Ireland full-back Hugo Keenan is delighted to have “X-factor” wings Mack Hansen and James Lowe fit and ready to join him for a blockbuster World Cup quarter-final with the All Blacks.

Hansen appeared to be a major doubt for Saturday’s Stade de France clash after sitting out training on Tuesday and Wednesday due to a calf problem sustained in last weekend’s 36-14 win over Scotland.

Lowe has also overcome injury – an eye issue suffered against the Scots – to retain his starting role for the crunch meeting with his native New Zealand.

 

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Ireland ended their final Pool B fixture in unfamiliar fashion with a scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park on the left flank and centre Garry Ringrose on the right.

 

Head coach Andy Farrell has been able to name an unchanged starting XV for a titanic last-eight encounter, including a first-choice backline.

“Its brilliant,” said Keenan. “We finished the game with an interesting back three.

“Jamo did a brilliant job, didn’t he? He is such a creative player, so exciting, so he slotted in well on the wing.

“To have the two lads back again brings a bit of X-factor to the back three. I always enjoy playing with them so great news.”

Hansen on Tuesday watched from the stands at Ireland’s training base of Stade des Fauvettes in the northern outskirts of Paris and was again absent on Wednesday, while Lowe took part in both sessions.

Veteran Keith Earls was thought to be pushing for a first appearance since the opening weekend of the tournament before Farrell sprung a surprise with his team announcement.

Referring to Australia-born Hansen, the coach said: “Everyone is very confident that he’s going to be fine for the game.”

Ireland propelled themselves to the top of the world rankings courtesy of last summer’s landmark 2-1 tour success in New Zealand, in addition to launching their current run of 17 consecutive victories.

Farrell’s in-form side have enjoyed a growing rivalry with the All Blacks, winning three of four meetings during his tenure and four of six overall.

“We haven’t played them for over a year now,” said Keenan. “They will have improved massively.

“They will have taken the learnings from those games and they’ll come out gunning for us as well.”

 

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Lock Tadhg Beirne, who started all three Tests against New Zealand in 2022, feels there is a healthy respect between the two nations.

“Rugby is one of those games where, when you go on to the field, you go to beat the crap out of each other for 80 minutes and when you step off it, you’re very happy to grab a beer with your opposition number and enjoy the moments afterwards,” he said. “It’s no different with New Zealand.

“One thing I will remember from New Zealand is after the last Test, we had beaten them and we ran out of beer pretty quickly.

“The New Zealand squad were pretty quick to bring in their beer and leave us celebrating. That’s respect too, off-field respect.

“It will be no different on Saturday, we’re both going to go at it for 80 minutes and we’ll be very happy to walk in and have a beer in the changing room with them, for sure.”

Andy Farrell insists a World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand is “as tough as it gets” after “little old Ireland” topped Pool B thanks to a six-try demolition of Scotland.

The rampant Six Nations champions emphatically underlined their status as Test rugby’s top-ranked side by banishing any lingering doubts of an early exit with a crushing 36-14 success which eliminated the Scots.

Ireland will return to Paris next Saturday for a showdown with the All Blacks seeking to make history by progressing beyond the last eight of the tournament for the first time.

Head coach Farrell led his side to a landmark series success in New Zealand last summer and is braced for another major test following statement Stade de France victories over reigning champions South Africa and Scotland.

“New Zealand are a fantastic side, and for little old Ireland to be talked about in the same bracket as the All Blacks shows how far we’ve come as a rugby-playing nation,” he said.

“The respect we’ve got for New Zealand is through the roof.

“The form they’ve got at this moment in time is top drawer and I’m sure that they will be relishing this fixture to try and put a few things right. It’s tough, it’s as tough as it gets.

“Two weeks ago (against South Africa), it was a tough game and this one was knock-out type rugby so it gets a whole lot tougher next week against the All Blacks and hopefully they will need to be at their best to beat us as well.”

James Lowe’s early try settled any Irish nerves in Saint-Denis before Hugo Keenan crossed either side of a score from the recalled Iain Henderson to quickly take the game away from shell-shocked Scotland.

Dan Sheehan and Garry Ringrose added to the opposition’s embarrassment, prior to consolation tries from Scottish pair Ewan Ashman and Ali Price.

Farrell must wait to discover the true cost of a feisty affair in the French capital, with wings Mack Hansen and Lowe and replacement lock James Ryan each sustaining injuries.

“Obviously, we’ll see how they pull up in the morning but Mack went off with a HIA (head injury assessment) and when he came back on he felt his calf straight away, so we got him off,” said Farrell.

“James Ryan has a bit of a knock on his wrist that we have to assess more, so we’ll see how he is now.

“James Lowe got a bang in the eye, his eye shut and he couldn’t really see much. His vision was coming back towards the end of the game, which is good.

