Assistant coach Mike Catt categorically denied Mack Hansen’s shock omission for Ireland’s Rugby World Cup opener against Romania is down to an internal disciplinary issue.

Australia-born wing Hansen has been among Ireland’s standout players amid their current 13-match winning run but was the only first-team regular left out of Saturday’s Pool B clash in Bordeaux.

Head coach Andy Farrell confirmed the 25-year-old is not injured when announcing his team on Thursday.


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The Englishman then volunteered information about some members of his squad succumbing to off-field distractions when the team were based in Biarritz for their final warm-up game against Samoa in nearby Bayonne.

“The reason we went there is that there’s a lot of distraction that goes on, certainly when you’re in a hotel that’s on the beach,” Farrell said in answering a routine question about newer members of his squad not having World Cup baggage.

“Some people handled that brilliantly, some people didn’t.”

Farrell’s cryptic admission fuelled speculation in the wake of Hansen’s surprise non-selection.

Yet Catt insisted the Connacht player has not breached team rules.

“Good question really, it’s a long tournament first and foremost and it’s making sure that we look after everybody,” Catt replied when asked why Hansen has been left out.

“In the same breath there is good competition in that area too. There is nothing that Mack has done wrong. It’s not that he’s performed badly at all.

“He’s done exceptionally well in his pre-season games and like we say, it’s a long competition and we need to keep people fresh too.”

Ireland’s strong selection is missing just three of arguably Farrell’s preferred starting XV: injured hooker Dan Sheehan, flanker Josh van der Flier, who is on the bench, and Hansen.

Hansen, who recently had Farrell’s face tattooed on his leg as part of a pact with captain Johnny Sexton, has only sat out three Test matches since his debut in the 2022 Six Nations.

One of those fixtures was the first Test against New Zealand last year when he had Covid-19, while another was last month’s warm-up match with Italy, when most of Ireland’s star names were given the weekend off.

Questioned directly on whether the selection decision was due to a disciplinary matter, Catt replied: “Not at all, no.”

Centre Bundee Aki, who was sitting next to Catt, joked that Hansen’s absence was performance-related, saying: “He was useless.”

Head coach Andy Farrell expects Ireland to be “a hell of a lot slicker” in their Rugby World Cup opener following some disjointed warm-up displays.

The world’s top-ranked nation are among the pre-tournament favourites and launch their campaign on Saturday afternoon against Pool B minnows Romania in Bordeaux.

In-form Ireland arrived in France on a 13-match winning run but having failed to fully convince during last month’s disjointed victories over Italy, England and Samoa.

Farrell is untroubled by those patchy performances – produced by largely experimental line-ups – and has backed his players to deliver when it really matters.

“It’s certainly not a concern because obviously (they were) three warm-up games with different personnel and everyone is at different stages in the pre-season,” he said.

“It’s all galvanised to one point and this is it: the start of the competition.

“The performance should be one that’s a hell of a lot slicker, let’s put it that way.

“Understanding what it’s all about and getting down to business is where we’re at at this stage. We’re looking forward to getting going.”

Farrell has named a strong starting XV for the curtain raiser, albeit world player of the year Josh van der Flier begins on the bench, while wing Mack Hansen has the weekend off, despite being available.

Fly-half Johnny Sexton is back from a three-match ban to captain Ireland, while rookie lock Joe McCarthy is among the six starting World Cup debutants.

Farrell’s 33-man squad contains a total of 18 players who have never played on the biggest stage.

The Englishman feels there are benefits to that scenario but also suggested some of the newcomers need to avoid distractions better than they did around the recent Samoa game in Bayonne, when Ireland were based in nearby Biarritz.

“It’s an advantage because of the youthfulness and the quality of those players is top drawer,” he said.

“But they also need to understand what it is that they’re coming into.

“The reason we went there (to Biarritz) is that there’s a lot of distraction that goes on, certainly when you’re in a hotel that’s on the beach.

“Some people handled that brilliantly, some people didn’t. Learning from those experiences is pretty important because you don’t get second chances after this in World Cups.

