Ireland vs Canada | Sep 19 | Millenium Stadium, Cardiff
France vs Italy | Sep 19 | Twickenham, London
France vs Romania | Sep 23 | Queen Elizabeth Park, London
Italy vs Canada | Sep 26 | Elland Road, Leeds
Ireland vs Romania | Sep 27 | Wembley Stadium, London
France vs Canada | Oct 1 | Stadiummk, Milton Keynes
Ireland vs Italy | Oct 4 | Queen Elizabeth Park, London
Canada vs Romania | Oct 6 | Leicester City Stadium, Leicester
Italy vs Romania | Oct 11 | Sandy Park, Exeter
France vs Ireland | Oct 11, Millenium Stadium Cardiff
France - To try and predict what France are going to dish out at this World Cup is one hell of a task, but to overlook them as contenders would be foolish. It's not as though France have been making a compelling case to be viewed as contenders, but we just know that they will have a rugged forward pack led by skipper Thierry Dusautoir as well as a decent backline. A backline led by Frederic Michalak who is 32 years old and was France's main contentious selection; in a way Michalak's status as an enigma sums up the French.
France, like their European counterparts have had plenty of time to build towards this World Cup which I reckon will help the French more than any other European nation. If they can rally off the back on a couple of months together where they would have united as a group of hard working forwards, then they have strike weapons like Wesley Fofana and Yoann Huget in their backline who could light up the World Cup. I'm actually more encouraged by the French with each day that passes because there is some serious attacking ability in this side and with Michalak likely to play alongside Morgan Parra, they will be able to dictate proceedings.
They have a pretty easy pool where you'd back them to beat Canada and Romania, but their French-ness could stand between them and comprehensive victories over Ireland and Italy. Alternatively, close wins over Ireland and Italy in which France don't play well but do enough to win could help showcase France's ability to win key games.
Ireland - To confuse matters completely, Ireland won the 2015 Six Nations while France finished fourth and Italy finished fifth. