Tuesday 23 July 2019

Countdown is over - let the games begin

World Cup set for dramatic opening weekend with some key contests

CJ Stander takes on the Ospreys defence
CJ Stander takes on the Ospreys defence
Tyler Bleyendaal in action against Ospreys

David Wallace

Finally, it's here. The Rugby World Cup kicks off, with England and Fiji, at 8pm and I can't wait for it to get going.

What a match too. Fiji beat Canada 47-18 a few weeks ago and they're primed for a right crack at England.

That pushed them up to ninth in the world rankings, just behind Argentina, and after a long training camp and a successful Pacific Nations tournament, they could be a surprise package.

England were shut out for long periods when they lost in France. But it was a very different English side that excelled against Ireland at Twickenham. Confidence and momentum are key factors when it comes to a World Cup, and for England to claim a big scalp like Ireland will undoubtedly bring them on.

Jonny May is one player that can do damage - he beefed up in pre-season and there's a lot more than straight-line speed to his game now.

Tonight, though, it will be all about structure for England. Against the athletic Fijians you cannot afford to throw a wild pass; to get over the gainline England will need to be smart and Stuart Lancaster should know what to do.

But all Irish eyes will be glued to the TV screens tomorrow, as Ireland begin their journey against Canada in the Millennium Stadium.

Like Fiji, Canada are a big physical team and it's important Ireland don't make a slow start to give them any sort of confidence.

Ireland can be forgiven for their results in the warm-up games. They were restricted in what they could do and the way they wanted to play. Joe Schmidt made sure his players focused on different elements of the game-plan. I would say that they would have looked to work on their accuracy and efficiency at the breakdown - especially against England.

You make it hard on yourself in the warm-up games by concentrating on carrying, recycling and staying away from the kicking and territorial game. Schmidt used the warm-ups more like practice matches.

There were positives, however, and the scrum dominated England. Hopefully those sort of things stand to Ireland when it comes to the World Cup now.


Last time out, it looked like they lacked a bit of confidence due to the error rate in the first half. It was a lot better in the second half when they built up the phases and things began to work for them.

A big win against Canada will give them that bit of mojo back because it looked like they played without that against England, Wales and Scotland.

There are some other noteworthy games this weekend as well - in Ireland's pool, Italy and France is going to be massive, but without Sergio Parisse Italy won't be the same team. You would expect France to win it and all roads will lead to their clash against Ireland, which will be the pool decider.

New Zealand and Argentina is another mouth-watering prospect. These sides know each other so well from the Rugby Championship. Argentina will bring the brute force, but New Zealand should have the upper hand here as well.

On the home front, the Pro12 takes a break for a few weeks now. Munster are third in the standings and with two wins from two, Anthony Foley will be delighted.

The first week was a slow-burner but they cranked it up a notch against Ospreys last weekend, and Francis Saili really stood out. He looked incredibly exciting any time he got the ball, and when he didn't have it, his work rate was immense. He looked like a real cutting edge and he should be a star for Munster this season.

Stephen Fitzgerald took his try really well and could have had a second one. He oozed confidence and made some fine breaks for a young guy coming in.

Mark Chisholm played well on his first start. He seems to be a good hard grafter. He certainly grew into the match and seemed to be enjoying it at the end.

Then, in terms of the out-half situation, Ian Keatley has held that jersey for the last number of years but he has real competition now. Tyler Bleyendaal looked a class act against Ospreys and Bill Johnston is the new kid on the block.

Overall, Munster looked really impressive against Ospreys.

Irish Independent

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