“You have to wait four more years – if you’re lucky enough.”

Unfancied Romania are ranked 19th in the world. Farrell is braced for a physical assignment amid temperatures forecast to reach around 35 degrees Celsius.

“For anyone that’s watched them, it’s pretty clear and obvious that they’re a determined group,” said Farrell.

“I think by their own recollection they would say that their point of difference is their power, their aggression, their set-piece.

“They love mauling, they love the scrummaging part of the game. They’re very direct in the forwards and pretty nippy and dangerous within the backs as well.

“We’ve scouted them well but, at the same time, more of the concentration this week has been on ourselves.”

Corey Domachowski believes that Wales can reap the rewards from “15 weeks of hell” in their Rugby World Cup campaign.

The Cardiff prop is a Test rugby newcomer, making his debut against warm-up opponents England last month.

His impact was sufficient for Wales head coach Warren Gatland to select him not only in the final World Cup squad, but also hand him a place among the matchday 23 to face opening World Cup opponents Fiji on Sunday.

Wales have moved south from their Versailles training base to the first match venue of Bordeaux.

They were greeted by temperatures of 35 degrees as the heat in France shows no sign of relenting, and even though Sunday’s encounter does not start until 9pm local time, it is set to be only eight degrees cooler.

Wales, though, are fully prepared, with the players being put through their paces at punishing pre-World Cup camps in Switzerland and Turkey during a training phase that began in late May.

“We’ve trained hard for this,” Domachowski said.

“We had 15 weeks of hell, to be honest. It has been absolutely savage.

“And I genuinely think if we put what we’ve done on the training field on to the playing field, then we are going to be a tough team to beat.

“That’s something ‘Gats’ and the other coaches have drilled into us. We are not going to worry about any opposition. We know we have got quality in the squad.

“There is a lot of competition in that squad, and whoever goes on the field will give everything they’ve got for that jersey.”

Domachowski has already made a World Cup impression, leading the Wales players in a rendition of the Welsh hymn Calon Lan during the squad’s World Cup welcome ceremony in Versailles.

“As you can tell, I am a bit of a character, so ‘Nugget’ (team manager Martyn Williams) came up to me and asked me if I would lead it,” Domachowski added.

“So I said yes, and the boys were winding me up saying I could go on my own at first, but to be fair to ‘Gats’ he said we would all do it together.

“So I had to just lead it up, we had a couple of lessons and it went well.”

Steve Borthwick insists England are ready to defy gloomy predictions for their World Cup by delivering a reaction against Argentina in Saturday’s pivotal opener.

The Pumas are in the rare position of being assigned favourites for the main event of Pool D, based on a strong year under the guidance of Michael Cheika and their 30-29 victory at Twickenham in November.

England, meanwhile, have gone into freefall following a run of five defeats in six Tests that no longer makes qualification for the knockout phase appear to be the formality it once was.

Borthwick, who has named Alex Mitchell at scrum-half and Tom Curry at openside for the Marseille showdown, insists the low expectations have sent ripples of indignation through the squad.

“I sense there is a feeling among the players they’ve been written off too early. People have called time on them a bit too early,” England’s head coach said.

“I sense the frustration about what people have been saying about them and right now I have an expectation that they will go and perform with the quality that they have.

“I sense from them that there’s a real determination to go and put their best performances on the park.

“There is a lot of class in this squad. The players have a hell of a lot more to go. They can’t wait to get stuck in on Saturday night.

“Our job is put in a performance that this team is capable of and I know these players are capable of. I know these players are determined to deliver on Saturday night. That’s our job now.”

Borthwick’s theme of an England side ready to exit their slump in time to make an impact at the World Cup was taken up by captain Courtney Lawes, who is leading the team in the absence of the suspended Owen Farrell.

When asked if the players are angry at recent performances, Lawes replied: “There’s definitely a frustration. We feel it as much as anybody.

“We are in the thick of it and we are doing everything we can to make sure, come this weekend, we are firing on all cylinders.

“It’s going to be a hell of a spectacle, so enjoy it. We are going out all guns blazing and we are going to give it everything we have got.

