Wales won their Rugby World Cup group and maintained an unbeaten march to the quarter-finals after beating Georgia 43-19 at Stade de la Beaujoire.

Warren Gatland’s team needed one point to finish top of Pool C after securing a last-eight place almost two weeks ago by defeating Australia in record-breaking fashion.

And they accomplished it on the same ground that 16 years ago Fiji condemned them to a World Cup pool-stage exit.

Wing Louis Rees-Zammit scored three tries, while there were also touchdowns for prop Tomas Francis, full-back Liam Williams and centre George North.

Wales ensured there would be no repeat of Georgia’s shock 13-12 success in Cardiff during the 2022 autumn Tests as they overcame fly-half Gareth Anscombe’s withdrawal just 45 minutes before kick-off due to a groin injury.

Anscombe’s late replacement Sam Costelow kicked five conversions and a penalty, although Georgia fought back to 24-19 adrift at one point through tries from Merab Sharikadze, Vano Karkadze and Davit Niniashvili, with Luka Matkava kicking two conversions.

A protracted mass brawl late in the game that spilled over the touchline and involved replacements from both sides saw Niniashvili and Wales substitute Taine Basham yellow-carded.

Wales were home and dry by this stage, although there was more injury concern when number eight Taulupe Faletau went off nursing what appeared to be a wrist problem.

Costelow mixed his running and kicking game well in the early stages, but Wales could get no change out of a well-organised Georgia defence.

There were plenty of errors in perfect playing conditions from both sides, but Wales broke the deadlock after 16 minutes.

A powerful lineout drive put Georgia on the back-foot, before Tomos Williams’ short inside pass resulted in Francis going over for a try that Costelow converted.

Wales had settled into a rhythm, and they struck from another attacking lineout just seven minutes later.

Lock Will Rowlands secured quality possession and, when the ball was moved wide Liam Williams finished impressively. Costelow’s conversion made it 14-0.

A Costelow penalty then opened up a 17-point advantage, and Wales appeared to be well on their way to a fourth successive pool victory.

Georgia regrouped as the first-half drew to a close, and Sharikadze claimed a try that Matkava converted following a sustained spell of pressure.

It was a warning for Wales that they could not switch off as they took a 17-7 lead into the interval.

Georgia began the second period on the front foot, but a midfield fumble saw North find Rees-Zammit, and the Gloucester speedster cruised clear from 60 metres out to claim his third try of the tournament.

Costelow converted, and it was exactly what Wales required after Georgia had threatened a fightback before the break.

Gatland changed the entire front row after 50 minutes, with Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee and Henry Thomas all joining the action.

And while Wales were comfortably ahead, Georgia kept searching for attacking opportunities in their final game of the competition after defeats against Australia and Fiji and a draw with Portugal.

Their resilience was then rewarded with 20 minutes left when replacement hooker Karkadze went over and Matkava converted.

And Georgia immediately conjured a third try, this time from Niniashvili, making it 24-18 and giving Wales plenty to be concerned about.

Gatland’s team were in danger of unravelling, but just when they needed it, Rees-Zammit applied a brilliant finish for his second try which Costelow converted, making it 31-19.

Biggar joined the action deep into the final quarter, and when Rees-Zammit claimed his hat-trick try, Wales were home before North’s try – and Wales’ sixth – completed the scoring, with Japan or Argentina now awaiting as their quarter-final opponents.

Ireland and Scotland are preparing for a pivotal Rugby World Cup qualification shootout in Paris.

Progression to the quarter-finals from Pool B is on the line for both sides on Saturday evening at Stade de France.

Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the major talking points.

The permutations – who needs what?


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One of the top five teams in the world is set to be eliminated from the tournament. Barring an unlikely result in the French capital, it will be Ireland, ranked number one, or Scotland, ranked fifth, who bite the dust. Ireland are firmly in the driving seat for qualification. All Andy Farrell’s team need to qualify is a losing bonus point while denying the Scots a winning bonus. That scenario would be enough for the Irish to finish top of the pool ahead of South Africa. The Scots face a far taller order. Gregor Townsend’s side must win with a bonus point (by scoring at least four tries) or by denying their opponents a losing bonus.

Springboks made to sweat

South African eyes will also be firmly fixed on what promises to be a tense affair. The reigning champions completed their pool-stage fixtures last weekend but, due to a quirk in the tournament regulations, could still crash out if all three nations end level on 15 points. For that improbable scenario to materialise, Scotland would need to win by 21 points or more and record a bonus point, with Ireland collecting a single losing bonus point. Talk of conspiracy theories and possible collusion was immediately put to Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber, who expressed hope there would be no “match-fixing”. Never one to shy away from mind games, South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus claimed his side were in the preferential position.