“Then, a few more bangs and bruises that we’ll need to assess tomorrow.”

Ireland once again performed a celebratory lap of honour in front of tens of thousands of jubilant Irish supporters.

Farrell savoured another special occasion, while wishing he could simultaneously enjoy the “bonkers” scenes back home.

“My wife and me two girls were there, that’s why I was singing to them,” he said.

“I think it’s amazing, the songs at the end of the game, I love all that.

“We got a bit of stick, didn’t we, for walking around against South Africa, but we walk round and thank the fans after every game.

“It’s the least we can do when they turn up in their thousands like they’ve done.

“We play for them, we talk about it every week. I talked about it before the game today in the dressing room, it means more than what people think, 100 per cent.

“I know that France is buzzing with Irish people, but I believe it’s bonkers back home. We’re torn a bit, enjoying it with the fans back home or stay here? We’ll stay here for now!”

Gregor Townsend admitted Ireland were simply too good for his Scotland team to handle as their World Cup dream ended with a chastening 36-14 defeat by the world’s top-ranked side in Paris on Saturday night.

After losing their opening match to South Africa, the Scots had to win with a bonus point or by denying the Irish a losing bonus in order to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Their hopes were dented by the concession of a try after just over a minute and the game was effectively over by half-time as the Irish ran in another three scores before the break to lead 26-0.

Scotland rallied slightly to win the second half 14-10, but there was a sense of dejection at full-time as they departed the tournament at the first hurdle at a time when they are ranked fifth in the world.

“It’s a very disappointing result, we have gone out of the World Cup against the highest-ranked side in the world, and they were well ahead at half-time,” rued head coach Townsend.

“We played the number two side in the world in the opening game and it was a close game.

“In isolation, this is a really disappointing defeat against a very good side and one we believed we had the ability to beat.

“They were the better team tonight, they were excellent and it’s probably the best I have seen them play.

“It’s probably where we and they are in terms of the rankings and why now they are the favourites for the World Cup.”

Townsend did not feel James Lowe’s early try set the tone as Scotland went on to enjoy a spell of pressure thereafter, albeit without reward, before Ireland turned the screw in the lead-up to half-time.

“The early try wasn’t a factor as we managed in that first 20 minutes to put some good rugby together, but we didn’t put any points on the board,” said Townsend.

“The tries before half-time we could have defended better, but I have to give credit to Ireland as they executed very well and the game went away from us.

“In the second half, I was really proud of the effort and the intent to not allow the score to become a bigger one. We came back and showed who we were in attack.

“The game had gotten away from us, so we focused on winning back respect. To get two tries against such a top team, we’ll take a little bit out of that.

“We’re very disappointed with the result and the first-half performance, but credit to Ireland, who were very, very good.”

While the fact they were placed in a group alongside the world’s top-ranked side and the defending world champions counts as some mitigation for Scotland’s early exit, Townsend acknowledged his team were not at their best over the course of the tournament.

“We certainly have to do better, and the responsibility is mine,” he said. “We believed we could get out of this pool, and we still believed that after losing to South Africa with the response the players showed in training and the games they played (against Tonga and Romania), gave us an opportunity tonight, which we didn’t take.

“Ireland are a better team than us on tonight’s performance, and they’ve won 17 games in a row so they’ve clearly been the better team over the last couple of years. Now, if we can get on the journey they have been on the last few years then great – but it is easy saying that, it is another thing doing it.

“You become a better team through defeats as well as victories, and we’ve got to make sure that this defeat makes us a better team for the Six Nations coming up and the next World Cup, although at this point the Six Nations is much more relevant.”

Rampant Ireland set up tantalising quarter-final rematch against New Zealand by condemning ragged rivals Scotland to another early World Cup exit with a crushing 36-14 bonus-point success in Paris.

Gregor Townsend’s men required a heroic win by eight points or more at Stade de France to snatch progression at the expense of their opponents.

But Test rugby’s top-ranked nation emphatically underlined their status with a thrilling display of attacking verve to avoid major drama in a feisty encounter.

James Lowe’s early try settled any nerves before Hugo Keenan crossed either side of a score from the recalled Iain Henderson to quickly take the game away from the shell-shocked Scots before the break.

Dan Sheehan and Garry Ringrose added to the embarrassment before Scottish pair Ewan Ashman and Ali Price claimed quickfire consolations.

Ireland will take on the All Blacks in the last eight, seeking to avenge the 46-14 thrashing suffered at the same stage of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Head coach Andy Farrell perhaps has cause for concern ahead of that showdown due apparent injuries suffered by wings Mack Hansen and Lowe.

Scotland, meanwhile, face an early flight home for the second successive tournament, with South Africa going through as Pool B runners-up to take on hosts France.

