By Ros Satar
- World champions and world leaders start the tournament as favourites
- England’s surge to #4 in the rankings make them contenders
- Can Wales (#5) still be a force to be reckoned with after latest injury issues
London, UK – With 10 days to go before the start of the Rugby World Cup, we look at how the home nations stack up with hosts England starting the whole thing off against Fiji on 18 September.
With the reigning champions New Zealand also the World No. 1 team at the moment, it will be hard not to see them returning to Twickenham at the end of October, with England and Wales mixing it up in the Top 5, and in the same Pool.
World #4: England
The hosts picked up a confidence boosting 21-13 win over Ireland at the weekend in the final warm-up games, but there are still some areas for improvement. Their start could not be faulted but they took the foot off the gas at the start of the second half, giving Ireland a chance to make up ground. Their performance against France had hardly inspired confidence but there are signs that strong partnerships are being forged – in midfield with Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph, and Tom Wood and Ben Morgan in the back row.
Still, the Ireland win is handy momentum to have ahead of the first match, and they must make use of home advantage.
World #5 Wales
England’s path out of the pool phases will not be easy, with Wales having looked the home nation leaders as recently as a month ago, but as we reported here the squad has been hit with injuries and the weekend brought more bad news. Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny clattered out of the warm-up with Italy at the weekend, with both now confirmed as missing the World Cup completely. In a side already weakened by injuries, and a squeak of a win over Italy, Wales now look vulnerable in the pool. Scrum Half Mike Phillips replaces Webb, and wing Eli Walker has also been called up, having been cut previously from the extended squad.
World #6 Ireland
Ireland have slipped three places in the world rankings, and their confidence is low with back to back losses against Wales and England, with lacklustre performances. Ireland also have gambled in their side – with just two scrum halves in the side, the concussion substitution for Conor Murray’s knock in Twickenham will be a concern.
They will open against Canada and also have Italy and France in their pool.
World #10 Scotland
It was a rejuvenated Scottish side that handed Italy a pretty resounding defeat in their penultimate warm-up game, but now the time has come for them to carry forward that optimistic approach for the life of a tournament – often they have fallen at the more meaningful hurdle. They have been a consistent presence in the Top 10 teams in the world, but can they take the opportunity to challenge the best in the world?
The Rugby World Cup begins on 18 Sept with England taking on Fiji.