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.”

Forwards coach John Dalziel has challenged Scotland not to let physical South Africa “kill” their natural flair game in what he expects to be a style war in Sunday’s World Cup showdown in Marseille.

The Scots have become one of the most swashbuckling, fast-paced attacking teams on the planet while the Springboks are renowned for their power game.
Dalziel insists the Scots are intent on ensuring their opponents do not squeeze the life out of them at Stade Velodrome.

“We’ve got to meet them on the gain line defensively, and we’ve also got to express our attacking game on them, we’ve got to be able bring the speed we want to play at – the speed we have become famous for – into this match,” he said at a press conference in Nice on Wednesday afternoon.

“Tactically, it’s one against the other. They’re going to slow us down and kill us on the floor and we’re going to look to keep the pace high, and whoever comes out on the best side of that is going to go a long way to winning the game.”

Dalziel has been busy trying to plot the downfall of the on-form Boks, and he believes Scotland – ranked fifth in the world – are now operating at a level where they genuinely fancy their chances of pulling off a victory.

“It is very challenging, very daunting, but it is something we’ve had our mind on for a long time and we have been building towards that,” he said.

“We believe we’ve moved away from being a Scotland team who goes to event with hope, to having genuine belief.

“We believe we have a strong squad but we don’t believe we are anywhere near our potential yet.

“We believe there is huge growth in this young squad, and we’re taking a lot of learning from game to game, which means every game we have we are getting better.

“We believe that everything is ahead of this group, and we genuinely believe we can exit this group (which also contains world number one Ireland, Tonga and Romania) and progress through in this World Cup.

“The Scottish psyche, we like being underdogs. We worry sometimes when we become favourites.

“But I don’t think the players worry about it too much either way – they prepare very well and they know they have the game.

“It is just about being able to spin all the plates at once in total team performance, and I think this is what it is going to take in the pool we’re in – four consistent, high-level performances.”

Scotland back-rower Matt Fagerson is savouring the “special” experience of finally being at a World Cup alongside his big brother Zander after the agony of being left at home in 2019.

The 25-year-old Glasgow forward was a notable omission from Gregor Townsend’s squad for the global showpiece four years ago but quickly cast aside his own disappointment to support his sibling – two years his senior – who got the nod to go to Japan.

This time the pair are in France together, representing their family on the sport’s biggest stage of all. Their loved ones are due to arrive in the host nation later this week ahead of Sunday’s first pool match against South Africa in Marseille.

“It’s pretty special,” said the younger Fagerson. “I was gutted in 2019 but obviously I had to change that when Zander was there. I was cheering on the squad from home.

“To finally get the call from Gregor this time was pretty special and it was an emotional time with what happened four years ago so I’m hugely excited to be here, especially with Zander being here as well.

“He has his kids coming out, and my fiancee is coming out so to be able to share this experience with the family will be huge.

“There are not many times you’ll get to play with your brother at a World Cup so any time we get the opportunity it will be a very special occasion.”

Fagerson is almost certain to be in the 23-man squad for the showdown with South Africa and appears to be vying with his in-form Glasgow colleague Jack Dempsey for the number eight jersey.

The Sprinboks go into the tournament in scintillating form and having climbed to second in the world rankings following recent thumping wins over Wales and New Zealand.

“Everyone is super-excited as we have all been gearing up for this game through the whole of pre-season and now we are a couple of days away,” said Fagerson.

“They are obviously a great team and are second in the world at the minute and reigning world champions so it will be a huge task for us but one we are very much looking forward to.

“We will need to be on it from minute one as we know what they can bring. They are a very physical side and they showed that against the All Blacks but the way this group has grown over the last two to three years and particularly over this last pre-season, it’s a challenge we are ready for.”

After finishing third in an encouraging Six Nations campaign, Scotland won three of their four summer Tests, with their only defeat a narrow one away to France last month in which they came agonisingly close to winning after being 27-10 down.

Fagerson feels the Scots – ranked fifth in the world – have arrived at the tournament with momentum and resilience. 