Premature departures for Blair Kinghorn, Jamie Ritchie and Darcy Graham due to fitness issues contributed to their woes, while Ollie Smith was shown a yellow card for causing a mass brawl.

The Scots came into the competition with one of their most talented teams in years but, following a chastening evening in the French capital, were left to rue being placed in the most difficult group alongside the reigning champions and the world’s number one team.

Permutations, premature elimination and the slim possibility of the Springboks crashing out dominated the build-up to a titanic qualification shoot-out in Saint-Denis.

A deafening roar greeted the teams and the decibels were raised further among the dominant Irish support with just over a minute on the clock when Hansen sent Lowe over in the left corner after Ringrose dummied his way beyond Grant Gilchrist.

Scotland roared back and showed a statement of intent by kicking a series of penalties to the corner, forcing Ireland to ferociously repel prolonged pressure.

But their cause was not helped by losing full-back Kinghorn, whose 50th cap lasted just nine minutes, and captain Ritchie, while Ireland wing Hansen also went off.

Ireland’s defiant defending was matched equally by awesome attacking enterprise and they stretched the scoreboard significantly with two quickfire tries.

Delightful slick interplay from right to left unlocked the Scottish backline, culminating in Ringrose teeing up the onrushing Keenan in the 27th minute, before Henderson marked his first start of the tournament by bulldozing over minutes later.

Far from thinking about the knock-out stages, Scotland trudged down the tunnel at the break fearing humiliation.

Ireland’s well-oiled machine led 26-0 ahead at that stage with a bonus point in the bag after Johnny Sexton set up Keenan’s second and then sent over his third successful conversion.

Scotland desperately needed to show some fight and did so as tempers boiled over early in the second period during a melee sparked by Smith’s off-the-ball trip on Sexton.

Players from both sides piled in, with Pierre Schoeman and Sheehan ploughing over an advertising board, before instigator Smith was sin-binned.

Sheehan was on the floor again minutes later, this time diving over to claim Ireland’s fifth try before Farrell wisely withdrew talisman Sexton, in addition to five of his forwards.

Jack Crowley’s fine cross-field kick sent over Ringrose before Scottish resistance finally materialised in the shape of a pair of well-taken scores, each converted by the largely subdued Finn Russell.

Replacement hooker Ashman made an immediate impact by galloping over on the right to ensure his side were not whitewashed, before scrum-half Price finished a fine team move.

Yet their endeavours mattered little as Ireland comfortably marched on thanks to a 17th successive win and a ninth in a row against the eliminated Scots.

Owen Farrell admitted his relief that his shot clock blunder did not cost England victory as they scraped past Samoa in their final World Cup group game.

England needed a late Danny Care try to defeat magnificent Islander opposition in an error-ridden 18-17 victory in Lille that will have sent the spirits of likely quarter-final opponents Fiji soaring.

A crucial moment came in the 64th minute when Farrell was lining up a routine penalty with the team 17-11 behind only for the time to run out on the shot clock – the first time it has happened in this tournament.

“I didn’t see the clock. I wasn’t aware. It was above where I was picking my target. I got lost a little bit in the kick,” Farrell said.

“It wasn’t good enough and I’m glad for the team’s sake that it didn’t cost us. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”

England had already qualified for the quarter-finals as Pool D winners but this night in Lille was a backwards step that evoked memories of August’s dismal warm-up campaign.

Head coach Steve Borthwick accepted it was a poor performance but valued the hard-fought run out before the knockout phase begins.

“Immense credit to Samoa, I thought they played brilliantly,” said Borthwick, who revealed that Manu Tuilagi suffered an injury that forced him off.

“Samoa spoke about it being their World Cup final and that’s exactly how they played. They tested us and forced us into a lot of errors,” Borthwick said.

“It was a scrappy performance for a long period by us in a real tough Test. As we look towards next week, I wanted a tough Test – and that’s exactly what we got.

“There was a lot that was not at the required standard – lots of errors, mistakes, scrappiness and for a period there were too many penalties. And then the players got hold of it on the pitch and found a way to get the result.

“A lot has been said before about this England team when it is in tough circumstances.

“Now the team was in tough circumstances against Samoa. We didn’t want to be there, we didn’t want to play the way that got us in those tough circumstances but this team found a way out of it.”

Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua feels less-established teams such as his Islanders are battling against “unconscious bias” from officials when they face the heavyweights.

“I asked the question if the referees have an unconscious bias when a tier-one team plays a tier-two team. I believe there is and I believe there has been in the past,” Mapusua said.

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, it’s what I’ve seen in our game for the last however many years, since I was playing.

“My heart breaks for these boys. I thought they deserved a lot more than they got from that game.

“I felt we did enough to earn a victory. Such is the cruel nature of sport, it wasn’t to be. In terms of the effort it’s a pretty tough one to take.”