“It’s the first game of the World Cup and we’re going to be well up for it.”

Offering hope to England supporters is the selection of Mitchell ahead of Danny Care and Ben Youngs, with the 26-year-old half-back a more dynamic presence than his veteran rivals for the jersey.

The tempo and energy brought by Mitchell, both through his delivery and with the ball in hand, was one of the few highlights to emerge from a chastening defeat by Fiji last month.

Remarkably he starts in England’s biggest game since the 2019 World Cup final despite being overlooked for their original 33-man squad, with an injury to Jack van Poortvliet offering his route to France.

“Alex was a dangerous running threat against Fiji; everyone knows he is a dangerous running threat,” Borthwick said.

“Immense credit to Mitch in that he was incredibly disappointed not to make the original 33-man squad. An opportunity opened up.

“One of the positives that came out of that Fiji game was his performance. He played well and he’s trained exceptionally well. He’s ready to go.”

Curry’s influence on the team is evident through his promotion to the back row despite having missed the entire build-up campaign because of an ankle injury sustained in training.

“We have got players throughout this 23 who have performed on the biggest of stages and Tom Curry is one of them,” Borthwick said.

“He’s in fantastic physical condition; he missed a period of training but his movement is exceptional.”

Veteran Ireland hooker Rob Herring never doubted his ability to play at a Rugby World Cup as he prepares to make up for past disappointments with an overdue tournament debut.

South Africa-born Herring has been selected to start Saturday’s Pool B opener against Romania ahead of the fit-again Ronan Kelleher and in the absence of the injured Dan Sheehan.

The 33-year-old was called up by Joe Schmidt in the build-up to the 2015 and 2019 competitions before being cut from the final squads.


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He subsequently flew to Japan four years ago as an injury replacement for Sean Cronin but was not involved as Ireland crashed out in the quarter-finals to New Zealand and has since been eclipsed by the emergence of Leinster pair Sheehan and Kelleher.


“Yeah, it’s been a long run for me,” said Herring. “I was involved in the two previous World Cup pre-seasons and missed out on selection so I think all the work over the last year, it’s paid off to be here now.

“I always believed I was good enough to be here. The selection calls were tight in the last World Cup.

“I’ve been heavily involved in the squad since the last World Cup and I’m really enjoying my time under Faz (Andy Farrell) and the leadership of the coaches.

“It has been a great four years, and I’m just raring to go now.

“There’s obviously a bit more hype around the World Cup and a bit more pressure on games but that’s what we’ve been building for. Personally, I think I’m in a good place.”

Herring, who qualifies for Ireland through a grandparent, made his international debut as a replacement flanker during the 2014 tour of Argentina.

He had won just eight caps when head coach Farrell succeeded Schmidt after the 2019 World Cup but started all five matches of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations following the retirement of Rory Best.

Despite remaining a squad regular, Herring, who is set for his 38th Test outing this weekend, has become more peripheral since the breakthrough of dynamic duo Kelleher and Sheehan.

“My mindset going into it is this is just the start,” said the Ulster player.

“It’s a massive honour to be selected for the squad but this is just the start of it. I want to put my best foot forward and contribute to the team as well as I can.

“I think if I nail my role and everyone else does theirs, we will put in a strong performance.”


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Ireland will be led by Johnny Sexton in Bordeaux on his return from suspension and injury.


Herring believes fly-half Sexton is the type of captain team-mates “want to follow into battle”.

“Johnny is one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever played under,” he said.

“I think that’s his massive point of difference. He’s unbelievably driven, he drives the standards at training, off the pitch, everything.

“He’s got an incredible winning mindset so he’s the kind of guy you really want to follow into battle. You know he’s going to be right up there at his best and giving it his all. It’s been great having him back.”

Warren Gatland says that Wales are “in a good place” as they prepare to launch their Rugby World Cup challenge against Fiji.

Gatland, taking charge of his fourth World Cup as Wales head coach, has been boosted by the return to fitness of 100-cap number eight Taulupe Faletau.