“We had a really good Six Nations this year which led into the Tests in the summer,” he said. 

“We’ve shown that even when we do go down on the scoreboard we can claw it back. We obviously don’t want to be going behind in the first 20 minutes on Sunday but we are a team with a lot of fight.

Scotland have been training in sweltering heat this week but Fagerson feels his team – who visited their World Cup base on the Cote d’Azur twice previously over the summer – are prepared for what promises to be an intoxicating occasion inside Stade Velodrome.   

“The heat will make the ball a bit more greasy, playing in the UK it’s colder, but the hot conditions make it more greasy,” he said.

“The crowds will play a huge part as well, we know the French are pretty loud, especially when we go out to play in Marseille.”

Full-back Hugo Keenan insists in-form Ireland must lift their performances “up a notch” as they chase glory at the Rugby World Cup.

The 27-year-old Leinster player has been virtually ever-present since his Test debut just under three years ago and has barely tasted defeat in the green jersey.

Ireland have beaten each of their major rivals in that time, including a historic series success in New Zealand last summer.

Yet Keenan concedes previous statement results count for little as the Six Nations champions seek to substantiate their status as the sport’s top-ranked nation over the coming weeks in France.

“You have to respect all the teams in the competition,” he said.

“I suppose you have to gain a bit of confidence from what we’ve built on in the past by beating the top teams around and let that build your confidence and belief going into it.

“But you can’t take anything for granted. A lot of teams will have improved in this big block they’ve had together, so we’ve got to take it up a notch ourselves.”

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Former rugby sevens player Keenan has been victorious in 25 of his 31 caps to date, with just two of the losses coming since the end of the 2021 Six Nations.

International team-mate Iain Henderson last month said Ireland’s new cohort of stars, such as Keenan, Caelan Doris and Dan Sheehan, have made pushing the top teams the “norm”.

Andy Farrell’s side arrived at their training base in Tours on the back of a national record 13 consecutive victories, albeit having failed to hit previous heights during warm-up wins over Italy, England and Samoa.

“Every team is going to have improved and going to have added little bits and pieces to their game,” continued Keenan. “We’ve got to do the same to ours.

“I don’t think we’ve shown our best in the Test games leading up to the World Cup so far. There’s been some good bits, but then a lot of work-ons.

“We’re ready to show an improvement on what’s gone before.”

Farrell’s men begin their campaign on Saturday afternoon against Romania in Bordeaux.

Ireland beat their upcoming opponents at the World Cup in 1999, 2003 and 2015 but have not faced them since the last of those matches – a 44-10 success at Wembley.

Keenan, who was present as a fan when Ireland exited the 2015 tournament with a quarter-final loss to Argentina in Cardiff, is braced for the team ranked 19th in the world to “throw the kitchen sink”.

“I wouldn’t have known too much about them but you have to do your homework on them, you have to get up to speed pretty quickly,” he said.

“We’ve known the schedule of games for a while now so we’ve been able to prepare for this for a bit.

“They’re a big powerful pack, they back their set piece, a few physical boys in the back line as well. It’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re going to throw the kitchen sink at us.”

Topsy Ojo has backed under-pressure England head coach Steve Borthwick to turn his side’s poor form around at the World Cup in France.

England have won just two of their nine fixtures in 2023 and will look to ignite their World Cup bid in their crucial opening Pool D fixture against Argentina on Saturday.

Former London Irish and England player Ojo acknowledged Borthwick’s side have not won enough games of late but insists they have the tools to create an upturn in form.

“There’s definitely a lot of pressure on him (Borthwick) at the minute,” Ojo told the PA news agency.

“He’ll know that he’s not won enough games and the pressure comes down to how well this World Cup goes for him.

“If England don’t get out of the group then the pressure will increase tenfold and people will ask questions.

“I do (have faith in Borthwick and England), especially when I look at what he’s done as a coach and the playing group.

“I think the players will turn up and, having watched them every week in the Premiership, I know what they’re capable of.

