t been very many comments from World Rugby – I’m told – in the last week or so. I will leave that to World Rugby.”

Elliot Daly insists it is time for England to show their teeth in attack as they look to build on the defensive masterclass delivered against Argentina.

Steve Borthwick’s team top Pool D of the World Cup after routing the Pumas 27-10, securing a vital victory even though flanker Tom Curry was sent off for a dangerous tackle in the third minute.

A steely performance addressed concerns about the vulnerability of their defence but with all the points arriving off the boot of George Ford, the deficiencies of an attack that has yet to fire since Borthwick took charge were exposed once more.

Moments of promise in Marseille – most notably a five on two overlap – failed to materialise into tries and Daly is targeting an improvement when the group campaign continues against Japan on Sunday.

“We know how good our attack can be, so hopefully in the next few games we’ll be able to show that,” the Saracens wing said.

“A lot of people wrote us off against Argentina so for us to come out and perform like that and get that scoreline was pretty impressive.

“If we can do the same this weekend, perform how we want to perform and put our game on Japan, let’s see where that takes us.

“We’re not saying we’re going to chuck the ball around, but we’re going to put ourselves in positions in attack to take the opportunities we create.

“We did actually see the space on the weekend, but we probably couldn’t go into it when down to 14. We’re seeing the space a lot more, which is going to create more opportunities with the ball.

“There’s a lot more to come from us and I’m very excited about how we’re approaching it.”

For England to thrive against Japan they must shed their habit of seeing players sent off for illegal challenges having amassed four red cards in six Tests.

Curry’s dismissal against Argentina lifts the total number of cards for their 10 matches this year to nine, the highest of any side ranked in the top 10.

While Daly takes comfort from knowing England have played some of their best rugby when their backs are against the wall, he insists they must be aware of the current climate in the game which sees dangerous play being clamped down on.

“We just need probably to make sure we’re whiter than white, but these things happen, so it’s about we react on the field to that,” he said.

“Obviously we don’t want that in big games, but if we do have it, it’s something we’ve got to shrug off and understand what we’re lacking in that position.

“We understand that we want to keep 15 people on the field but if we don’t it’s how we react to that really.

“We’ve got to understand that if you do go high and it’s 50-50 there’s a chance of a penalty or even worse.”

Borthwick names his starting XV on Friday evening with prop Kyle Sinckler and number eight Billy Vunipola expected to be recalled to the 23 following absences through injury and suspension respectively.

Peter O’Mahony says Ireland squad would be lost without “characters” like Mack Hansen in their camp at the Rugby World Cup.

Wing Hansen will make his full tournament debut against Tonga on Saturday evening following a 20-minute cameo in last weekend’s 82-8 win over Romania.

Flanker O’Mahony believes the 25-year-old is among the best in the world in his position, as well an asset to the group off the field due to his fun-loving nature.

“He’s been a breath of fresh air,” said O’Mahony. “An incredible character, good person. Straight away we knew he was a top man.

“A character but above it all he’s an incredible athlete and one of the world’s best wingers at the moment.

“The overriding factor is that he’s a good person and he’s seamlessly fitted into our squad. He’s been great craic and you need characters like that.

“The beauty of the game of rugby is the different characters you get and we’d be lost without guys like this.

“Tours like this are made for being incredibly serious but the craic that fellas like this bring make it a great place to be.”

Hansen was initially a surprise omission from Andy Farrell’s match day 23 for Ireland’s Pool B opener against Romania in Bordeaux.

But he was a late addition to the bench in place of the injured Robbie Henshaw before coming on for Keith Earls.

Head coach Farrell dismissed any suggestion that Hansen had originally been left out for disciplinary reasons.

Asked by a reporter why the Connacht player was overlooked in the first instance, Farrell interjected: “Was it you who kept on asking the question last week? Where the hell did all that come from?

“Left out of the 23? No. We wanted to give someone else a game, as simple as that.

“Mack’s up next (for media), so you can ask him the question as well, ‘was he a naughty boy?’. He definitely wasn’t.”

However, when an attempt was made to ask Hansen about his coach’s comments, O’Mahony, who was sitting alongside him, stepped in, saying: “Did Andy not just answer a question about this a second ago?”