Decade of dominance


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If Scotland are to upset the odds, they must snap an eight-match losing streak against their rivals stretching back to 2017. Ireland have dominated the fixture across the past decade, winning 12 of the last 13 meetings, including a 27-3 pool-stage success at the last World Cup and a 22-7 triumph en route to Six Nations Grand Slam glory earlier this year. Ireland’s players have talked down the significance of that run of results and feel Townsend’s men have improved since being mastered at Murrayfield in March. Nevertheless, the last time Scotland registered a victory over the Irish which would be sufficient for progression this weekend was way back in 2007 – a 31-21 warm-up win ahead of the last World Cup to be staged in France.

Sexton versus Russell

In an intriguing sub-plot, two of the world’s leading number 10s will vie to dictate proceedings. Veteran Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has seamlessly returned from an absence of almost six months through injury and suspension to lead his side to three successive victories and become his country’s all-time leading points scorer along the way. The 2018 world player of the year is as dependable and fiercely competitive as ever and repeatedly delivers when it matters most. Scotland’s Finn Russell, meanwhile, has the ability to unlock a game in any given moment. The talismanic 31-year-old, who was preferred to Sexton for the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour, may well be at the peak of his powers and will be out to conjure some magic when his nation needs it most.

Could gung-ho Scots spook the Irish?

Both sets of players have been in relaxed and confident mood when facing the media. The Scots, however, have been keen to stress that, as the less-fancied nation and the team with more to do, they have little to lose and that the pressure is all on Ireland. The Irish, of course, have proven in recent years that they can handle the heat of almost any situation. Yet this one is slightly different given the dynamics at play. Will the fact Ireland do not necessarily need to win the game take an edge off their play? And will Scotland, already renowned for their intent, go even more gung-ho than normal in search of early points? Captain Jamie Ritchie said his side will “fire all the bullets in their gun” and “won’t die wondering”. Townsend’s team, playing without inhibitions, could ask serious questions of the world’s number one team.

Jonny May is determined to sign off his England career in a blaze of glory after revealing the World Cup would conclude his time on the world stage.

The nation’s second highest try-scorer behind Rory Underwood was overlooked for Steve Borthwick’s original squad for France 2023 but was granted a reprieve when Anthony Watson sustained a calf injury in August.

Seizing his opportunity, the electric wing is ready to make his third start of the group phase against Samoa on Saturday and will enter the Lille showdown armed with the conviction that he remains a threat against any opposition.

But at 33-years-old and veteran of 75 caps, he knows this World Cup will be his last dance, with Borthwick expected to begin rebuilding his team in next year’s Six Nations.

“This will definitely be my last World Cup and most likely my last time playing for England. Never say never, but probably,” May said.

“I’m incredibly grateful to be here and I told Steve in January that I’m all in, I’m all in. That’s the sort of guy I am.

“I certainly don’t want to play to a point where I can’t be delivering or performing to a standard that I’m happy with. I want to rip in and give everything I can for this last period of time.

“I still feel I’m pushing on my best and I can contribute and the full package that I can bring is as good as anyone – on my day. That’s what motivates me to still be here.

“But I’m definitely on bonus time. I’ve played for England in every year for 11 calendar years now. I never thought that would be possible for me.

“So this is bonus time but serious time as well because we’ve got an opportunity to win a World Cup and I want to do my team-mates, my family and my country proud.”

With England long since qualified for the quarter-finals as Pool D winners, their clash with Samoa is a dead rubber that offers the chance to fine-tune selection and drill the gameplan ahead of the knockout phase.

Their presence in the easier half of the draw means that they could reach the last four without having faced one of the sport’s heavyweights – Fiji are their probably next opponents – to give May the opportunity to fulfil his dream of finishing on a high.

“A big goal of mine was the 2021 Lions tour. That didn’t work out for me and that was a bit tough. I’m at peace with that now,” the Gloucester back said.

“The pros to being in the situation I am now is I know the player I am, I don’t feel I’ve got as much to prove any more.

“I won’t get as bent out of shape about certain things, I’ve just got to do the best I can, keep my head down and the limelight isn’t on me as much. I prefer that – I can just go about my business.

“But there is also that pressure that it’s my last time and God, I want to do as well as I possibly can. You wouldn’t want to go out on a note you’re unhappy with.”

James Lowe insisted in-form Ireland are far from “invincible” as he dismissed the notion complacency could derail their Rugby World Cup dream.

Andy Farrell’s side have swept all before them during a 15-month stay at the top of the Test rankings which has brought 16 consecutive victories.

Ireland are on the cusp of the quarter-finals in France but could still be on an early flight home as they prepare to put their impressive winning streak on the line in Saturday evening’s pivotal Pool B finale against rivals Scotland.

The Six Nations Grand Slam champions must prevent defeat by eight points or more in Paris to secure a knockout spot, otherwise their fate will be reliant on bonus points or head-to-head results.