He will make his first Wales appearance since last season’s Six Nations after recovering from a calf muscle problem that sidelined him for Wales’ three-Test warm-up schedule.

Faletau goes straight into the starting line-up, packing down alongside back-row colleagues Aaron Wainwright and skipper Jac Morgan.

“We’ve had some good clarity about what we want to achieve and the way we want to play on the weekend,” Gatland said.

“The boys are looking sharp, there is a great environment in this group – players working for each other, enjoying each other’s company.

“We are in a good place and can’t wait to get out there and get our Rugby World Cup campaign under way.”

While Faletau returns, though, hooker and Morgan’s co-captain Dewi Lake does not make the matchday 23.

The Ospreys hooker suffered a knee injury during Wales’ encounter against England at Twickenham last month, and Gatland added: “The medical team has done a fantastic job getting Dewi back to full fitness.

“He has not had as much training under his belt as the other hookers since he picked up that knock to his knee, so Ryan Elias and Elliot Dee are selected for us for this game.”

Elias starts, and there are also opportunities for the likes of centre Nick Tompkins and scrum-half Gareth Davies.

Flanker Tommy Reffell, meanwhile, has been named among the replacements, being passed fit after missing training on Wednesday due to a knock.

There are five World Cup debutants in Gatland’s starting line-up and it will be the fifth successive World Cup where Wales and Fiji meet.

Centre George North joins a select group of Welsh players to feature in four World Cups, emulating Alun Wyn Jones, Stephen Jones and Gethin Jenkins.

Scarlets number nine Davies has won Gatland’s starting vote ahead of Tomos Williams as he clocks up World Cup number three.

“Twelve months ago I probably wouldn’t have thought I would be involved in the first game of a World Cup, but anything can happen in rugby, as we all know.” Davies said.

“I have worked extremely hard over the last year to work myself into contention, and hopefully I can show that on Sunday.

“Playing in a World Cup is the pinnacle. We have a few young guys in the squad – they are really excited about it – and plenty of experience.

“Fiji are going to be a very tough team to beat, but it is a challenge we are looking forward to.”

Since being dumped out of the World Cup by Fiji 16 years ago in Nantes, Wales have reeled off three successive wins.

Sunday’s encounter is huge in the context of a group where Australia and ever-improving Georgia will also be vying for qualification.

Sione Tuipulotu was overcome with emotion as he revealed his mother’s trip across the world to watch him play for Scotland for the first time will give him all the motivation he needs for Sunday’s World Cup showdown with South Africa.

The Australia-born centre is qualified to represent the Scots through his grandmother, Jacqueline, from Greenock and he has become one of Gregor Townsend’s main men since making his debut in autumn 2021, shortly after he joined Glasgow.

While Tuipulotu’s Tongan father Fohe has been over to watch him play for Scotland, his mother Angelina – who is from south-east Melbourne after her Scottish and Italian parents moved there – has not been able to attend any of his matches in person since he left Melbourne Rebels in 2019.

The 26-year-old apologised to journalists as he welled up with tears and briefly paused to compose himself while outlining the journey his mother had undertaken to get herself to France to see her son play on the biggest stage in rugby.

“My mum got here yesterday and it will be the first time she’ll have watched me play rugby for quite a while,” said Tuipoluto, speaking at the team’s base in the south of France on Thursday. “I had a chat with her yesterday when she got to Paris.

“It was quite an emotional phone call, she just said how proud she was. Obviously it’s her mum that is part of my Scottish heritage and she said she is really proud when she sees me during the anthem and hears the background in terms of Murrayfield, the noise and stuff like that (while watching on television).

“I can’t really imagine how she is going to feel this weekend with the noise in Marseille when I’m playing the world champions. That is part of my motivation this week, I don’t need any extra motivation because my mum is over and she hasn’t seen me play for a while.

“She travelled all the way from Australia. She explained the route to me and she had quite a hard time with admin. She is terrible with admin just like me and she made a few mistakes along the way but she’s here, she made it.”