Hansen then joked: “We had a five-minute tiff whatever and we’re fine now, so it’s all good!”

The native Australian, who made his Ireland debut in last year’s Six Nations after qualifying through his Cork-born mother, is already relishing his first World Cup experience.

“It’s an absolute privilege, I didn’t know if I’d ever get the opportunity to do so,” he said, ahead of the weekend match in Nantes.

“First start, against a good Tongan team, it’s really exciting. I was lucky enough to come off the bench last week so (that) kind of settled the nerves a bit and I can really enjoy this week.

“A lot of my mates are over at the moment, so it’s tough getting Snapchats of them smoking vapes and drinking beers at 12 in the morning while I’m trying to prepare for a game.

“But it’s good craic and it’s actually been nice getting that aspect outside of playing and seeing how much a World Cup means to people.”

Hansen attracted attention following the Romania game by stripping to his underwear after swapping shirts with an opponent and giving his shorts to a fan, much to the amusement of the onlooking Farrell.

“I’m not the first person to take their shorts off after a game, I doubt I’ll be the last,” Hansen said. “I’ve been told to keep them on this week I’ll try my hardest.”

Johnny Sexton believes none of his team-mates will care if he surpasses Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s record points holder during Saturday’s clash with Tonga.

Captain Sexton is on the cusp of making history for the second successive weekend after becoming his country’s oldest international and leading World Cup points scorer in last weekend’s 82-8 thrashing of Romania.

The 38-year-old returned from an absence of almost six months to score two tries as part of an impressive 24-point haul in Bordeaux.

While he will start again in Nantes after Andy Farrell opted to go with a strong XV featuring just four personnel changes, his performance will not be influenced by chasing further personal glory.

“It’s not something that comes into my head too often,” said Sexton, who is nine points behind O’Gara’s tally of 1,083.

“Obviously I was unaware how close I was after the game last week until I came into the press conference and so now I’m getting reminded again.

“Look, it will be a very special moment individually but no one else will really care. I won’t be making decisions off the back of it.

“I want to win the game, I want to progress further in the competition and that is the only thing going through my head at the moment.”

Ireland take on the team ranked 15th in the world at Stade de la Beaujoire ahead of pivotal Paris appointments against South Africa and Scotland.

Head coach Farrell has resisted temptation for serious rotation before the showdown with the Springboks as he wishes to build momentum and not underestimate Tonga.

Hooker Ronan Kelleher, world player of the year Josh van der Flier, scrum-half Conor Murray and wing Mack Hansen have been restored.

Farrell admits “you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t” in regard to possibly making wholesale changes.

“A bit of continuity from last week, it’s a different game, a different challenge,” the Englishman said of the Pool B encounter.

“Respecting the opposition is absolutely at the forefront of our minds, respecting the competition but more so respecting ourselves.

“That side that played last week hadn’t played together before, we get to roll on to this one and you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t (make changes).

“The only thing that I care about is winning this weekend because the points that are on offer is exactly the same as what’s coming down the line.”

The 48-year-old also dismissed suggestions his selection was influenced by the 2019 World Cup, when Ireland suffered a shock pool-stage loss to hosts Japan after resting key players.

“Everyone keeps talking about four years ago but we’re a different team, different circumstances, it’s a different competition,” said Farrell, who was assistant to Joe Schmidt then.

“We move on. It’s never been talked about at all.”

Veteran fly-half Sexton, who will retire following the tournament, had no interest in potentially being protected with the reigning world champions in mind.

“I don’t have any say in selection,” he said.

“I just rock up to training and do my best. Obviously I want to play, I mean when you only have a certain amount of games left of course you want to play.

“But it’s what is right for the team, what is right for different individuals and that was probably all taken into consideration. But no, I didn’t have to do much talking (with Farrell).”

Tadhg Beirne believes he and Ireland are still some way from hitting top form at the Rugby World Cup as they bid to avoid being scalped by Tonga.

The towering Munster forward is “gunning” to retain his starting spot for Saturday’s Pool B clash following a two-try turn in last weekend’s 82-8 thrashing of Romania.

Head coach Andy Farrell may opt to rotate his team in Nantes ahead of a crunch Paris showdown against reigning champions South Africa.