Leinster wing Lowe, who has already helped Ireland overcome Romania, Tonga and South Africa, is taking nothing for granted.

“Obviously it does give us confidence in what we’ve done over the last three to four years in terms of what we’ve built,” said the 31-year-old.

“We know what works but even in wins there’s still things to learn. Invincible? I wouldn’t go anywhere near that word. Complacency is something that can’t creep into this group as well and it doesn’t.

“We understand the serious threats and we’ve respected every opposition that we’ve played so far in this competition. We’re just as diligent with Scotland as we were with South Africa, Romania, and Tonga.”

Farrell’s men are essentially playing knockout rugby as they bid to confirm a likely last-eight clash with New Zealand.

Ireland have won the last eight meetings with Scotland and not lost to them by at least eight points since a 31-21 warm-up defeat before the last World Cup to be staged in France, way back in 2007.

“Look, Scotland are an amazing team who have definitely pushed us,” said New Zealand-born Lowe.

“I know we’ve probably had the better end of the stick in the last few encounters.

“They’re a team that play with a lot of passion, width and physicality. You respect them because you really, really don’t want to lose. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

The build-up to the crunch clash has come amid a bedbug outbreak across Paris and other French cities.

Ireland have so far been unaffected, with scrum coach John Fogarty joking that certain members of the squad have a built-in repellent.

“Some of the lads fumigate their beds naturally, so there’s no issue,” he said. “Some of the front five, it’s not a problem!

“(I) haven’t come across one (bedbug) really. We have been so lucky with where we’ve stayed and how well we have been looked after here in France. I haven’t heard of any issues so far.”

Ireland had their captain’s run at Stade de France on Friday morning.

Injured centre Robbie Henshaw, who is expected to be sidelined until at least the semi-final stage due to a hamstring issue, was involved, albeit he was restricted to light jogging away from the other 32 players.

“He’s good, as you saw, he’s out running so he’ll be assessed as we go along and we’ll see after the weekend how he pitches up next week,” said Fogarty.

Mike Forshaw has predicted a “ferocious 80 minutes” when Wales look to maintain their unbeaten Rugby World Cup campaign on Saturday.

Wales qualified for the quarter-finals with victory over Australia 12 days ago, and they need a point against Georgia at Stade de la Beaujoire to finish top of Pool C.

Argentina or Japan await in the last eight, with Wales heading to Marseille as firm favourites to secure a World Cup semi-final spot for the third time under head coach Warren Gatland.

Georgia, though, evoke painful memories for Wales, having suffered a shock 13-12 home defeat against them during last year’s autumn internationals.

Twelve of Gatland’s World Cup squad were involved that day, while four players from the starting line-up 11 months ago feature again – Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Tomos Williams and Gareth Thomas.

“We are expecting physicality from them – they have always been renowned for a good pack of forwards,” Wales assistant coach and defence specialist Forshaw said.

“They have got some very dangerous backs, and they are a team that is growing. We will have to be at our best to get what we want to get out of the game tomorrow.

“This group has been pretty tough. We’ve gone about our business, and We have respected the opposition in this group – we’ve had to tough some results out.

“We expect them to be very tough to break down, and we have talked about ways around that. It is going to be a very physical game, Georgia are a very physical team.

“Whoever comes next, we will prepare exactly the same, whether it’s Argentina or Japan, two very proud nations.

“In the short term, tomorrow is the big goal for us. We are expecting a ferocious 80 minutes in a very hot stadium.”

Georgia are already out of the tournament following defeats against Australia and Fiji that sandwiched a draw with Portugal.

And while they will undoubtedly test Wales physically, the game represents another opportunity for Wales to showcase their rich vein of form.

Lock Will Rowlands added: “There have been some ups and downs the last few years, but everyone in this squad was confident we are a better team than we have shown at points.

“We wanted to come into this World Cup and just keep getting better and deliver performances we can be proud of and the Welsh public can be proud of.”

Wales only avoided propping up the Six Nations table last season by defeating Italy in Rome, underlining how impressive the transformation has been.

Gatland said: “The boys are implementing the game-plans we have put together outstandingly well.

“They have clarity about what they are trying to do and trying to achieve. I have been really impressed with their attitude, their focus and the way they have gone out and performed in the games.

“I thought one of the most pleasing bits against Australia was that we gave away less than 10 penalties. It was nine penalties, and we had nine turnovers in the game.

“When you are playing a quality side like Australia and you only have nine turnovers and nine penalties you give yourself a pretty good opportunity to win the game.

“As a squad I think we are in an outstanding place at the moment in terms of the morale in the squad and the banter that is going on behind the scenes.

“There is a lot of mickey-taking when it is required – not just the players, but the coaches as well. There is a really nice balance between hard work and having fun.”

Samoa may have endured a disappointing World Cup that is almost certain to result in group-stage elimination but they will be determined to finish on a high against Pool D winners England in Lille on Saturday.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points ahead of England’s last match before the knockout phase.