Asked if it was thinking about the length of journey his mother had undertaken from Australia that caused him to choke back the tears, Tuipulotu said: “Not just that journey but her journey in general.

“Everyone has their rugby journey in terms of where they’ve come from. When it’s your own mum, only you know what she has been through to get you to this point. Her story is something I have always thought about as a motivation for me in my rugby and I suppose it’s all just climaxed towards this weekend.

“She last watched me when I was in Melbourne playing for the Rebels. She was always there every game, the same as my dad who has been over to Scotland to watch me play a couple of times which has been cool. But this one is a little bit more special just because it is my mum and I am very emotional about it.”

Since joining Glasgow from Japanese club Yamaha Jubilo in 2021, Tuipulotu has become a first-choice pick for Scotland and one of the most highly-regarded centres in the world.

“I would be lying if I said to you I didn’t think it was going to be achievable because I have always backed myself through my whole career,” he said of his impressive rise to prominence.

“I have always been a confident player and when I moved over to Scotland, I had the goal that if I was going to move that far away from my family, I was going to make it happen.

“You need some things to go your way in order to make it happen and I got lucky with the coaches I had as soon as I came over here, but it’s also about my hard work as soon as I came over to try to keep improving as a player.

“It has been an awesome journey over the past couple of years and I am super-excited for the tournament to kick off. As a kid I wanted to be one of the best players in my position in the world and this is the tournament you get to prove that.”

England have taken a step towards igniting their attack by picking Alex Mitchell at scrum-half for their crucial World Cup opener against Argentina in Marseille on Saturday.

Mitchell was omitted from the original 33-man squad named by Steve Borthwick only to be given a reprieve when Jack van Poortvliet suffered a tournament-ending ankle injury.

Having impressed on his first Test start against Fiji, the 26-year-old has retained half-back duties with the aim of adding zip to England’s game, while Danny Care provides support from the bench.

Tom Curry makes his first appearance under Borthwick and his maiden outing at any level since Sale lost to Saracens in the Gallagher Premiership final in May after being given the nod at openside.

Curry has been struggling with an ankle injury sustained during training in early August but in an indication of his influence on England, he has been thrust straight into the back row.

Captain Johnny Sexton insists there will be “no excuses” if he fails to perform in Ireland’s World Cup opener against Romania as he prepares to make his first competitive appearance in almost six months.

Fly-half Sexton missed his country’s three warm-up matches through suspension, having not played since injuring a groin in helping clinch the Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam against England on March 18.

The 38-year-old will make his long-awaited comeback as a starter on Saturday afternoon in Bordeaux and has been targeting the fixture since being hit with his ban in mid-July.

“I’m delighted to be back,” said Sexton.

“Playing for Ireland is always special, it’s extra special when it comes to the World Cup, so I’m very, very happy to be back in the team and really looking forward to it.

“Hopefully I can go out and play well and have a good performance. I expect that of myself. There are no excuses in that regard.

“Once I got over the injury obviously came the three games off and once I knew that was there I’ve just been focused on this game for the last couple of months. Looking forward to it now and finally getting back out on the pitch.”

Sexton will partner Leinster team-mate Jamison Gibson-Park in a strong XV packed with first-choice stars.

Rookie lock Joe McCarthy, who will make only his second Test start, is a notable exception, while Rob Herring has been given the nod at hooker ahead of Ronan Kelleher in the absence of the injured Dan Sheehan.

Sexton, who is at the fourth World Cup of his distinguished career ahead of retirement, admits there is a mix of nerves and excitement in the Ireland camp.

“I’m sure the Irish will travel like they always do and it’s a very different atmosphere to what you normally get at rugby matches,” he said.

“It’s very much like a soccer World Cup atmosphere, the ones I’ve been involved in to date, and we’re looking forward to that. But also with that comes a bit of nerves.

“We’ve built to this moment for the last four years so now it’s finally here the nerves come in, but it’s about embracing them and going out and trying to play our best.”

Ireland begin the tournament at the top of the world rankings amid a record 13-match winning run.

Wing Mack Hansen has been given the weekend off, while reigning world player of the year Josh van der Flier is the other significant absentee from the starting line-up, having been named among the replacements.