But British and Irish Lion Beirne – one of four players to claim a double in Ireland’s curtain raiser in Bordeaux – is eager to continue as he seeks to hit greater heights.

“Every player here wants to play,” said the 31-year-old.

“It comes around once every four years, you never know if you’re going to be fit for one, you never know if you’re going to be selected for one, and then if you get here all you want to do is put on the Irish jersey and go out and represent the country.

“I’m gunning to play again for sure. I still feel like I’ve a way to go to get to my best. I’m certainly trying to improve all the time.”

Tonga – ranked 15th in the world – are preparing for their opening match in France after the tournament schedule handed them a fixture-free opening weekend.

Beirne, who is normally deployed in Ireland’s second row but lined up at blindside flanker against Romania, is braced for a bruising encounter.

“I think physicality is going to be top of their agenda,” he said.

“They’re going to come and try and have a scalp off us for sure. They’re a serious side when you look at the team on paper. I’ve no doubt that they’re going to have a go at us.

“Physically, we certainly need to continue to step it up. From warm-up (matches) into Romania, we’ve slowly been building it but we’re nowhere near where we feel like we can be.”

Despite temperatures exceeding 20 degrees Celsius, Beirne turned up for media duties in Tours wearing a suit, shirt and tie as punishment for being slightly late to a team meeting.

He joked there may be a “French Revolution” in the Ireland squad due to the strict regime run by camp enforcers James Ryan, Jack Conan and Dave Kilcoyne.

“There’s a bit of a dictatorship going on at the moment,” Beirne explained. “We have three lads that call themselves the sheriffs, they’re in charge of any misdemeanours or any fines that need to be taking place.

 

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“Unfortunately, I turned up a couple of seconds late for a meeting and they decided to fine me.

 

“There’s a wheel of fortune back in the camp and they have all different punishments on it, so it could land on whatever.

“The reason it’s a dictatorship is because they’re claiming they’re above the law, so there could be a French Revolution yet.

“The power’s definitely going to their heads, particularly Dave Kilcoyne. He’s enjoying it a bit too much for people’s liking.”

Joe Marler has carved out a niche as rugby’s ultimate maverick so it comes as a surprise to the England prop when Danny Cipriani claims there is no room for individuals in the game.

A theme of the now-retired Cipriani’s career was that of an unfulfilled talent on the international stage whose outrageous natural ability was never truly trusted by a succession of England coaches.

In the 35-year-old former fly-half’s autobiography, he suggests his face did not fit in the sport.

“Rugby has so many amazing qualities like camaraderie and teamwork. But it needs to allow people to be themselves,” said Cipriani in his recently released autobiography ‘Who Am I?’.

But as one of rugby’s most colourful figures and the source of several disciplinary storms, Marler disagrees with Cipriani.

“That is his experience. That is his story. That is not my story,” said Marler, who is expected to be on the bench for England’s World Cup clash with Japan on Sunday.

“Is Cips’ book fiction or non fiction? Do we know what section of the bookshop it will be in? I tried asking him the other night but he’s not answering.

“That is Danny’s view on it and I can’t deny his view on it. But that is not how I see it. That is his experience and he is more than entitled to share that.

“Martin Johnson was in charge for my first camp 13 years ago. I had a mohawk – think it might have been red or stars and a rat’s tail at the back. I looked horrific, actually.

“I remember Martin Johnson coming down the steps and he went: ‘Are you ready for training?’ I said ‘yeah, definitely’.

“He said ‘are you going to have a haircut before you get to training?’ I was like ‘Umm’. Then he just walked off.

“Now some people might interpret that as him being serious and it might be a case that actually you don’t fit the bill, you need to go and shave your hair off. But I took it as ‘he’s just joking’.

“Funnily enough I was sent home the next day! But I think it had more to do with the fact Andrew Sheridan’s back recovered. I’d like to think that!

“It’s up to the individual. You’ve got a choice in how you react to being told something.

“The perfect position would be everyone working towards what’s best for the team whilst still being able to show who they are, what they’re about, how they want to do it and how they can add to it.”

Marler is taking part in his third World Cup and has seen his Test career reborn since Steve Borthwick replaced Eddie Jones at the end of last year.