England were forced to dig deep in an 18-17 victory over Samoa that will have left probable World Cup quarter-final opponents Fiji licking their lips.

A dominant final quarter saw Samoa’s 17-8 lead eventually overhauled when Danny Care crossed with seven minutes left for a try that was converted by Owen Farrell.

It was a night of personal triumph for Farrell, who eclipsed Jonny Wilkinson’s total of 1,179 to become the nation’s highest points scorer, but a poor team performance will have taken the shine off that achievement.

Samoa finally discovered their mojo in the climax to a disappointing group campaign and they fell metres short with one last do-or-die assault that if successful would have produced a first-ever victory in the fixture.

A lingering sense of injustice hung over an early decision – made once the conversion had been taken – to chalk off Duncan Paia’aua’s try for a hard-to-detect knock-on that would have propelled the underdogs 19-8 ahead.

Until this night in Lille, England had not conceded a try for 160 minutes but they were breached twice by Samoa wing Nigel Ah-Wong – and it could have been more.

Their only consistent weapon was the driving line-out and Fiji will have watched the events at Stade Pierre-Mauroy with interest, seeing how rattled Steve Borthwick’s side became when faced with an incisive, off-loading attack.

England’s pack made an early impact but it was the sharp handling of Farrell and Joe Marchant that led to their first try in the 10th minute as Manu Tuilagi motored forwards before sending Ollie Chessum over in the left corner.

Tuilagi tore through the midfield once again as Samoa continued to be picked apart at will with George Ford and Farrell dovetailing well and their next drive ended with a penalty from their captain that saw Wilkinson’s record finally broken.

Play became ragged and England suffered as a result, their sloppy handling allowing Samoa to attack and the Islanders showed skill to thread the ball to wing Ah-Wong for a classy try.

Blue shirts poured through gaps in the favourites’ porous defence and they were unpicked again when Lima Sopoaga hoisted a crossfield kick for Ah-Wong to produce an inch-perfect finish.

Nothing seemed to be going right for England as they infringed at a line-out but they enjoyed a stroke of luck when Paia’aua’s score off Alex Mitchell’s poor clearance kick was disallowed.

A sloppy Farrell pass intended for Tuilagi invited more pressure and after going through several phases in which the tryline was tested Samoa ended the spell with a Sopoaga penalty.

England were losing every moment and they chose to play their trump card by bringing on Marcus Smith at Ford’s expense with Farrell moving to fly-half.

They appeared to have scored when their pack dragged Samoa into the trenches but Chessum’s try was ruled out and then Marchant was denied because of a forward pass.

Farrell landed one penalty but the shot clock expired on a second attempt and England were thrown a lifeline when Tumua Manu was shown a yellow card for tackling Farrell in the air.

Pinned back by scrum after scrum, Samoa eventually cracked when replacement scrum-half Care raced through a large gap and once Farrell converted England were back in front.

A last-gasp attack by Samoa almost swept them over but excellent scramble defence kept them out and the dream of an upset was extinguished.

Scrum-half Ali Price has been handed a surprise start for Scotland’s World Cup Pool B qualification shootout with Ireland on Saturday, as regular number nine Ben White misses out on a place in the 23 altogether.

The 30-year-old Glasgow back made the number nine jersey his own for three years until losing his spot to the burgeoning White at the start of this year’s Six Nations.

But after scoring a try when a much-changed XV defeated Romania in Lille last Saturday, Price has remained in the team for this weekend’s Paris showdown.

White is not even listed among the substitutes, with c the replacement scrum-half.

Captain Jamie Ritchie returns to lead the team after going off with concussion in the first half of the Tonga match a fortnight ago.

Price in place of White is the only change to the team that started the match against South Africa on the opening weekend of the tournament.

The scrum-half had spoken in Nice earlier this week about how his improved maturity had helped him deal with losing his place just two years after being selected for British and Irish Lions duty.

But he now appears to have convinced Gregor Townsend that he is worthy of being pitched back into the thick of it for one of Scotland’s biggest games in years as they bid to get a bonus-point win over the Irish or deny their opponents a losing bonus in order to reach the quarter-finals.

Hamish Watson, another 2021 Lion who has fallen from prominence this year, has not made the 23 despite impressing against Romania last weekend.

Ireland prop Finlay Bealham is determined to “make the minutes count” as he prepares for a crucial showdown with Scotland following a frustrating start to his maiden Rugby World Cup.

Australia-born Bealham made his first meaningful contribution of the competition by coming off the bench to help secure a statement 13-8 victory over defending champions South Africa in round three.

He had been left out of the matchday 23 for his country’s opener against Romania and was then forced off by a head knock just 10 minutes into a second-half cameo the following week against Tonga.

Bealham, who showed his quality with some fine performances in this year’s Six Nations Grand Slam triumph, has won most of his 34 Test caps as a replacement and is understudy to first-choice tighthead Tadhg Furlong.

