The countdown is over, the 2019 Rugby World Cup has finally arrived with hosts Japan set to launch the tournament with an opening match against Russia in Tokyo.
The blockbuster opening weekend continues with Australia, England and Wales all taking to the pitch for their opening matches, while New Zealand and South Africa headline with the biggest clash of the week..
Read ahead for team lists and previews.
Friday, 20 September 2019
Japan vs. Russia, Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo (7:45pm local, 8:45pm AEST, 11:45am GMT)
Japan: Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie, Asaeli Ai, Valu Wimpie van der Walt, James Moore, Michael Leitch, Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno, Yutaka Nagare, Yu Tamura, Lomano Lemeki, Ryoto Nakamura, Timothy Lafaele, Kotaro Matsushima, William Tupou. Replacements: Atsushi Sakate, Isileli Nakajima, Jiwon Koo, Luke Thompson, Hendrik Tui, Fumiaki Tanaka, Rikiya Matsuda, Ryohei Yamanaka
Russia: Valery Morozov, Stanislav Selskii, Kirill Gotovtsev, Andrey Ostrikov, Bogdan Fedotko, Vitaly Zhivatov, Tagir Gadzhiev, Nikita Vavilin, Vasily Dorofeev, Yury Kushnarev, Kirill Golosnitskiy, Dmitry Gerasimov, Vladimir Ostroushko, German Davydov, Vasily Artemyev. Replacements: Evgeny Matveev, Andrei Polivalov, Azamat Bitiev, Andrey Garbuzov, Anton Sychev, Dmitry Perov, Ramil Gaisin, Vladislav Sozonov.
Verdict: This isn't one of the great opening World Cup games on record, but it should at least provide the hosts with a chance to mark an historic day for Japanese sport with a comfortable victory. Russia are really only in this tournament by default after Romania were docked qualifying points for fielding ineligible players; the Bears were then beaten by Jersey just a few short weeks ago. Many of Japan's best players sat out much of the Sunwolves' season, instead concentrating on their preparations for the World Cup. That extra time together should see them present a far more fluid attack than anything the Russians can muster; look for Timothy Lafaele to do some damage at outside centre and Kotaro Matsushima to finish with aplomb out wide.
Tip: Japan by 27.
Saturday, 21 September 2019
Australia vs. Fiji, Sapporo Dome, Sapporo (1:45pm local, 2:45pm AEST, 5:45am GMT)
Australia: Kurtley Beale, Reece Hodge, James O'Connor, Samu Kerevi (vc), Marika Koroibete, Christian Lealiifano, Nic White, Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (c), David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio Replacements: Jordan Uelese, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Adam Coleman, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Will Genia, Matt To'omua, Dane Haylett-Petty
Fiji: Kini Murimurivalu, Josua Tuisova, Waisea Nayacalevu, Levani Botia, Semi Radradra, Ben Volavola, Frank Lomani, Viliame Mata, Peceli Yato, Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Leone Nakarawa, Tevita Cavubati, Peni Ravai, Sam Matavesi, Campese Ma'afu, Replacements: Veremalua Vugakoto, Eroni Mawi, Manasa Saulo, Tevita Ratuva, Mosese Voka, Nikola Matawalu, Alivereti Veitokani, Vereniki Goneva
Verdict: This is the first of three crunch clashes on Matchday 2 and a repeat of the Wallabies' opening game from England four years ago. Fiji had played a match only five days earlier in 2015, the tournament opener against England, and may have been just a tad weary when losing 28-13 to the Wallabies on that occasion. That shouldn't be a problem this time around, while John McKee has assembled the Islanders' best squad for some time. Semi Radradra surprisingly starts on the wing while form back-rowers Peceli Yato, Viliame Mata and skipper Dominiko Waqaniburotu make up an impressive back-row. They will, of course, confront the Wallabies' twin breakdown attack with David Pocock named alongside Michael Hooper. The Wallabies will look to Samu Kerevi to generate front-foot ball in midfield while the rolling maul will also be a weapon. This will be a close contest, but Australia should have too much class to finish over the top of the improved Fijians.
Tip: Australia by 13.
France vs. Argentina, Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo (4:15pm local, 5:15pm AEST, 8:15am GMT)
France: Maxime Medard, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa, Yoann Huget, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont, Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon, Wenceslas Lauret, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Arthur Iturria, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado (c), Jefferson Poirot, Replacements: Camille Chat, Cyril Baille, Demba Bamba, Bernard Le Roux, Louis Picamoles, Maxime Machenaud, Camille Lopez, Thomas Ramos.