“Having been out of the previous environment for 18 months and then coming back into Steve’s environment and experiencing it for the first time in a World Cup camp and now here, there has been a huge difference in terms of how a lot of the group have felt, who they can be and how they can behave,” Marler said.

“It’s that’s had a massive effect on how the players are approaching training and how they are enjoying themselves both on and off the pitch.

“For me, I just try my hardest to encourage that environment to keep that consistent because it does need work. It does not just happen.”

Louis Rees-Zammit has underlined Wales’ “game by game mentality” as they target a second successive Rugby World Cup victory that would strengthen their quarter-final ambitions.

Wales, fresh from a thrilling bonus-point victory over Fiji, tackle Pool C minnows Portugal on Saturday.

A showdown with Australia follows eight days later in Lyon, then Georgia in Nantes as Wales chase a fourth last-eight appearance on the bounce.

“We got the win (against Fiji), which was the main thing, but there is a lot to improve,” Rees-Zammit said.

“We’ve got Portugal next and we know they have got great backs, so it’s going to be a tough game.

“We have got a game by game mentality, and that is our focus. You can’t slip up.

“We respect Portugal. We know they have got some great backs, so we are going to have to train hard this week and get the job done.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made 13 changes to the starting line-up, with only wing Rees-Zammit and number eight Taulupe Faletau remaining from last weekend.

Co-captain Dewi Lake leads Wales after recovering from a knee injury, while scrum-half Tomos Williams wins his 50th cap and there are first World Cup starts for the likes of centre Mason Grady, plus Exeter locks Dafydd Jenkins and lock Christ Tshiunza.

Lake suffered a knee problem during Wales’ World Cup warm-up game against England, but he now returns to pack down alongside front-row colleagues Nicky Smith and Dillon Lewis, and fly-half Gareth Anscombe is also back after injury.

Grady, meanwhile, is partnered in midfield by Johnny Williams, Leigh Halfpenny wins his 101st cap at full-back and another experienced campaigner – flanker Dan Lydiate – also features.

At the age of 34 years, eight months and 26 days, Halfpenny will become the oldest back to play a World Cup game for Wales, surpassing Shane Williams, who was a month younger against Australia in Auckland 12 years ago.

Prop Henry Thomas is the only player in Wales’ 33-strong World Cup squad who will not have started or been named on the bench across the first two games.

Wales’ bonus-point success against Fiji has set them up for a repeat performance against Portugal, who are the Pool C minnows.

They are at their first World Cup since 2007, although their pre-tournament form has been reasonable, including a 46-20 victory over the United States.

Gatland said: “We’ve made a few changes this week given the six-day turnaround.

“This is an opportunity now for this matchday 23. I have said before, but there is some great competition within the squad, which is what we want to see.

“There is a chance now for this group to go out on Saturday and to put down their own marker in the tournament.

“We’ve done a thorough debrief of last week’s game and know the areas we need to improve.

“We have a clear plan of how we want to play on Saturday, and it is about going out there and executing that as we have prepared.

“Portugal are a skilful side and will be raring to go this weekend in their first match of the tournament. We are excited to get back out there.”

Exeter forward Dafydd Jenkins will achieve another milestone moment when he makes his first Rugby World Cup start in Saturday’s clash against Portugal.

The 20-year-old lock has made rapid strides during an international career that only began last season with a Test debut against autumn opponents Georgia.

Having already captained the Chiefs in a Gallagher Premiership game, Jenkins quickly became an important part of Wales squads under head coach Warren Gatland.

And he was in the thick of it during his 22 minutes off the bench in Wales’ gripping 32-26 victory over opening Pool C opponents Fiji last weekend.

It proved a huge defensive rearguard from Gatland’s team as Fiji pushed for an unlikely win from 18 points adrift.

“It is a privilege to be with the group,” Jenkins said.

“I just want to try and leave the 20-year-old younger version of myself behind and push on forward, be a more experienced player at this level and competing hard.”

Jenkins’ father Hywel, a back-row forward for Swansea and Neath, went close to full international honours, representing Wales A and then Wales in an uncapped game against the United States.