But the 31-year-old is ready and raring to go when called upon as Andy Farrell’s men attempt to avoid a shock early exit at the hands of the Scots.

“From a mindset point of view, when I’m on the bench, I don’t care how many minutes I play,” said Bealham.

“It’s ‘make the minutes count’. I try my best to do that.

“Personally it was a frustrating start to the campaign but some of that stuff was out of my control.

“When I got my chance, I just tried to come on and make a positive impact. It was incredible to get that experience.

“I’m looking forward to the Scotland game.

“Obviously there’s no team been named yet and it’s just about focusing on what I can control, fixing up things from the South Africa game and then bringing my game on top of that.”

Three successive Pool B wins have put the world’s top-ranked nation on the cusp of the quarter-finals.

Yet Ireland’s progression is far from assured going into Saturday evening’s pivotal Paris appointment.

Bealham turns 32 next Monday and will celebrate his birthday either preparing for a last-eight clash with France, New Zealand or Italy, or reflecting on elimination.

The Connacht player is eager to extend the “surreal” experience of playing on the world’s biggest stage and continue representing his late Irish grandmother, whom he thinks about when singing Ireland’s Call.

“I moved over originally when I was 18, 19 years of age having a dream of playing professional rugby and I moved over because the dream seemed a bit harder where I was in Australia,” said Canberra-born Bealham.

“I had that Irish heritage through my mum’s side of the family.

“I was really tight with my nana at the time. She used to ring me every day when I was in Galway and I remember one time I forgot to bring my phone to training and she ended up calling me like 70 times, it was something crazy, you wouldn’t believe it.

“I suppose to represent my nana, who I was always close with growing up, representing all them, would I have thought I’d be here a good few years later at a World Cup? It’s pretty surreal.

“Every time I get to wear the jersey, every time I sing the anthem, I always think of my family and everyone who sacrificed for me to get to where I’m at.”

Courtney Lawes insists England have forged an identity based on self-sacrifice as the personalities of the World Cup heavyweights begin to emerge.

England have crushed Argentina, Japan and Chile to claim a quarter-final place as Pool D winners with a match to spare and their procession through the group phase will be completed against Samoa on Saturday.

Expectation is rising, even allowing for the fact they have been gifted the easiest route into the knockout phase, but the likes of Ireland, South Africa and New Zealand have been making greater waves.

After the All Blacks’ 14-try rout of Italy on Friday, head coach Ian Foster made a pointed reference to the grinding nature of Ireland’s seismic victory over the Springboks.

“If you look at the South Africa-Ireland game, it was a different game of rugby,” Foster said.

“The ball was in play for 27 minutes throughout the whole game. It was a very stop-start game, very physical, very combative.

“You saw a different spectacle from us and at some point the world has got to decide which game it would rather watch.”

Lawes sees room for all playing styles and is satisfied with the traits developed by Steve Borthwick’s side.

“Our way is the England way. Doing it our way is doing it for each other,” the Northampton back row said.

“I like that it’s now really obvious what is every team’s DNA and what they’re trying to do. All the top teams have got really different genetics as a team, if you will – a team strategy.

“It’ll be interesting when they play each other how that is going to play off. I think that’s really good for us as players to see and be a part of.

“We’re a really strong defensive team. That’s our backbone. We’ve conceded one try in three games. We’re an aerial, kicking team and are very good at getting the ball back.

“We’re looking to build an attack off that, and hopefully by the time we get later on in the tournament that is where we want to be, and we will show a bit of a different side to us.

“Especially at the 2019 World Cup and this time, in terms of a team of players, we are so much more selfless.

“We want to play, we want to go out there and put our bodies on the line for each other and that is what really makes a difference when it hits the fan and you are under the cosh.

“You have got to want to get into it for each other or you get found out pretty quickly.

“We know what works, we want everybody to buy in, we do this for each other, not for ourselves.

“We hit a ruck and forego the glory so we can get the ball and someone else can score.

“Those are the things we pride ourselves on as a team and what we want to carry on into the future as well.”

Kylian Mbappe is available for Paris St Germain’s Ligue 1 clash with Clermont on Saturday but could be rested ahead of the Champions League trip to Newcastle.

The France forward was forced off early in last weekend’s 4-0 hammering of Marseille with an ankle injury and boss Luis Enrique must decide whether to risk him in the meeting against the league’s bottom side.

Mbappe trained away from the rest of the squad on Thursday but was back with his team-mates on Friday.

“Kylian Mbappe trained with the squad today, he’s available,” said Enrique on PSG TV. “He has had some treatment and done some specific sessions, but he’s in shape to play.”

The defending champions made a shaky start to the season, drawing with Lorient and Toulouse and losing to Nice, and sit third in the table behind Brest and Nice heading into the weekend.