England go full bore

Steve Borthwick takes satisfaction in repeating his mantra that the next match is all that counts, but by going full bore against Samoa he has revealed his selection thinking for the quarter-final against probable opponents Fiji. One or two adjustments aside, this is the starting XV that will take the field in Marseille on Sunday week, shaped around the generalship of George Ford and Owen Farrell.

Back in the saddle

Explaining his decision to reunite twin playmakers Ford and Farrell as starters for the first time since the 2021 Six Nations, Borthwick pointed to their win ratio of 77.5 per cent across 40 Tests when paired together at fly-half and inside centre. England’s head coach believes a partnership that flourished under his predecessor Eddie Jones, reaching its apex in the World Cup semi-final destruction of New Zealand four years ago, can thrive once again.

History beckons for beefed up Farrell

Farrell has packed on extra muscle in anticipation of his new role at inside centre, where he will provide a carrying threat on top of assisting Ford to run the game with spells at first-receiver as well as offering midfield kick, run and pass options. Earlier this week scrum-half Danny Care gave an insight into how Farrell will be used when he said: “Owen is a big 10 so he will punch the line a little bit more”. Farrell is also assigned the goalkicking duties and needs only two more points to eclipse the England record of 1,179 set by Jonny Wilkinson.

England know their strengths

“Big boy rugby” is how Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong described the Lions’ first Test against South Africa in 2021 and that sentiment permeates through England’s dry run for the quarter-finals. Gone are the dazzling maestros of the 11-try rout of Chile – Marcus Smith and Henry Arundell – and in comes a win-at-all-costs mentality signposted by the inclusion of elite kickers at 10 and 12 and the squad’s two best kick chasing wings in Jonny May and Joe Marchant. Borthwick’s England are confident of their strengths, according to Courtney Lawes: “We’re a really strong defensive team. That’s our backbone. We’re an aerial kicking team and are very good at getting the ball back.”

Manu’s special moment

A big moment awaits for one of England’s greatest servants as Manu Tuilagi faces the nation of his birth for the first time in a Test career spanning 55 caps. Many of England’s finest performances of the last 12 years have had Tuilagi at their heart and while not the force of old, his pedigree as an international centre has enabled him to reach an important occasion. The 32-year-old left Samoa as a teenager but remains proud of his Islander heritage and has been an inspirational figure for both countries.

Wales play their final Rugby World Cup pool game when they tackle Georgia in Nantes on Saturday.

Warren Gatland’s team booked a quarter-final place by beating Australia in record-breaking fashion last time out and they require one point to finish top of the group.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the talking points heading into the game at Stade de la Beaujoire.

Wales in charge of World Cup pool

Wales’ World Cup form has proved a far cry from the misery of last season’s Six Nations, when they only avoided the wooden spoon by beating Italy in Rome. There were doubts whether Wales even would progress from a pool that also included Australia, Fiji and Georgia, but three-successive wins, a quarter-final place secured one game inside the distance and only one point now required to top the group highlight how dominant Gatland’s team have been. Given their struggles of earlier in the year, few could have expected such an impressive revival.

Quarter-final opponents to be decided

While Wales got the job done early in terms of progressing from their group, a race for runners-up spot in Pool D will come down to an eliminator between Argentina and Japan on Sunday. The Pumas have proved underwhelming so far, losing comprehensively to 14-man England, before edging out Samoa and then providing only glimpses of form when they eased past minnows Chile. Across their three games, Japan have looked more impressive, setting up an intriguing encounter in Nantes for the likely right to face Gatland’s team at Stade Velodrome, Marseille next week. Wales’ World Cup record against Argentina and Japan is strong – played five, won five.

Warren Gatland has weaved his magic

When Gatland returned for a second stint as Wales head coach at the start of 2023 – his first was laden with Six Nations titles, Grand Slams and World Cup consistency – he took charge at a time when results had dropped through the floor and confidence plummeted. The Six Nations played out against a back-drop of financial concerns in Welsh professional rugby and contractual worries for players, with strike action only averted just days before Wales met England in Cardiff. But after an uninterrupted World Cup preparation period that started in late May, Gatland has moulded a squad seemingly on course for a third semi-final appearance during the last four global tournaments, underlining his status among the game’s finest coaches of any era.

Gareth Anscombe at the controls

There would have been a collective holding of breath by Wales supporters when Dan Biggar went off injured after just 12 minutes during a record 40-6 victory over Australia in Lyon. A pectoral muscle strain forced the fly-half’s early exit, but Wales were in safe hands as Gareth Anscombe replaced him and equalled Biggar’s best of 23 points for Wales in one World Cup game, booting a drop-goal, conversion and six penalties. It was a wonderfully-assured display by Anscombe, who retains his place against Georgia, while Biggar recovers and remains on course to be available for the quarter-finals.