Argentina: Emiliano Boffelli, Matias Moroni, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo De la Fuente, Ramiro Moyano, Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli, Javier Ortega Desio, Marcos Kremer, Pablo Matera (c), Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Juan Figallo, Agustin Creevy, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Replacements: Julian Montoya, Mayco Vivas, Santiago Medrano, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lezana, Felipe Ezcurra, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Santiago Carreras.
Verdict: This is a massive game for both sides -- the loser will almost certainly need a result against England to have any chance of progressing out of the pool. The Pumas ran both New Zealand and Australia close during the Rugby Championship and Jaguares' run to the finals of Super Rugby will have done them the world of good. Ultimately, though, Argentina haven't won a Test match in just over a year, a streak that extends to nine matches. France have a youthful side who will have plenty to prove on the world stage. Their wing, Yoann Huget, believes Les Bleus will not only top Pool C, but also reach the final of the tournament. That might be a tad beyond the realms of reality, but France are always capable of a surprise. Be warned, though -- they are also capable of an almighty collapse.
Tip: France by 3.
New Zealand vs. South Africa, International Stadium Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama City (6:45pm local, 7:45pm AEST, 10:45am GMT)
New Zealand: Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Nepu Laulala, Dane Coles, Joe Moody, Replacements: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Shannon Frizell, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Ben Smith.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Pieter Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcom Marx, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, RG Snyman, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn, Jesse Kriel
Verdict: The biggest World Cup pool game in history? It's certainly got to be close. This is only the second time any of the Southern Hemisphere's big three have been drawn in the same pool - South Africa and Australia opened the 1995 tournament in the Republic - while the Springboks have a draw and a win from their last three encounters with the two-time defending world champions. Steve Hansen has long signaled his intention to play fast rugby in Japan, and has picked a team to match that plan. Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett will be better for the two further Tests they have had together since the 16-all draw in Wellington, while Ardie Savea's relentless ball-carrying up front has also proved an asset. Still, the Springboks have clearly worked out a way to thwart the All Blacks' attack with their rush defence and will look to pepper the inexperienced George Bridge and Sevu Reece under the high ball. This has all the makings of one of the great World Cup encounters and a result won't likely be finalized until the last few minutes.
Tip: South Africa by 3.
Sunday, 22 September 2019
Italy vs. Namibia, Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka Prefecture, Higashiosaka City (2:15pm local, 3:15pm AEST, 6:15am GMT)
Italy: Jayden Hayward, Mattia Bellini, Tommaso Benvenuti, Luca Morisi, Edoardo Padovani, 10-Tommaso Allan, Tito Tebaldi; Sergio Parisse (captain), Maxime Mbanda, Braam Steyn, Federico Ruzza, Alessandro Zanni, Tiziano Pasquali, Luca Bigi, Nicola Quaglio. Replacements: Oliviero Fabiani, Simone Ferrari, Marco Riccioni, Dean Budd, Jake Polledri, Guglielmo Palazzani, Carlo Canna, Matteo Minozzi.
Namibia: Johan Tromp, Chad Plato, Justin Newman, Darryl De La Harpe, JC Greyling, Cliven Loubser, Damian Stevens, Janco Venter, Wian Conradie, Rohan Kitshoff, Tjiuee Uanivi (capt.), PJ Van Lill, Johannes Coetzee, Torsten George Van Jaarsveld, Andre Rademeyer Replacements: Louis van der Westhuizen, AJ De Klerk, Nelius Theron, Johan Retief, Max Katjijeko, Eugene Jantjies, Helarius Axasman Kisting, Lesley Klim.
Verdict: The second Pool B encounter of this World Cup also comes from Yokohama where Italy will be looking to make a winning start to their campaign. Advancing beyond the pool stage for the first time will likely have to wait given the presence of the All Blacks and Springboks in their pool, but victories over Canada and Namibia should otherwise be non-negotiables. Namibia have never won a World Cup match themselves from 19 attempts, and that record is unlikely to change at this tournament either. Look for Italy to assert themselves at set-piece time and then apply pressure in the wider channels. The Italians have some dangerous backs in Edoardo Padovani and Mattia Bellini, who at last saw some open spaces in this year's Six Nations despite the Azzuri's failure to snatch a win.
Tip: Italy by 23.