But the result against big rivals Marseille coupled with a Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund has put a different complexion on things.

“Confidence comes with good results,” said Enrique. “We had some difficult results early in the season but, when you win, everything is great, and confidence builds with victories.

“There’s a lot of things to improve. In a learning process, there is always a phase at the start where you have to learn a lot.

“We’re still in that phase. I’ve been very happy with the players since I took over but we’re still far from the level we want to achieve in attack and defence.”

Clermont have taken only one point from their first six matches, conceding 12 goals in the process, but Enrique believes that belies their quality.

“They don’t deserve to be bottom of the table,” he said. “They play good football, work well, and last season had a very solid base. They’re one of the best teams defensively.

“It’s an important game because it comes a few days before a Champions League away game. We mustn’t drop off and underestimate our opponents. It won’t be an easy game.”

PSG, meanwhile, announced on Friday that left-back Nuno Mendes is expected to be out for a further four months after undergoing surgery on his hamstring in Finland.

The 21-year-old Portugal international suffered the injury in July and an operation has now been deemed the best option in his recovery.

Enrique said: “For Nuno Mendes, we have to be careful with all of that.

“We’ve got enough strength in depth but we have to find solutions because the season is long.”

Billy Vunipola insists he is ready to resume his primary function as England’s battering ram having played a supporting role against Chile which allowed others to shine.

Vunipola is competing with the in-form Ben Earl for the number eight jersey in the final group match against Samoa on October 7 when Steve Borthwick’s team are expected to clinch their World Cup quarter-final spot as Pool D winners.

Making his first start since completing a two-match ban for a dangerous tackle, the imposing Saracens back row found his ability to make a significant impact in the 71-0 demolition of Chile last Saturday curtailed by the all-out assault being conducted around him.

“It’s funny to say this because we beat them quite convincingly but it’s tough for me to try and take all the onus on myself when everyone else is very keen to try and get the ball in their hands,” Vunipola said.

“My role becomes that of a support player and as much as I want to have the ball in my hands, I want to put the team in the best position possible. So if that means giving the ball to Owen Farrell more often, then so be it.

“Obviously having a lot of involvements is a positive. I would have liked to have had 15-16 carries, but at the end of the day that’s not what the team needed from me on Saturday. My role was to try and help the team and I felt like I did that.

“But I felt positive coming away because the forwards put the backs in positions where they could run free and attack.

“I’m supremely confident in what I bring in terms of my physicality and against physical teams I know I can hold my own. When I’m called upon I’m right here, waiting.”

England have overcome an abysmal World Cup build-up consisting of three defeats in four preparation fixtures to dispatch Argentina, Japan and Chile with ease since arriving in France.

Although the suspicion remains that they will struggle when meeting the type of heavyweight opposition they have yet to face, they will enter a likely quarter-final against Fiji with the wind in their sails.

It has since emerged that their disastrous results last month were partly a consequence of their heavy conditioning programme, which has been designed to place them in the best possible position for the key phases of the World Cup.

Vunipola uses David Haye’s world heavyweight title defeat by Wladimir Klitschko in 2011, which he blamed on an injured toe, to explain why England kept the knowledge of their empty tanks to themselves.

“I sit here with a team that’s doing really well after what some people said was a disaster in August, but the work we were doing away from prying eyes was always going to bear these results.

“It was just tough little period to ride through but luckily we have come through it. We couldn’t talk about it otherwise it would be seen as an excuse.

“The only example I can think of is when David Haye was complaining about his little toe after he lost his fight.

“It’s not something you can disclose but we were training really hard because our goal was to be ready and fresh for Argentina.”

Uncapped Glasgow front-rower Johnny Matthews revealed he was stunned to get a call out of the blue on Saturday asking him to fly to France to join Scotland’s World Cup squad.

The 30-year-old was enjoying a day out in the Fife coastal town of Elie when assistant coach John Dalziel phoned to tell him his services were required after Stuart McInally suffered a neck injury and had to withdraw just over a week after the 33-year-old Edinburgh forward got his own late call-up to replace the concussed Dave Cherry.

Matthews – effectively the Scots’ sixth-choice hooker – rushed back to Glasgow to get himself organised and caught a flight to Nice on Sunday morning before being officially added to the squad.

“I’m buzzing to be here,” he said, speaking from the Scots’ training base in the south of France on Tuesday afternoon.

“I was very shocked to get the call but I’m obviously delighted and just looking to throw my hat into the ring to try to get some games while I’m here.

“I was in Elie with my wife and some good friends when I got the call from John. We were taking the dogs for a walk and when I saw John’s number pop up I knew he wasn’t phoning for a catch-up.

“He said ‘how quickly can you get to Nice?’ and now I’m here. It didn’t really feel real until I got here. It was a whirlwind 24 hours, trying to get packed, find my gumshield, get my boots and all the other stuff I needed.

“My boots were at (Glasgow’s home ground) Scotstoun, so I had to shoot there and get them to keep the place open. I then quickly packed and got on a 6am flight on Sunday morning.

“Once I finally got here and got the (Scotland World Cup) kit, that’s when it felt real. My wife flew out with me so she is loving it too.”

Liverpool-born Matthews – who qualifies for Scotland through his Blantyre-born mother – enjoyed an impressive season for Glasgow.

However, he knew it would be a tall order to make the initial squad, with George Turner, Ewan Ashman, Cherry, McInally and Fraser Brown all more established in the international fold.

Ultimately the misfortune of Cherry and McInally over the past few weeks, allied to an ACL injury sustained by Brown in May, paved the way for Matthews to land an unlikely crack at the biggest tournament in the game.

“My aim is to play for Glasgow, and if you do that, you’re always in contention for the Scotland squad I suppose,” he said when asked if the possibility of World Cup involvement had featured prominently in his thoughts.

“The more I played for Glasgow, the more my hopes got a little bit higher, but it’s a very hotly-contested position. There are five or six brilliant hookers in Scotland so I’m just happy to be here.

“I was hoping I had an outside chance of making it into the original training squad, but it’s a pretty settled group and there have been the same three, four or five hookers in the last x-amount of squads so I knew I’d have to do pretty well to get in.

“I was disappointed but it wasn’t a shock that I didn’t get in.”

With Matthews’ only international appearance to date coming for Scotland A against Chile in June 2022, he now has the chance to win his first full cap at a World Cup, with must-win pool games against Romania and Ireland to come over the next two weekends.

Asked if he ever thought his opportunity of playing for Scotland had passed him by, Matthews – a prolific try-scorer at club level – said: “You never say never – you just keep playing well for Glasgow, keep scoring and you’ve always got a chance I suppose.

“It’s a hotly-contested position but I’ll do all I can over the next few days and hopefully I can get in the (match-day) squad. Rugby is a pretty brutal and physical contact sport and hookers are at the coalface.

“I’m gutted for the boys who have missed out on the opportunity (due to injury) but at the same time you’ve got to look out for yourself and take the opportunity when it presents itself.”

Although he has not had the same intensive pre-season build-up that the rest of the Scotland players were subjected to, Matthews – who has thrived under Glasgow head coach Franco Smith – feels he is in good condition.

“I tried to keep myself in a shape that wasn’t round over the summer,” he smiled.

“I didn’t want to come into Franco’s pre-season unfit anyway. Anyone who has done one of them will tell you you can’t be unfit going into that.”

Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies says he is enjoying his rugby again during a World Cup campaign that has seen him produce record-breaking form.

Davies’ early touchdown in the 40-6 rout of Australia set a new World Cup best of eight tries for a scrum-half.

And it represents an impressive return to international rugby after he missed out on Wales’ South Africa tour last year, the 2022 autumn Tests and Six Nations campaign two months later.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland’s predecessor Wayne Pivac preferred players like Tomos Williams, Kieran Hardy and Dane Blacker in the scrum-half position.

And although Gatland was in charge for last season’s Six Nations, Williams, Hardy and Rhys Webb fought for the number nine shirt.

Crucially, though, a door opened for the 33-year-old when Gatland named Davies in the World Cup training squad, and he has not looked back.

He starred in the tournament warm-up victory over England and regained the number nine shirt for key Pool C wins against Fiji and Australia

“I love World Cups,” Davies said. “I love the build-up to them.

“It is the only time that we really get a full pre-season (with Wales). It has been a tough couple of months, but I have enjoyed it.

“Physically and mentally, I feel like I am in the best shape of my life. I am really enjoying my rugby again.

“We are all back to where we want to be under this management. We are fighting for each other, playing for each other and the environment is good, which is the main thing.

“We are enjoying our time off the pitch as well. We’ve got a good bunch of boys, and it shows.”

Davies, who made his Wales debut nine years ago and was the team’s starting scrum-half during the 2015 and 2019 tournaments, is once again excelling under Gatland’s direction.

He scored five tries at the 2015 World Cup, then two more in Japan four years later – including an interception effort in a pool-stage win against Australia.

“Warren has got his way,” Davies added. “It works for me and it obviously works for everyone else in the squad. It gets us all going.

“The other coaches as well, Mike (Forshaw) with defence, Kingy (Alex King) in attack and Humphs (Jonathan Humphreys) with the forwards. We’ve had a lot of changes with coaches, and I think that’s made the difference, to be honest.”

Wales’ crushing success against Australia secured a quarter-final place – the fourth World Cup in a row for them to achieve that under Gatland – and has set up a potential last-eight appointment with Argentina in Marseille on October 14.

