England vs Fiji | Sep 19 | Twickenham, London
Wales vs Urguary | Sep 20 | Millenium Stadium, Cardiff
Australia vs Fiji | Sep 23 | Millenium Stadium, Cardiff
England vs Wales | Sep 26 | Twickenham, London
Australia vs Uruguay | Sep 27 | Villa Park, Birmingham
Wales vs Fiji | Oct 1 | Millenium Stadium, Cardiff
England vs Australia | Oct 3 | Twickenham, London
Fiji vs Uruguay | Oct 6 | Stadiummk, Milton keyes
Australia vs Wales | Oct 10 | Twickenham, London
England vs Uruguay | Oct 10 | Manchester City Stadium, Manchester
Australia - Unlike their main Pool A rivals England who have been preparing for this World Cup since the last one, watching their Under-20s teams go back to back in World Cup wins and meticulously relying on stats and numbers, this Australian team have been brought together in a hectic year. Michael Cheika took over as coach with the World Cup on the horizon and he's had to quickly ingrain his values, culture and style on this Wallabies team; which he has done a great job of so far.
We keep hearing about the pride and intensity that this Wallabies squad possesses, thanks to Cheika, but Cheika is also a pretty damn funky coach. To judge the Wallabies on their Rugby Championship would be foolish, as it would be for any team but with Stephen Larkham saying that the Wallabies intend to play two different teams in their first two games thanks to the short turn-around, Cheika's changes for the Eden Park test against the All Blacks now make sense.
The Wallabies could benefit from lacking any real heavy duty expectations, from both the rugby world and their fans and media. It's hard to not overlook that there's plenty of talent in this squad however and despite plenty of kerfuffle being made about the 'pool of death' I expect Australia to handle their business against Fiji and Uruguay before an epic clash with the English which could go either way. They'll be happy that they are playing Wales in London and not in Cardiff, a game they should also win.
England - If there's a team who could suffer death by pool it's England as they are the major team who could easily see their World Cup campaign crumble. But this makes England an exciting team to enjoy during the World Cup because there's an equal chance that they rally with their home support and produce the consistent quality that I can't really remember them owning.
Personally I reckon it's been a shame that a lot of the noise leading into the World Cup has been negativity surrounding Sam Burgess' inclusion. Burgess will be an interesting player and I reckon he'll go much better than many expect. Regardless, England would have benefited from offering coach Stuart Lancaster unwavering support instead of questioning his decisions with such vigour. This does sum up where England's rugby team currently sits; teetering on the brink where decisions could be made to look like master-strokes or the demise of a home World Cup.
How England respond to the pressure of hosting a World Cup and whether they can enjoy fruits of their developmental labour will be the question. Lancaster has made big selection calls, like omitting the strong running Manu Tuilagi who got himself caught up in off-field shenanigans or consistently ignoring flanker Steffonn Armitage because he doesn't play in England that will ensure that Lancaster and England have their every move under All Blacks-like scrutiny. England should easily dispatch weaker opponents, but if they aren't physical enough or lack any attacking intent against Fiji and Wales then they could find themselves being embarrassed. Should they beat these teams then we'll get a good gauge of England when they take on Australia.
Wales - The Welsh were in with a chance of sneering a top-two finish in Pool A, but recent injuries to Leigh Halfpenny and halfback Rhys Webb have put a serious dent in their hopes. Led by Warren Gatland who has proven himself to be a world-class coach thanks his ability to extract the best out of a Welsh squad who don't quite have the depth of other nations, Wales will need an epic few weeks to qualify for knockout rugby.
The loss of Webb isn't has major as Halfpenny's injuries as Wales can call on Mike Phillips who has 94 caps for his country. But Wales can't really afford to lose two starters and this is where the 'pool of death' narrative really takes over because Wales could easily find themselves in the quarter-finals as they did in 2011. In 2015 however, it's not crazy to imagine Wales falling victim to an eager Fijian side while it's hard to see them being able to grab wins against England or Australia; they'll need a win from one of those games against England and Australia.
Fiji - Everyone with an opinion from Pool A is backing Fiji as a threat; they are essentially the most likely murderers in the 'pool of death'. This comes to the fact that the majority of Fiji's squad are rolling deep in Europe, earning a living playing a consistently decent standard of rugby against many of the world's best players. Both Peni Ravai and Manasa Saulo, two of their props have been plucked out of Fijian club rugby, but besides that only Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders) and Ben Volavola (recently signed to join the Crusaders) aren't based in Europe.
The Fijians will certainly have the ability to provide an upset or two, but with all things being equal, they will struggle to get out of Pool A. If you need a team to really get in behind and support then it will be Fiji, otherwise I'd be watching them to see how having so many players playing professionally in Europe will influence their campaign. I'm hoping for the best with a massive World Cup opener against England their most likely opportunity to sneer a crucial win.
Uruguay - How can you spin a yarn about Uruguay? Their value for me will be in judging the strength of world rugby as they are the only other South American nation besides Argentina in the World Cup. Many kiwis don't care about the strength of world rugby; as long as the All Blacks are winning then it's all good in the hood, but there's no point in rugby being a game where there's only one or two really good teams in the world.
So Uruguay are one of the teams in this World Cup who will serve as a barometer of world rugby's current standing and whether it's on the rise or not. Hope for strong showings from Uruguay because we all want rugby to be bigger than it currently is.
Stay Up To Watch...
Israel Folau (Aus)
Jamie Roberts (Wales)
Sam Burgess (Eng)
Jack Nowell (Eng)
Akapusi Qera (Fiji)
Metuisela Talebula ( Fiji)
David Pocock (Aus)
Toby Faletau (Wales)