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Head coach Andy Farrell says it is “full steam ahead” as his Six Nations champions seek to begin with a bang.

“We’ve got a squad of 33 that we totally believe in and whatever side we put out is going to be a good side,” he said.

“No matter what side we pick, it’s going to be one that’s threatening and a determined one at that.

“Our mindset at this stage is full steam ahead. We expect a fantastic performance at the weekend to kick us off in the right manner.”

Van der Flier’s demotion to the bench results in Peter O’Mahony shuffling across to openside flanker and Tadhg Beirne moving into the back row at blindside to accommodate McCarthy in the second row.

The 22-year-old McCarthy, one of 10 World Cup debutants in Ireland’s matchday squad, only made his international debut last autumn and has just 129 minutes of Test experience across three caps.

“He deserves it with the form that he’s shown, not just in the games that he’s played, but also in his preparation over the last 10, 11 weeks,” said Farrell.

“He’s really progressed his game and he gets an opportunity to start in the first game of the World Cup.”

Taulupe Faletau will make his first Wales appearance since last season’s Six Nations after recovering from injury to feature against opening World Cup opponents Fiji.

The 100 times-capped number eight missed Wales’ entire World Cup warm-up schedule because of a calf muscle problem, but he goes straight into the starting line-up for Sunday’s Pool C clash in Bordeaux.

Skipper Jac Morgan and Aaron Wainwright join Faletau in the back-row, but Morgan’s co-captain Dewi Lake does not feature in the matchday 23.

Lake suffered a knee injury during Wales’ encounter against England at Twickenham last month.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland said: “The medical team has done a fantastic job getting Dewi back to full fitness.

“He has not had as much training under his belt as the other hookers since he picked up that knock to his knee, so Ryan Elias and Elliot Dee are selected for us for this game.”

France head coach Fabien Galthie has described Friday’s opening match against New Zealand in Paris as “a wonderful celebration”.

Galthie, who has transformed Les Bleus into genuine contenders since taking on the role in 2020, said he could not have picked a better opponent than the All Blacks for the hosts in their first match.

The former France scrum-half said: “What could be better than New Zealand?

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is a team that hasn’t lost a match in the qualifying (pool) phase since the World Cup began. Ever. 31 wins.

“This is a team that has three World Cup titles to its name, a team that has just won the last competition it took part in, the Four Nations (Rugby Championship).

“We’re so happy to be playing them that Friday’s match is a celebration, a joy, a great joy for us. It’s wonderful.”

Under Galthie, France have been Six Nations’ runners-up on three occasions and in 2022 won the Grand Slam for the first time in 12 years.

They have lost only once on home soil with Galthie at the helm – to Scotland in 2021 – and are second favourites behind New Zealand to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time.

France were beaten finalists in 1987, 1999 and 2011, two of those against New Zealand who are bidding for a record fourth triumph.

The All Blacks, winners in 1987, 2011 and 2015, have failed to win the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship just twice in the last 12 years.

But their 11-match unbeaten run came to a juddering halt when slipping to the heaviest defeat in their history at Twickenham last month, losing 35-7 to defending world champions South Africa.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster, who insisted camp morale remained high, said: “We have had a good preparation and a great Rugby Championship.

“If you look at the performances against Australia and South Africa, suddenly we are World Cup favourites. Then we don’t do very well at Twickenham and we are the worst All Blacks side ever.

“This French team have been playing some great rugby over the last two years, everyone can see them building.

“We have also seen them put under pressure and have to deal with expectation and the crowd.

“Part of World Cups is the mental side, about having the confidence and courage to play the game you need to play at the right time. It is only when it all starts we will see where people are at.”

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton will make his first competitive appearance in almost six months after being selected to start Saturday’s Rugby World Cup clash with Romania.

Fly-half Sexton missed his country’s three warm-up matches through suspension, having not played since injuring a groin as Ireland clinched the Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam on March 18.

The 38-year-old, who will retire after the tournament, will partner Leinster team-mate Jamison Gibson-Park on his long-awaited comeback in Bordeaux.