“You can see what’s starting to gel on the pitch and as a group under Steve and as they get used to playing with each other over a long period of time, they’ll become more efficient, accurate and will start to take more of what they are creating”.

The former winger earmarked the number eight position as pivotal and called for improved defensive performances after England shipped 53 points to France in March and lost 30-22 to Fiji in their final warm-up game last month.

The ITV pundit highlighted the responsibility of Ben Earl and Lewis Ludlam in England’s opener as Steve Borthwick will be without Billy Vunipola, who picked up a suspension in England’s 29-10 defeat to Ireland in August.

“I think it will be Ben Earl initially or maybe Lewis Ludlam but whoever plays as eight has a huge responsibility in this team,” Ojo added.

“The power and physicality game in rugby is huge and you need your ball carriers to carry 10-15 times a game and make three to five metres every time to put your team on the front foot and gain momentum.

“If England can do that then they have the players and capability to run away with things but if they don’t get parity or dominance in that area then it could be a long day for them.”

“Defensively they need to be doing way better, they’re shipping far too many points and they’ll know that.

“If they are able to defend well and efficiently by ideally turning the ball over early then the momentum they’ll get from that will mean they can go and score points.”

The 38-year-old hailed England’s travelling supporters who will be eager to see them lift their first World Cup since 2003.

“It’s going to be great to see them,” he said.

“We’ll see support in numbers as the energy builds and I think England are very well supported and they are lucky in that regard.”

Argentina’s scrum may lack of the potency of old but Dan Cole insists it remains a significant threat to England’s goal of making a triumphant start to their World Cup.

Two sides who take pride in their forward dominance collide in Pool D’s highest-profile fixture in Marseille on Saturday, with the winners placing one foot into the quarter-finals.

Argentina’s last great scrum was 2015 when feared props Marcos Ayerza and Ramiro Herrera helped them reach the World Cup semi-finals, but more strings have now been added to the Pumas’ bow.

But tighthead prop Cole insists that with his Leicester-mate Julian Montoya present in their front row at hooker, they are still a formidable set-piece unit.

“It’s a force. Whether it’s the force of your (Martin) Scelzos, (Rodrigo) Ronceros and (Mario) Ledesmas….. But you still have Montoya, who I know brilliantly well,” Cole said.

“You look at their team in the Rugby Championship, they’re dangerous. If you have one scrummage where you are not fully focused they will do you damage and get stuck into you.

“They’re a dangerous team and they’ve grown their game in other areas. We know what’s coming up front.

“They love the physical contest. You speak to some of their front five – Tomas Lavanini when he was at Leicester and Montoya – and they relish the physical part of the game.

“Marcos Ayerza could talk for days about the scrum, both the physical and mental aspect of it.

“That’s the tradition of their game, we respect that and we look forward to playing them because that’s the game.”

Cole will be in the front line of resistance to Argentina’s forward assault at the Stade Velodrome as he prepares to take part in his fourth World Cup, either in the number three jersey or as a replacement.

The 36-year-old’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 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.


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“I didn’t think this would happen but now I’m here and I’m very happy and grateful to be part of it,” Cole said.

“It was a surprise to get the call from Steve because I hadn’t played for England for three years. I’d worked with him at Leicester but he didn’t give anything away.

“After 2019 and what happened in the final, I wouldn’t say it would have been easy to have packed it in, but it would have been easy to just drift.”

Borthwick names his starting XV on Thursday afternoon, with either Will Stuart or Kyle Sinckler joining Cole in the 23.

England’s head coach faces a difficult decision at scrum-half with no clear pick emerging from the trio of Ben Youngs, Danny Care and Alex Mitchell.

Manu Tuilagi is expected to be joined in the centres by either Ollie Lawrence or Joe Marchant, while two of Elliot Daly, Jonny May, Max Malins and Henry Arundell will fill the wing slots.

Jonathan Humphreys wants the Wales forwards to be remembered for accuracy and a relentless approach at the Rugby World Cup.