And Jenkins’ rugby apprenticeship continued at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire, a renowned academy for the sport with an impressive list of past students that also includes Louis Rees-Zammit, Ellis Genge and Jonny May.

Exeter boss Rob Baxter contacted Jenkins during his time at Hartpury, and a move to Sandy Park followed in 2021, where he quickly broke into Chiefs’ Champions Cup and Premiership teams.

At 6ft 7in and around 18 stone, he has made his presence felt, but he is also performing an important off-field role during his first World Cup.

As Wales’ youngest squad member, he is entrusted with carrying a giant carved lovespoon – a traditional Welsh symbol of love and affection – at major events during the tournament.

Prop Rhys Carre performed those duties four years ago in Japan, and former Dragons centre Tyler Morgan at the 2015 World Cup in England.

“I haven’t lost it yet which is good,” Jenkins added. “A few boys are definitely eyeing it up, so I have to keep it away from them.

“It was really special (in Bordeaux for the Fiji game). The crowd was amazing, a different experience to what I have had before.

“We saw videos before the game from Bordeaux of Welsh fans singing in the town. It was more the atmosphere that was a bit different.”

Kevin Sinfield insists England do not have a discipline problem as they look to draw a line under their latest red-card setback that resulted in a two-match ban for Tom Curry.

England did not contest Curry’s dismissal for a dangerous tackle in Saturday’s 14-man demolition of Argentina when the Sale openside appeared before a brief virtual hearing on Tuesday.

After the disruption caused to their World Cup preparations by the Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola incidents last month, England are keen to focus all their attention on Sunday’s Pool D showdown with Japan.

And while continuing to hone their tackle technique in training, defence coach Sinfield is satisfied there is no deep-rooted problem.

“Discipline-wise, we gave away seven penalties at the weekend,” Sinfield said.

“I don’t think we’ve got a discipline problem, I thought it was really unfortunate what happened at the weekend. It’s been different from the other challenges that have taken place.

“We continue to work on our tackle skill – and work incredibly hard. The guys have bought into it and have done so for some time, but they’re human and they make mistakes. We’ve got to understand that.

“And unfortunately we’ve had to deal with four red cards in six games. We’re getting pretty good at defending with 14 men, but we want to have our full complement on the field for as long as possible at all times.

“So we hope to improve that area, but it’s tricky to pinpoint exactly what that is.

“We’ll spend time with Tom and put him through tackle school and work incredibly hard with him again. We’ll get him right for a couple of weeks’ time.”

Observers have been left scratching their heads by the inconsistent refereeing evident during the opening round of World Cup matches.

While Curry was given his marching orders for his third-minute clash of heads with Juan Cruz Mallia, similar incidents involving players from South Africa and Chile went unpunished.

On this occasion England could be justified for nursing a sense of grievance at the way the cards have fallen against them and Sinfield admits the disparity between decisions makes a player’s job harder.

“I think it makes life really difficult for the players, first and foremost, and that’s what we’re all here for,” Sinfield said.

“We all want to see the players out on the field, we want to see the best players in the world go head to head. We’ve just got to be careful.

“We control what we can control. We’re in full support of the rules and regulations. We try and train as hard as we can, but within the laws of the game and we’ll continued to do that.”

England name their team to face Japan on Friday night and Sinfield insists there will be no room for sentimentality when making any tight calls.

“At the top of the list is to win the game to we pick the team that we think gives us the best chance of winning,” Sinfield said.

“Within that there’s always a balance, but we’re in a World Cup and we’re not here to give people game-time, we’re here to win games.

“We’re not here to give Test shirts out because someone deserves one, we’re here because we have to win games.”

Freddie Steward has revealed that England’s heroic defensive stand against Argentina was inspired by a blast from Kevin Sinfield that was delivered in the wake of their Fiji debacle.

Steve Borthwick’s team opened their World Cup campaign with a 27-10 victory on Saturday despite playing 77 minutes with 14 men after Tom Curry was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle.

It was England’s finest hour since Borthwick took over and it arrived just in time as, until that act of defiance at the Stade Velodrome, concerns were being raised over a defence that had leaked 30 tries in nine Tests.

A conclusive defeat by Fiji at Twickenham a fortnight earlier saw the team reach their lowest ebb – and Steward admits the players deserved the reaction from Sinfield that followed.