Wales mindful of Georgia threat

Wales know from painful experience exactly what Georgia are capable of. It was less than a year ago that Wales endured a calamity in Cardiff, losing 13-12 at the Principality Stadium as Georgia’s shock victory effectively signalled the end of Wayne Pivac’s coaching reign. It was an abject display, even allowing for Georgia’s impressive second-half performance when their forwards took charge and pummelled Wales into submission. Four of that starting XV will be in the line-up on Saturday – Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Tomos Williams and Gareth Thomas – and while a repeat result looks highly unlikely, Wales know they must be on their guard.

Peter O’Mahony feels a degree of embarrassment at joining Ireland’s “hugely inspirational” list of centurions and hopes even greater moments are to come as he targets Rugby World Cup glory.

Munster captain O’Mahony will become only the 10th Irishman to reach 100 caps when he lines up for Saturday’s pivotal Pool B showdown with Scotland in Paris.

John Hayes, Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell and Rory Best were the first five players to achieve the feat, followed by current internationals Cian Healy, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray and Keith Earls.


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O’Mahony, who made his debut against Italy in 2012, grew up idolising some of those greats and never envisaged emulating their longevity at Test level.


“I’m still kind of surprised,” he said.

“It’s almost a little bit embarrassing with the names that are ahead of me to be honest, people I grew up following and supporting, hugely inspirational characters.

“To be the 10th, it’s going to take some time to settle in. It’s nothing I ever expected or dreamed of. We all talk about having dreams but that one was way off the radar.

“I’m just trying to prepare as if it’s another Test match.

“I’m hoping there are going to be bigger moments in my career than this one – and hopefully in the near future.”

Ireland departed their group-stage base city of Tours for good on Thursday morning and will spend the remainder of the tournament in Paris.

Head coach Andy Farrell has consistently made a big deal of landmark appearances and O’Mahony’s wife, children and parents were guests at the current team hotel on the northern outskirts of the French capital.

O’Mahony, 34, concedes he is no longer physically able to keep up with younger players in training and therefore devotes his efforts to being in peak condition come match day.

Ireland will qualify for the quarter-finals, a stage they have never before gone beyond, with a win or draw at Stade de France this weekend, while a marginal defeat may also be sufficient.

Lifting the Webb Ellis Cup at the same venue in just over three weeks’ time remains the ultimate goal, with O’Mahony wary of suffering early elimination at the hands of the Scots following a statement success over South Africa.

“It’s our be-all and end-all and I’m not going to say that lightly,” he said of winning the tournament.

“Every team that makes this competition is in this country to win it and we’re no different and certainly people talking about us not being able to get past certain hurdles, this is the biggest hurdle of our tournament so far and that’s the way we’re considering it.

“We’ve had some good performances but we’re considering Scotland as the team they are: an incredible threat to our campaign and our journey.”

Visits to Paris are bittersweet for O’Mahony.

His former Munster head coach Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley died in his sleep at a hotel in the city in October 2016 ahead of the team playing against Racing 92.

“Myself and Johnny (Sexton) had a conversation about it, I think it was on the way to the South African game actually, about sometimes it is weird to be in Paris and to think about Axel and what happened,” said O’Mahony.

“It certainly is an incredibly sad memory, particularly for that Munster team who were in Paris that week.

“I’m not going to go into it now but Johnny made a couple of lovely gestures to the family afterwards but Axel is always somebody who is certainly in my head on a very regular basis and when you come to Paris he certainly comes to mind.

“I’ve the fondest memories that we had together and the amount of inspiration he gave, not to just to me, but to lots of young kids in Munster and Ireland.”

Warren Gatland says there is no secret to Wales’ Rugby World Cup consistency as they build towards a fourth successive quarter-final appearance under his direction.

Wales need a point from their final Pool C game against Georgia on Saturday to top their group.

A record 40-6 victory over Australia in the previous fixture secured a last-eight spot, with Argentina or Japan now awaiting them.

Wales made two semi-final exits and suffered one quarter-final defeat during Gatland’s first stint as Wales head coach, and they are once again on a similar path.

“I don’t think there is any secret, it’s just hard work,” head coach Gatland said.

“We’ve all spoken in the past about the opportunities in World Cup years, with the extended preparation and time you get with the players, and the detail you can put into things.

“These guys have worked extremely hard in the (training) camps we’ve had, which has put us in good stead and good shape in terms of being able to take our game forward, being confident and comfortable playing for 80 minutes.

“We are excited about where we are, and we are looking forward to going deep into this tournament.

“The message has been about continuing to improve as a side, just taking one game at a time.

“We know we are in the quarter-finals, but we want to finish top of the group and it is trying to win four from four.”