The Wales pack can expect an immediate test of its capability against opening Pool C opponents Fiji in Bordeaux on Sunday.

While Fiji are renowned for players with dazzling skills, their set-piece game has improved considerably under head coach Simon Raiwalui.

Georgia’s revered forward power awaits Wales in their final group game, with Australia also likely to pose plenty of questions during what will be a fiercely-contested pool.

“We have been working for 16 weeks towards a goal, which is this game,” Wales assistant coach and forwards specialist Humphreys said.

“We’ve tried lots of combinations out and a few different things. Those three (warm-up) games allowed us to do that.

“We are well aware this is the judgement time for us. We feel we are pretty well-prepared and we know what’s coming.

“Two words would be accurate and relentless in everything you do, on the field and off the field.”

Humphreys and his fellow Wales coaches were at Twickenham last month when Fiji claimed a famous 30-22 victory over England.

He added: “I was really impressed with them. They went behind early, came back at them (England) and they have got some incredibly powerful runners who are tough to stop.

“Physically, they are in incredible shape and they are going to be a tough, tough challenge for us.

“They have had five or six warm-up games, and the set-piece is a strength of theirs at the moment.

“We are well aware of what’s coming, we know hopefully what they are about and we have prepared for it.”

Wales boss Warren Gatland has reported a clean bill of health among the 33-strong World Cup squad after a number of players had been sidelined due to knocks.

That list included hookers Dewi Lake (knee) and Ryan Elias (hamstring), while star number eight Taulupe Faletau took no part in the warm-up schedule because of a calf muscle issue.

“In fairness to our medical staff, when they did pick up the injuries the return dates were spot-on really,” Humphreys said. “It has been good to have everyone available for selection.

“We are pretty confident in our ability and what we can achieve. It’s about going out there and doing it, and that is the point we are at right now.

“We are in a good spot. Everybody is a bit on edge, but in a good way, and training this morning was like that. It has been a long time getting here.”

The hot weather in France continues to be a major talking point, with tournament bosses understood to be considering implementing player drinks breaks during games.

Temperatures at Wales’ training base in Versailles have not dipped below 32 degrees this week, while Bordeaux is set to be even warmer.

Wales, though, feel ready for any eventuality, having prepared at punishing training camps in Switzerland and Turkey for the competition.

Prop Dillon Lewis said: “We spent a bit of time in Turkey where it was a fair bit warmer than here.

“It was quite good we got that in the bank early and it allows us to adapt to this a bit quicker, and not affect us as much as it could have done.”

Ireland star Josh van der Flier feels his team-mates have “long forgotten” about his status as World Player of the Year.

The Leinster flanker goes into the Rugby World Cup as the holder of the sport’s ultimate individual prize following a string of stellar performances across 2022.

Van der Flier was on the receiving end of some good-natured jibes in the aftermath of claiming the award ahead of Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, France skipper Antoine Dupont and South Africa’s Lukhanyo Am.

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The unassuming 30-year-old admits the recognition gives him further confidence to perform on the biggest stage but says the in-house references and ribbing have ceased.

“It’s long forgotten about now,” he said. “It’s kind of back to normal, I think.

“It was funny for the first while because I couldn’t do anything wrong because I’d just be slated for it.

“It’s normal enough now.

“I suppose if anything it (the award) gives you a bit of confidence, for me anyway, that I can play well at this level. That’s all I get from it now at this stage, I suppose.

“It was a great honour but it feels like a long time ago now.”

Van der Flier was only the third Irishman to receive the award following Keith Wood (2001) and Sexton (2018).

He backed it up by helping Ireland win the Guinness Six Nations grand slam and retain their spot at the top of the world rankings.

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“It’s a team sport and looking back it’s the success of the team that makes the individuals in a team look good or better,” he said.

“But it’s obviously nice to be in that position coming into a World Cup. You want to be playing your best rugby and hopefully I can try and do that now over the next few weeks.