“I thought our win in 2019 against Australia in the World Cup was big, but this is right up there,” Davies said.

“Momentum is key, especially in World Cups. We had a good week’s training preparing for the game, and I thought it showed on the pitch.

“We obviously won’t look too far ahead of ourselves. We have got a few days off to recover, and then we will focus on Georgia the following weekend.

“We have still got a job to do against them first, and then we will start looking at the quarter-final draw.”

Tom Curry has been pushing himself through a punishing training regime to ensure he is ready to face Samoa in England’s final World Cup group match.

Curry has played less than three minutes of the tournament in France after being sent off in the opener for a dangerous tackle against Argentina, resulting in a two-match suspension.

It continued his challenging start to the Steve Borthwick era, having missed the entire Six Nations and build-up campaign to the World Cup because of injury.

Now poised to make his comeback against Samoa on October 7, the squad’s most influential player in defence has been defying the instructions of England’s fitness guru Aled Walters to perfect his conditioning.

“Tom is a unique player in that I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone so fit, or so willing to work hard and put himself through pain,” scrum coach Tom Harrison said.

“He just seems to be able to enjoy it and keep going. There was a conditioning session the other day where he finished his reps and Aled Walters was shouting at him, ‘Get out, get out’. And he just carried on running.

“He just stayed in and carried on running. And when he did finally decide it was time for time for him to get out, he left the drill and Ellis Genge started hammering him for leaving the drill! And you just saw him getting so angry about it!

“He is in phenomenal shape. He has been brilliant. Unfortunately he was suspended, but he was brilliant by not going, ‘Oh I’m suspended for these two games’. Instead he went, ‘How can I help England win?’.

“And the work he was doing to help make training hard and difficult for the guys playing, and also the work he was doing with the back rows, to add his experience and his knowledge to our team meetings has been exceptional.”

Ireland fly-half Jack Crowley joked about spending his well-earned days off in Disneyland following the fairytale of sealing his country’s statement Rugby World Cup win against South Africa.

Test rookie Crowley capped a thrilling 13-8 victory over the reigning champions by calmly slotting a crucial late penalty after stepping off the bench to replace captain Johnny Sexton at Stade de France.

The 23-year-old was visiting Paris for the first time and had the chance to remain in the French capital for a brief escape from reality ahead of a turning his attention to a pivotal Pool B finale against Scotland on October 7.

Crowley, who expects the Scots to be “gunning” for Ireland, could not resist a light-hearted quip at the expense of his diminutive team-mate Craig Casey and some of the senior members of Andy Farrell’s squad, including 38-year-old Sexton, as he humorously imagined a group theme park visit.

“We have a few days off to recover because it has been a few intense weeks,” he said.

“(I’m going to) take it easy. Disneyland Paris! We have to get a pass for Craig though. There’s a few old-age pensioners as well. Yeah, maybe Disneyland, we’ll see.

“We go back in on Wednesday and the preparation begins for Scotland.

“I suppose they are going to grow throughout the competition, aren’t they?

“We have come against them in the Six Nations and they have been one the toughest competitors because of the way they play.

“Our eyes are firmly on them. I’m sure they will be gunning for us.”

Ireland led South Africa by just two points for the majority of a tense final quarter of Saturday’s epic encounter.

In front of massive Irish support, Crowley nailed a nerveless 77th-minute kick on the occasion of his eighth cap to alleviate mounting pressure before a heroic defensive effort secured success.

The Munster player revealed team-mate James Lowe was audibly counting down the seconds on the shot clock ahead of the conversion to eat into the time the Springboks would have to hit back.

He described the physicality of a bruising contest as “through the walls”, while playing down his “nice easy penalty” on an evening when the opposition’s wayward goal-kicking proved costly.

Speaking of his key contribution, which came four seconds inside the permitted time, Crowley said: “(It was) pretty special.

“When you’re sitting on the bench looking up at the clock as the time is dwindling away, you see the magnitude grow larger.

“It was a proper Test match. The physicality was through the walls.

“When you’re coming on you’ve got to know the magnitude of the game and the responsibility.

“I got a nice easy penalty in front of the posts. If I’d missed that I think you’d be saying a different story to me. But that’s the gig.”

While Ireland have a weekend off, South Africa face Tonga on Sunday with work to do.

Crowley suggested the world’s top two teams could meet again in the final at the end of next month.

“They’re a World Cup-winning side because they disrupt team’s plans,” he said.

“They play rugby the way they want to play and that’s how they won a World Cup just by doing that.

“We knew since we played them in November last year (a 19-16 win for Ireland) just what a challenge this was going to be.

“You’ve got to trust your plan and as a coaching staff and players we all bought into it and thankfully in the end we got the result but it’s not easy.

“And I’m sure we won’t see the last of them in the competition.”

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