Georgia beat Wales 13-12 when the countries last met in Cardiff 11 months ago, and while Gatland says that game has had no bearing on Welsh preparations, he readily voiced his admiration for Georgia.

“We had a little bit of a history lesson this morning before training,” he added. “They are a small nation, a proud nation.

“We like to think when we are at our best it is sometimes with our backs to the wall, and they epitomise that sort of attitude.

“When the Vikings came to England, they didn’t want to come across the border to fight the Welsh because of how mad they were and how much they wanted to defend their own territory and space.

“The Georgians are very much like that. If you look at their history, they’ve had their own battles and wars as well. We are very aware of that and how proud they are as a people.”

Asked about November’s game, Gatland said: “We are not looking back. We haven’t spoken about that as a group at all. We are just completely looking forward from our own perspective.

“In all these games, it doesn’t matter who you are playing against.

“In that first 20 minutes of the game it can be pretty tight because everyone is pumped up. Everyone is fresh and making things difficult.

“It is about making sure we are accurate, and that is definitely something we’ve worked on.

“We talked about becoming a tough team to beat, and if you are a tough team to beat then often the performances and results take care of themselves.”

George Ford believes his playmaking axis with Owen Farrell is ready to stand the test of time after England reunited their creative brains trust for Saturday’s World Cup clash with Samoa.

Ford and Farrell will start together for the first time since March 2021 having won 31 of the 40 Tests in which they have been paired together – a success ratio of 77.5 per cent – and head coach Steve Borthwick is hoping that magic still lingers.

Having compiled man of the match displays against Argentina and Japan and then stepping off the bench for the rout of Chile, Ford has been restored at fly-half while Farrell moves to inside centre.

The first time the two operated together in tandem was also against Samoa in 2014 and Ford believes an attacking fulcrum that was particularly successful at the last World Cup can shine again.

“We’ve done it a lot of times and even though not as much in recent times, you can just feel it,” the Sale fly-half said.

“Even though there’s a bit of time where we haven’t actually played together the understanding and the connection would be as strong as its ever been.

“Not having done it for a period of time maybe could benefit us because it probably sharpens you up a bit.

“We’ve been having discussions all week about that partnership and combination – what do we need from each other?

“When you’ve been doing it for a period of time you probably take that for granted a little bit. It’s exciting because we’ve had some real success with it in the past.”

The last World Cup to be held in France took place in 2007 when Ford and Farrell practised with England as teenagers due to their family links with Brian Ashton’s squad.

George’s father Mike was an assistant coach while Farrell’s father Andy was a member of the playing squad.

“We spent time with the backs and the kickers. The lasting memories I have are kicking balls back for the kickers,” Ford said.

“That’s what made it so good, coming to France, in and out at the weekend like our families do now and then back to school on the Monday.

“It made it all a little bit more surreal, doing that at the weekend and going back to school on the Monday.”

Farrell, who leads the team and has been assigned goalkicking duties, believes the best might yet be to come from being asked to pull the strings in sync with his long-standing friend.

“I’m pretty close to George so we speak about everything rugby-wise, regardless of what the team is anyway. We’re on the same page. I’m looking forward to it,” Farrell said.

“People have talked about the amount of times we’ve played together before, but it’s not been for a while.

“We both hope we’ve kicked on since we’ve last played together. Hopefully we show that on the weekend.”

Farrell needs two more points to become England’s highest scorer of all time, eclipsing the mark of 1,179 set by Jonny Wilkinson.

Gregor Townsend said Scotland are “ready to play their best rugby” as he backed his team to rise to the challenge of having to beat Ireland for the first time in more than six years and prolong their World Cup campaign.

The Scots must either secure a bonus-point victory or deny the world’s top-ranked side a losing bonus point in the Stade de France on Saturday night if they are to get out of formidable Pool B and reach the quarter-finals.

Townsend billed it as one of the biggest matches his team have ever been involved in but feels they are equipped to deliver when it matters most and knock the rampant Irish – who have won 16 consecutive games – out of the tournament.

“We have got to deliver what we feel we are capable of which is their best performance as a team when it counts,” he said.

“They are in great physical shape, they have been training really hard for weeks and months and I believe we have had enough experiences now – both good and bad – to handle this occasion. We are really behind this team.”

Asked what makes him believe that Scotland can defeat a team who have beaten them in their last eight meetings, a run stretching back to 2017, Townsend said: “Well, why not? The players have performed in massive games before.

“We were underdogs but we have broken records before, whether it was not winning in Paris (for 22 years, before doing it in 2021), not winning at Twickenham (for 38 years, before doing it in 2021), we hadn’t beaten England for 10 years (before doing it in 2018).

“This is another opportunity to break another record. We believe in them, we believe in where they are mentally as a group and where they are physically. They are ready to play their best rugby.”

Scotland will either have to win by at least an eight-point margin or by scoring at least four tries. Townsend insisted that his team will not alter their game-plan significantly because of that situation.