“I am definitely incredibly excited to get going.”

Ireland begin their campaign on Saturday afternoon against Romania in Bordeaux ahead of further Pool B clashes with Tonga, reigning champions South Africa and Scotland.

Kevin Sinfield has revealed Marcus Smith is still an option at full-back as England look to ignite their attack.

Harlequins fly-half Smith injected energy and creativity into England’s game when appearing as a second-half replacement in the World Cup warm-up fixtures against Ireland and Fiji.

Head coach Steve Borthwick on Thursday names his team to face Argentina in their crucial Pool D opener, with Smith under consideration as support for starting 15 Freddie Steward.

“Marcus is a magician with the ball – step off both feet, quick, can beat the opposition for fun,” defence coach Sinfield said.

“So why not try to give him a bit more time and space than he would typically get at 10, try to get him a little bit wider?

“We have been working on it for some weeks now with him in training. He’s been incredible at the back.

“He embraced it straight away. It was a question that was posed to him. Have you ever played 15? His first answer was ‘No, but I would love to’.

“It would be crazy of us to put Marcus in the team and not try to put the ball in his hands, and give him space to attack. He’s a different attacking threat to Fred.

“Fred is 6ft 4in and 105kg, so he brings a different threat to Marcus when he carries the ball.”

Jonny May has revealed that he confronted Steve Borthwick after his initial omission from England’s World Cup squad drew his “monkey out”.

May was told he would not be part of the 33 travelling to France in advance of the opening warm-up match against Wales in Cardiff yet would need to stay in camp for the three remaining fixtures.

The Gloucester wing was eventually offered his ticket over The Channel when Anthony Watson was ruled out of the tournament by a calf injury and he celebrated his return by touching down against Fiji.

It ended a rollercoaster month for England’s second highest try-scorer that began with him taking refuge in the gym when he had been given the bad news.

“The truth is that on the Monday before Wales, Steve spoke to me and said ‘as it currently stands you’re not playing at the weekend and aren’t in the 33’,” said the 33-year-old, whose son Jaxon was born in May.

“That got my monkey out, I’ll be honest. I was like ‘well what the hell am I doing here this week’. I felt like that in that moment. I’m not going and I’m not playing at the weekend, so why the hell am I here?

“I went to the gym for 10 minutes and then stomped back to him and said I need another chat.

“I said ‘I’m running this by you because maybe I don’t want to be here this week because why am I here? I’ve got my son at home’.

“He said he didn’t want me to go home because I’m next in and it doesn’t look good if you quit now and then have to be called back in.

“So I was like ‘fair enough, that was a good point’. And I’d done this much time now, just calm down and plough on with it. But that was my initial response.

“I was disappointed because I expressed in week one I wanted a game and an opportunity to play.

“It looked like I wasn’t going to get that and I felt like I’d worked hard and played well and trained well. I really wanted it.

“There’s no right or wrong way to tell somebody they’re not in the team and I understand that from Steve’s part. I reacted angrily but rationally.

“I didn’t scream and shout at him, but I’m glad I stayed and then the opportunity came to stay and train and then I calmed down.

“Then I looked at the bigger picture – I’ve done eight weeks away from home, what’s the harm in three more, trying to get a game and hang on in there?

“Then I’d have felt better than if I hadn’t, knowing I’d given it every possible chance.”

May has returned at a troubled time for England as they enter their pivotal World Cup opener against Argentina on the back of a dismal run of form that has produced five defeats in six Tests.

It means the Pumas are rated marginal favourites to triumph in Marseille on Saturday – a position May insists is being embraced by Borthwick’s squad.

“This time, we’re definitely underdogs. We’re still finding our way, we’re still finding our team, we’re still discovering ourselves,” May said.

“People would think Argentina are favourites for the game. People look at us as underdogs and I think people have written us off a little bit.

“We’re embracing that within this group and paying it as much attention as each person wants to, but ultimately focussing on what we’ve got to do, getting tighter as a group and believing a bit more each day.”

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