“We got a bit of a rocket after that game. There were no complaints about that, it needed to happen,” the Leicester full-back said.

“We had a very thorough review, which we needed, and we reaped the benefits against Argentina. It was necessary for that to happen.

“That’s what makes Kev such a good defence coach – he’s so inspiring. He motivates us so much and he’s the sort of bloke you don’t want to let down.

“That’s testament to him as a bloke. When you go out there, part of it is you do it for him.

“You don’t want to see a guy like that, who puts his heart and soul into us in his work with his defence, feel let down.

“Kev is big on covering each other’s backs. That’s his big thing. He wants a defensive unit that are going to work incredibly hard for each other and, when it goes wrong, cover up for each other.

“Inevitably, you can be as good a defender as you want as a full-back but there are going to be times where it doesn’t go to plan and that is where you get tested. That’s his main ethos.”

Now that England have successfully negotiated their biggest match since the 2019 World Cup final, they have been challenged by Sinfield to ensure their defensive masterclass in Marseille is not a one-off.

“It is just a start. We saw lots of what we had seen in training against Argentina, which is pleasing, but I still feel there is so much in this team – so much improvement, so much growth,” Sinfield said.

“To get the win, given the noise that has been around us and the way the group have really circled the wagons – metaphorically that is – is really pleasing.

“We saw a fight, a spirit and attitude that the people at home supporting us and in the ground would have loved to have seen, and for us as coaches that is particularly pleasing, (but) we know we need to be better.

“Part of our challenge as coaches and part of the challenge of the playing group is to ensure this is not an anomaly, it is the start.”

Curry faces a disciplinary hearing in Paris on Tuesday night when he is expected to learn the length of his ban for the dangerous challenge that led to a clash of heads with Juan Cruz Mallia.

World Cup organisers have apologised to fans caught up in the chaotic scenes outside the Stade Velodrome before England’s match against Argentina on Saturday night.

Thousands of ticket holders missed the start of the Pool D opener because of the limited number of entry points and turnstiles, insufficient staffing levels and extensive security checks.

The weight of numbers led to crushes outside the ground and while France 2023 announced there were no incidents and all 63,118 seats were eventually taken, many supporters were concerned for their safety amid the potential for the situation to escalate.

“Fans are the heartbeat of the tournament and we would like to apologise to fans impacted by yesterday’s access challenges,” a statement read.

“We are working hard to enhance the experience for all visiting Marseille for Rugby World Cup 2023.”

Organisers have stated there will now be more service volunteers in place to assist with entry as well as increased announcements on public transport, including in English.

Other measures are also being taken to sure there is not a repeat of the scenes that took place before England beat Argentina 27-10 in the opening match of Pool D, which was staged in a hot and humid Marseille.

Although the crowds were well behaved and the atmosphere respectful, many supporters feared the consequences if the crushes intensified.

“When we got out of the station at the stadium there was an overwhelming number of people as there are just two entry points,” said England supporter Tim Chamberlain, who was attending his fifth World Cup.

“It felt like there were just not enough turnstiles and not enough people working. We stood in the melee for 45 minutes and it was really hot.

“You could see when we got in that it was potentially dangerous and there were occasional crowd surges, which were worrying, but people were generally pretty respectful.”

The Stade Velodrome was due to host Scotland’s Pool B tournament opener against reigning world champions South Africa on Sunday with the match scheduled to kick off at 1645BST.

Wales centre George North will join an elite Rugby World Cup club when he runs out against opening opponents Fiji on Sunday.

It will be North’s fourth tournament, a feat achieved by only four other Welshmen in Gethin Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones, Gareth Thomas and Stephen Jones.

And, at 31, he is showing no sign of slowing down, remaining a pivotal figure in head coach Warren Gatland’s plans.

With 114 caps, North is the most experienced Wales player on show at France 2023, underlining his consistency, durability and quality.

“I hoped that I would get to one (World Cup), for sure. To represent your country is huge, but to play at a World Cup is wicked,” he said.

“I am still fighting and competing, and find myself at number four.

“I guess it’s just a kudos to myself and shows all the work you put in is worth it to get to a fourth. I am still enjoying it.”