Ulster hooker Rob Herring will fill the void left by Dan Sheehan’s foot injury, with Ronan Kelleher, who sat out last month’s wins over Italy, England and Samoa amid a hamstring issue, on the bench.

Lock Joe McCarthy, the least experienced international in Ireland’s 33-man group, will make only his second Test start, alongside vice-captain James Ryan.

Wing Mack Hansen and world player of the year Josh van der Flier, who is on the bench, are notable absentees from the line-up.

Keith Earls has been selected ahead of Hansen on the right wing, with Van der Flier’s non-selection resulting in Peter O’Mahony lining up at openside flanker and Tadhg Beirne switching from the second row to blindside.

Revitalised Scotland centre Huw Jones believes he is entering the biggest tournament of his life in the best form of his career.

The 29-year-old Glasgow back enjoyed an impressive start to his international career after making his debut in 2016 but agonisingly missed out on selection for the 2019 World Cup.

Jones then went almost two years without an appearance for Scotland between the March 2021 victory over France in Paris and the start of this year’s Six Nations as he lost his way amid fitness and form issues.

Since returning to the mix as a try-scorer in the victory over England at Twickenham in February, Jones has established himself as one of Scotland’s key men. He ended the Six Nations with four tries – two of them away to France – and was named in the team of the championship.

Having continued his magnificent form through the summer, the former Stormers and Harlequins man reckons he has come to the boil at the perfect time for what will be the pinnacle of his career.

“It’s been really enjoyable since coming back from injury last season to get the opportunity to play for both club and country,” he said. “I’ve had loads of chances (to play) and it’s been great.

“I’ve got on well with the guys around me so I’m really positive about how my game is. I think I’m a better player right now than I’ve ever been. Looking around at the squad, everyone in the squad is playing well so that’s a huge positive for us.”

Another of Jones’ in-form colleagues is his fellow Glasgow centre Sione Tuipulotu, who also made the Six Nations team of the championship.

The pair have formed a strong bond for club and country since Jones returned from injury last December and their chemistry at the heart of the backline promises to be a big asset for the Scots in France.

“I love playing with Sione,” said Jones. “He’s a great guy to have around, he brings loads of energy. I think we view the game the same way.

“With how we want to play and our attributes, we bounce off each other well. We’ve got a good connection on and off the field, which is great for us and good for the team.”

The current form of Jones, Tuipuloto and so many of their colleagues means the Scots – ranked fifth in the world – will kick off their tournament against world champions South Africa with genuine belief that they are equipped to pull off a victory.

“We’ve had the whole summer to build up and it’s nice to have the big one up first,” he said. “It’s a massive game. They’re world champions, they’re on form if you look at their last couple of games and they are a top side.

“It is a huge challenge for us, but it’s one we’re really excited about. With the game we want to play, we’re confident about it.

“It’s going to be hugely important not to lose focus in any moments. If we can put our game together and stay in the moment, hopefully that will be enough.”

Ireland back-rower Caelan Doris actively avoids the media hype surrounding him and feels his own high standards are sufficient pressure going into his first World Cup.

Doris is tipped to shine on the biggest stage in France, having been one of his country’s leading performers of the Andy Farrell era.

The 25-year-old has ranked highly on a series of recent lists of rugby’s top players, while Ireland great Brian O’Driscoll is among his many admirers.


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Doris believes he has room for significant further development and referenced comments from former Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip as he bids to remain grounded.

“I remember hearing Heaslip saying something like ‘If you get inflated, you get deflated’,” said Doris, who made his Test debut in the first match of Farrell’s reign in the 2020 Six Nations.

“Probably my first year or two, I didn’t seek stuff out but I did see more than I do now. I try not to look at anything.

“I try not to have anything like that in my head or any other people’s expectations, I think my own are enough.

“There’s still plenty of room for improvement but I’m moving in the right direction.”

Doris has been a key cog in Ireland’s rise to the top of the Test rankings with a string of man-of-the-match displays.