“Our approach would be similar if we were just looking to win the game,” he said.

“There are two scenarios for us to get through, one is eight points and one is to score more tries so it suits how we would approach normal games, which would be to aim to score tries when we are in the opposition 22.

“It’s important that we get those opportunities, Ireland have been very good at not giving up too many opportunities inside their 22 over the last two to three years and that’s a goal for us, to make sure we are in there a few times this weekend.

“We definitely want to be the team that goes out there fearless with nothing to lose. That’s the way we’ve been thinking and planning this week.”

Several permutations could come into play as the match evolves, but Townsend has trust in his players to be able to make the right decisions about how to negotiate the business end of proceedings if the qualification situation remains in the balance.

“If it’s a tight game and defences are on top it’s likely to be the eight points gives us the best opportunity,” he said.

“The most important element is scoring points. If things change and go in our favour we have plenty of time to talk about that at half-time or in a huddle during the second half.

“We’re able to communicate with people on the sideline, whether they’re medics or water-carriers, but you want to create an environment where the players are making the decisions.

“We’ve got some very intelligent rugby players and very intelligent people in our team so they won’t need instruction from us. They’ll be coming together and nailing what needs to be done in that next action.”

Townsend expects a box-office occasion to illuminate the World Cup in Paris.

“There have been so many Scots at our last few games and there were a lot of Irish in Paris for their game against South Africa so it will be a cracking atmosphere,” he said. “And there’s jeopardy, there’s something at stake, so it will be one of the best games of the World Cup, I’m sure.”     

England have encountered their first injury setback since arriving in France for the World Cup after Jack Willis was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament.

Willis suffered a neck problem in the 71-0 victory over Chile on September 23 – his only appearance of the group phase – and on Wednesday night England learned he would be ruled out for several more weeks.

Head coach Steve Borthwick will call up a replacement for the Toulouse back row, to be named in due course, who is likely to join up with the squad in Marseille for quarter-final week.

“We’re really disappointed for Jack because he’s been an important member of this team,” Borthwick said.

“He’s done really well, played an important role in the Chile game and is an important member of this squad over the last period of time.

“We anticipate the injury will be just a few weeks but given the timescales we’re operating to it means he will be replaced in the 33.”

Iain Henderson revealed Test centurion Peter O’Mahony has been dubbed the “Haggard Badger” by his Ireland team-mates.

O’Mahony will become only the 10th Irishman to earn 100 caps after being selected to start Saturday’s crucial Rugby World Cup clash with Scotland in Paris.

Head coach Andy Farrell and captain Johnny Sexton were among those to pay tribute to the Munster skipper ahead of his landmark outing.

Lock Henderson also offered a glowing testimony but could not resist divulging an unflattering nickname based on O’Mahony’s well-worn features and greying hair, which was reportedly invented by prop Dave Kilcoyne.

Asked about the 34-year-old, Henderson replied: “The Haggard Badger?

“The Haggard Badger, I think he’s been coined. I’m not 100 per cent sure where that came from.”

Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, who was sitting next to Henderson, confirmed Kilcoyne was responsible, before the Ulster skipper continued: “Pete’s a massive leader for our group.

“Not only in terms of rugby but in terms of what we stand for as players, the social side of things, how well knitted together we are, he’s a massive part of that.

“Obviously I’m sure a lot of the cliches will come out now, but Peter rings true to most of them. He’s deserving of every minute of the jerseys he’s played in and, to this day, still nailing that down.

“You can see in Faz’s (Farrell’s) selections and how highly Faz speaks of him, I think that all rings true to the type of person he is. And long may that continue.”

O’Mahony is poised to join Ireland greats Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Rory Best, Paul O’Connell and John Hayes on the select list of centurions, plus current team-mates Cian Healy, Sexton, Conor Murray and Keith Earls.

The flanker, who made his international debut against Italy in 2012, will seek to mark the milestone appearance by helping his country avoid an upset against the Scots to reach the knockout stages in France.

“We can sit here all day the two of us and talk about what he brings, what he means to us all, what type of bloke he is, what type of family man he is,” Farrell, sitting alongside Sexton, said of O’Mahony.

“But we’d be here the whole press conference. To sum him up, he’s selfless.

“You guys would see the performance on the pitch and it’s heroic from Pete. You can see what it means for him to play for Ireland.

“But we obviously see behind the scenes and he’s definitely, 100 per cent, one of the best I’ve ever seen at making the dressing room feel right.

“And it’s not just a skill. It’s him being himself because it’s genuine and I’m sure Johnny would echo this that there’s no better man that you would want sat at the side of you in the dressing room at the weekend than Peter O’Mahony.”

Sexton added: “I don’t think you guys get to see the real Peter O’Mahony.