North is enthused by Wales’ current World Cup crop, with the squad featuring 16 tournament debutants, including co-captains Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake.

He also has three other cap centurions for company in Dan Biggar, Taulupe Faletau and Leigh Halfpenny as Wales look to make an impact in France.

It will be Gatland’s fourth World Cup at the Wales helm, having previously masterminded two semi-final appearances, and North has been there every step of the way.

He also believes Gatland has firmly put his stamp on the squad, nine months back into his second stint as Wales boss and following a difficult Six Nations campaign last season.

“The vibe has been really good,” North added. “For a lot of the boys it is their first World Cup, so they are going into the unknown and they are excited.

“I think everyone has just bought into it straight off, and I think that comes from ‘Gats’ when he set the tone with his last message from the Six Nations to the first day in World Cup camp – ‘this is how we are going to do it, this is how I want to do it. You either want to be in, or you don’t’.

“Some of the (training) sessions in Switzerland were brutal, probably some of the hardest I have ever done. The same in Turkey.

“We came off the paddock and we had knocked lumps out of each other for 40-odd minutes in 46 degrees. It’s all about his way of building that resilience, building that robustness into the squad.

“He pretty much said to us after we played France in the last round of the Six Nations that the World Cup was going to be the hardest thing you will ever do. He was not lying.”

Wales find themselves in a World Cup pool alongside three of their opponents from Japan four years ago – Fiji, Australia and Georgia – with North underlining the importance of a strong start.

“We need to start with a win on Sunday, pure and simple,” he said.

“The squad is in a really good place. Everyone understands where we are, everyone is well drilled on how we want to go about our work.

“The training camps we have been on have been brutal, absolutely brutal. The default setting is never give in, keep moving, keep going, keep going, keep going.”

Aurelien Tchouameni and Marcus Thuram left the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2024 dream hanging by a thread as France maintained their perfect start to qualification with a regulation 2-0 win in Paris.

The pair struck either side of half-time at the Parc des Princes to claim a fifth successive Group B victory and leave Ireland with just three points from their first four games, a statistic which means Sunday’s clash with the Netherlands in Dublin could all but decide their fate.

Stephen Kenny’s men were organised and dogged, but with Ousmane Dembele tormenting Enda Stevens to such an extent that he was replaced at half-time and Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann delighting a passionate home crowd, were unable to cause the hosts enough problems with the notable exception of a Chiedozie Ogbene header which prompted a fine save from Mike Maignan.

Much had been made in France ahead of the game of Ireland keeper Gavin Bazunu’s propensity to concede from distance, but there was little he could have done to keep out Tchouameni’s sweetly-struck 19th-minute shot, and he was left exposed as substitute Thuram extended the lead after 48 minutes.

While the outcome in Paris was never likely to define their campaign, June’s defeat in Greece left Ireland up against it and a repeat against the Dutch would effectively extinguish all hope.

France set off in determined fashion, Adrien Rabiot thumping a shot into Bazunu’s midriff from Dembele’s pull-back before John Egan had to make a vital block to keep out Olivier Giroud’s strike after Theo Hernandez had out-stripped the cover down the Irish right.

Mbappe might have done better from the resulting corner, scooping a tame attempt over the top after Adam Idah had taken Griezmann’s corner out of Bazunu’s reach, and the Ireland keeper was relieved to see the Atletico Madrid star’s swinging 15th-minute free-kick smuggled away after it reared up at him off the turf having sailed through a crowded penalty area.

However, he was beaten four minutes later when, after Griezmann had headed down for Dembele, his cross was headed away by Nathan Collins only for Mbappe to recycle the loose ball to Tchouameni, who curled a delicious shot across the Southampton keeper and inside the far post from 25 yards.

Giroud departed injured after going to ground under Egan’s 24th-minute challenge and was replaced by Thuram and with Mbappe dropping deep to pick up possession, the visitors found themselves under almost constant pressure, with Ogbene’s occasional, but largely unsupported, forays down the right their only meaningful outlet.

Bazunu fielded a speculative effort from Mbappe comfortably, but was relieved to see an offside flag come to his rescue after the Paris St Germain star had stabbed a 42nd-minute shot between his legs.