He has now lined up in all three positions across the back row following his two-try outing at openside flanker in last month’s warm-up win over Italy.

Ireland were far below their free-flowing best in dispatching the Azzurri, England and Samoa in August.


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Yet Doris insists the Six Nations champions are brimming with confidence ahead of Saturday’s World Cup opener against Romania in Bordeaux.

“There’s massive belief in the group going into the first game,” he said.

“Pre-season can be a bit of a funny time.

“It’s not an excuse but you’re not always primed for the games as you might be other ones: different combinations, playing in slightly different positions, things like that.

“We’re very aware that we haven’t played our best stuff. I definitely think we can put in better performances going forward.”

While Doris’ career has been on an upward trajectory, he has suffered frustration at club level with Leinster following successive European Champions Cup final losses to La Rochelle.

He has proven himself the man for the big occasion with standout displays in Ireland’s statement wins across the past two years and is determined to do so again in the coming weeks.

“I love playing in these bigger games,” he said. “I feel, particularly with Leinster when it comes to finals, I haven’t played my best.

“I’m excited by the challenge of trying to deliver on the biggest stage and put out some of my best performances. Definitely looking forward to getting stuck in.”

Dan Cole insists England’s players understand the damaging consequences of stepping out of line while seeking to escape World Cup cabin fever.

Cole will appear in his fourth tournament when he lines up against Argentina in Marseille on Saturday with his experience giving the Test centurion an insight into striking the right balance between rugby and recreation.

In 2011 that harmony was thrown out of kilter by a series of embarrassing off-field incidents that tarnished England’s reputation and ushered in the reign of Stuart Lancaster, who then set a headmasterly tone in 2015.

Four years later in Japan, the right note was struck as a purposeful squad reached the final before falling to South Africa.

A regular sight at England’s camp in Le Touquet is players riding bikes, spending time on the beach, strolling through town or eating dinner in local restaurants – a level of freedom Cole insists is not taken lightly.

“We’ve always been told there’s a trust. If you f*** up you’re out, basically. So no one f**** up. Or tries not to,” Cole said.

“Some people do it differently to others – some are more casual with their evenings, others are more professional – but it’s whatever works.

“Players and coaches know that when you’re on the field, there’s no hiding in a 33-man squad. If you’re not ready to go then people see it straight away.

“No one really wants to be in that position. That’s down to the squad culture and that’s why good teams are good.”

One of the incidents that blighted England in 2011 was Manu Tuilagi jumping off a ferry into Auckland harbour, incurring a police warning and £3,000 fine from the Rugby Football Union.

“Well, I held his (Manu’s) phone. As a young person you learn,” said Cole, who was Tuilagi’s team-mate at Leicester for 11 years.

“The squad learnt what you can and can’t do. If you decided to do that type of stuff you hurt the squad. It does not last for you for the day. It lasts for the rest of your career.

“We had times when we weren’t training in Japan and we did go out and explore. There’s a balance, you’re in these unique places and you might only be there once in your life, so you may as well enjoy them and explore.

“It’s a mental break – the pressure of the World Cup gets to you so it’s good to get out of your room.

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“Le Touquet has made an effort to have us here so we might as well reciprocate and explore.”

Cole’s Test career appeared to be over until Steve Borthwick’s arrival as head coach offered a route back and he made his first appearance since the 2019 World Cup final in the recent Six Nations.

England’s scrum was overwhelmed by South Africa in Yokohama four years ago and Cole appeared to have paid the price.

“You come back from a World Cup and you’ve got bit of a point to prove or a grievance,” Cole said.

“You have that annoyance in yourself that you want to put things right, as you always do after a loss.

“That is the way I have been brought through at Leicester and England – you want to put things right straight away and after Steve took over Leicester, he laid down a challenge.

“I thought we have got something to buy into here and that is what we did. It just becomes part of what you do, so when England came and said ‘we’d like you in the squad, would you like to help’? ‘Yes, I would love to’.

“I don’t think it is fuelled by anything. It is part of the way we have been brought up, especially at Leicester and England – every day you turn up and work and try to get better.”

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