“He gives very little away when he sits up here, one word answers, but he’s the life and soul of the dressing room behind closed doors and it’s a privilege to play with him all the time.

“We’ll be playing for him as much as we are for ourselves on Saturday.”

England have reunited playmakers George Ford and Owen Farrell in their backline for Saturday’s final World Cup group match against Samoa in Lille.

They start together for the first time since the 2021 Six Nations as Steve Borthwick revives the creative axis that has excelled for England in the past as he assesses his options for the quarter-final.

Ford starts at fly-half having produced man-of-the-match displays against Argentina and Japan while Farrell shifts to inside centre to accommodate his rival for the 10 jersey.

Farrell needs two more points to become England’s highest scorer of all time, eclipsing the mark of 1,179 set by Jonny Wilkinson.

Manu Tuilagi is picked at 13 to provide a ball-carrying threat in what will be a special occasion for the Sale powerhouse, who faces the nation of his birth for the first time.

Joe Marchant is squeezed out of the midfield but finds a home on to the right wing, meaning there is no place for Henry Arundell despite his five-try haul against Chile.

Arundell drops out of the 23 altogether, as does Elliot Daly with Jonny May winning the race to start on the other wing as part of a back three that sees Freddie Steward replace Marcus Smith.

The urge to give Smith another run at full-back has been resisted but the rapid Harlequins ringmaster is poised to complete another cameo off the bench at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

England are at full strength against Samoa and evidence of Ben Earl’s rise as a force on the Test stage is seen in his selection at number eight ahead of Billy Vunipola, who features on the bench.

Tom Curry is restored at openside after playing just 179 seconds against Argentina, at which point he was sent off for a dangerous tackle that resulted in a two-match ban which he completed against Chile.

A surprise pick in the front row sees Dan Cole preferred ahead of Kyle Sinckler at tighthead prop.

England qualified for the quarter-finals as Pool D winners on September 28 when Japan beat Samoa, allowing them to advance to a knockout appointment with likely opponents Fiji despite having a match to spare.

Borthwick said: “Whilst we are of course pleased with our results and qualification into the pool stages, we want to continue our improvement with a positive performance against a difficult and in-form Samoa team.

“Samoa are renowned for their physicality and this last game in the pool stages will be an excellent test for us as we continue in our World Cup journey.”

Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw is expected to be unavailable until at least the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup due to a hamstring injury.

The Leinster centre sustained the issue in training this week, ruling him out of Saturday evening’s pivotal Pool B clash with Scotland in Paris.

Ireland will monitor Henshaw’s fitness for the time being but head coach Andy Farrell is weighing up his options and could eventually make a change to his 33-man squad.

“He pulled up with a hamstring unfortunately at the end of the session on Tuesday and the diagnosis with hamstrings, they want to see how things settle down,” said Farrell.

“It probably takes about five days for that type of thing to happen but it looks like it could be a minimum of a couple of weeks at this stage.”

Asked if Henshaw will remain in France, Farrell replied: “Obviously, we’ll assess that as we go.

“Certainly he’ll be around rehabbing and we’ll see how the weekend goes with other injuries, etc, and assess how Robbie’s going along the way also.”

Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey has taken Henshaw’s place among the replacements for this weekend’s Stade de France showdown, while hooker Dan Sheehan and lock Iain Henderson have been selected ahead of benched pair Ronan Kelleher and James Ryan.

Vice-captain Ryan suffered a wrist injury in Ireland’s 13-8 success over South Africa a fortnight ago.

Farrell insists the Leinster second row is fully fit and has trained well, including coming close to flattening captain Johnny Sexton on more than one occasion.

“He’s fit,” Farrell said of Ryan.

“He had a bit of a niggle on a wrist but that’s fine and he trained the house down, actually trained the best I’ve seen him train in a good amount of years yesterday.

“He actually nearly took Johnny’s head off three or four times so he’s fit and raring to go, there’s no doubt.”

Ireland will progress to the knockout stages with a win or draw, while a defeat will leave them reliant on Scotland’s margin of victory and bonus points gained.

Farrell suggested the recalled Henderson, who came off the bench in the victories over Romania, Tonga and the Springboks, could be handy in calculating the permutations.

“We want to win,” said Farrell. “It’s a massive game. It’s so important to us and certainly obviously to them.

“But to the travelling fans and the people back home it’s a huge game.

“We have Iain Henderson in our group who is good at maths, so we’re across everything as far as that’s concerned.

“But the easiest way is to make sure that we perform well and deserve to win the game outright.”

Skipper Sexton will start for the fourth successive match following his return from injury and suspension at the beginning of the tournament, while flanker Peter O’Mahony will win his 100th Ireland cap.

“It is a knockout game,” said 38-year-old fly-half Sexton.

“We’ve viewed it as a last 16, we’ve spoken about it and that’s why it’s important we got our preparation right.

“We need to go out and get our performance right now.”

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