Stevens departed at the break to be replaced by James McClean, but his side fell further behind within three minutes of the restart when, after Mbappe had failed to make the most of a Theo Hernandez cross, Thuram span on the lose ball to rifle into the roof of the net.

With little left to lose, the Republic threw caution to the wind and might have reduced the deficit from Ogbene’s header but for Maignan’s brilliance after Idah had beaten the offside trap, and the Luton striker curled a left-foot shot inches over seconds later as the anxious keeper could only look on.

Ireland’s new-found sense of adventure left them vulnerable at the back and Mbappe’s blushes were spared by a late offside flag after he had missed the target in a one-on-one battle with Bazunu, who then did well to parry another Tchouameni piledriver 23 minutes from time.

Dembele rattled the upright from a tight angle with France in cruise control, and only stout defence, a series of less than effective final balls and a bad miss by Thuram spared the visitors further damage.

Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny is refusing to bemoan his luck as he prepares to take on the might of France without his emerging star striker.

Irish fans were licking their lips in anticipation when 18-year-old Evan Ferguson plundered a Premier League hat-trick for Brighton against Newcastle on Saturday evening just days before he was due at the Parc des Princes for a showdown with the World Cup runners-up.

However, a knee injury has forced his withdrawal from the squad for the game and the home clash with Netherlands which follows it on Sunday, much to the disappointment of Kenny, whose reign has been punctuated by misfortune ever since he lost frontmen Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly to what proved to be false positive Covid-19 tests in the run up to their Euro 2020 play-off in Slovakia.

Asked if he was due a change of luck, the manager said: “No, I don’t really look at it like that. I’m very privileged to manage Ireland, very privileged.

“The attacking players that are missing, five of them – Michael Obafemi, Troy Parrott, Mikey Johnston, Callum Robinson and Evan Ferguson, of course – the five players are missing, but because we’ve given 18 players their debut in that period over the last two years, it’s increased the level of squad depth and it means that we still have a strong team.

“I’m happy with the team that we have tomorrow night, very happy with it and I’m happy with the options that we have.

“We know many people don’t give us much of a chance – I understand why, we understand that. But we’re going to give ourselves every opportunity to prepare well and perform to the level that we need to to put in a really strong performance tomorrow night.”

The odds are stacked against Ireland as they attempt to resurrect their Group B campaign, which so far has yielded just three points from as many games, a run which includes a 1-0 home defeat by the French in Dublin.

Didier Deschamps’ men are ranked second by FIFA, while the Republic have slipped to 53rd, and they realistically need to win at least one of the two games this week if they are to keep their campaign alive.

Asked if the trip to Paris was his toughest game to date as Ireland boss, Kenny said: “I would say it is, yes. I’d say that’s most likely accurate.

“France have been to the last two World Cup finals. They won the World Cup, then obviously lost last year on penalties to win two World Cups in a row, so they’re definitely within the two best teams in the world, if not the best.

“We obviously respect their talent and to come into their backyard, into their home arena and play them presents a stiff challenge and one that we understand is difficult.

“But we’re very excited by it as well and we understand that it’s an opportunity for us.”

Skipper John Egan is expected to be fit after shaking off knee and ankle problems, while Andrew Omobamidele, who was drafted in as cover for the Sheffield United man, has now joined the squad in Paris after being given compassionate leave following the death of his grandfather.

Evan Ferguson has been ruled out of the Republic of Ireland’s upcoming Euro 2024 qualifying matches against France and the Netherlands.

The 18-year-old picked up a knee injury during Brighton’s 3-1 win against Newcastle on Saturday, in which he scored all three of his side’s goals, and after being assessed by national team medical staff has withdrawn from the squad.

He joined up with the team on Sunday but it has been decided that he will not be fit to feature in either match during the current international window, with the squad due to travel to France later on Tuesday.

Stephen Kenny’s team have three points from their first three matches in Group B and need a positive result in Paris on Thursday and against the Dutch in Dublin next week to keep alive realistic hopes of reaching next summer’s finals.

The manager has Norwich’s Adam Idah, Preston’s Will Keane, Hull’s Aaron Connolly and Chiedozie Ogbene of Luton available as his other forward options.

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