Ireland vs. Scotland, International Stadium Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama City (4:45pm local, 5:45pm AEST, 8:45am GMT)
Ireland: Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, 6Peter O'Mahony, James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (captain), Cian Healy. Replacements: Niall Scannell, David Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath, Jack Carty, Chris Farrell.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Duncan Taylor, Sam Johnson, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw, Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson, John Barclay, Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Willem Nel, Stuart McInally (captain), Allan Dell. Replacements: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Simon Berghan, Scott Cummings, Blade Thomson, Ali Price, Chris Harris, Darcy Graham.
Verdict: After beating New Zealand in Dublin, everyone truly believed Ireland would be the most likely side to knock the reigning champions off their perch. While the last eight months have dampened expectations after seemingly losing their mojo following a damp squib of a Six Nations campaign. A pair of wins over Wales in their final World Cup warm-up Tests should help the mood in camp. Despite being ranked as the world's best side in World Rugby's rankings, Ireland have come into the tournament somewhat under the radar, and that could be just what the Irish need. A tough route to the final awaits, with either the All Blacks or South Africa lying in wait in the quarterfinals, assuming Ireland get there, but a relatively straight forward pool will allow the Irish to get their verve back, starting with a battle with Scotland that should be the toughest of their pool phase match-ups. Tadhg Furlong and the rest of the Irish pack should bulldoze Scotland aside without too much trouble.
Tip: Ireland by 12.
England vs. Tonga, Sapporo Dome, Sapporo (7:15pm local, 8:15pm AEST, 11:15am GMT)
England: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs, Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Kyle Sinckler,Jamie George, Joe Marler Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Lewis Ludlam, Willi Heinz, Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph.
Tonga: David Halaifonua, Atieli Pakalani, Siale Piutau (captain), Cooper Vuna, Viliami Lolohea, Kurt Morath, Sonatane Takulua, Maama Vaipulu, Fotu Lokotui, Sione Kalamafoni, Leva Fifita, Sam Lousi, Ben Tameifuna, Sosefo Sakalia, Siegfried Fisiihoi Replacements: Siua Maile, Latu Talakai, Ma'afu Fia, Dan Faleafa, Nasi Manu, Leon Fukofuka, James Faiva, Nafi Tu'itavake
Verdict: This time last year, there was plenty of doom and gloom around English rugby. A torrid Six Nations campaign and a series defeat against the Springboks in South Africa saw Eddie Jones' position come under threat. They looked miles away from being World Cup challengers, but roll the clock on a year, they now look as though they have one of, if not the, deepest squads in rugby and the Webb Ellis Cup looks within grasp. After making Ireland look silly at Twickenham a few weeks back, confidence is brimming in the England set-up with Manu Tuilagi's return to the fold giving the side an almighty boost and partnerships popping up all over the field. If England are to challenge at the business end of this tournament, they need to swat teams like Tonga, whom the All Blacks thrashed 92-7 last month, aside with ease.
Tip: England by 54
Monday, 23 September 2019
Wales vs. Georgia, City of Toyota Stadium, Aichi Prefecture, Toyota City (7:15pm local, 8:15pm AEST, 11:15am GMT)
Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Aaron Wainwright, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Jake Ball, Tomas Francis, Ken Owens, Wyn Jones. Replacements: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Leigh Halfpenny.
Georgia: Soso Matiashvili, Miriani Modebadze, David Kacharava, Tamaz Mchedlidze, Giorgi Kveseladze, Tedo Abzhandadze, Vasil Lobzhanidze, Beka Gorgadze, Mamuka Gorgodze, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, Konstantine Mikautadze, Giorgi Nemsadze, Beka Gigashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Mikheil Nariashvili. Replacements: Jaba Bregvadze, Guram Gogichashvili, Levan Chilachava, Shalva Sutiashvili, Beka Saginadze, Otari Giorgadze, Gela Aprasidze, Lasha Khmaladze.
Verdict: - It wouldn't be Wales in a World Cup if there wasn't a tinge of crisis. The latest iteration of Wales in World Cup crisis mode sees assistant coach Rob Howley sent home from the tournament before it's even begun, under investigation amid allegations he has breached World Rugby's regulations over betting on rugby. Howley's sudden exit has made it a rough week for Wales ahead of their opener, so they desperately need a confidence-lifting performance against a resurgent Georgia side who know they have a prime opportunity to stun a tier-one nation who are still in shock about the week's events. Wales will be heavy favourites against a Georgian side that didn't look too hot in their pre-World Cup warm-ups, but the Georgian defence and scrummaging pack, led by Mamuka Gorgodze, know they can cause Warren Gatland and his side a frustrating night.
Tip: Wales by 14.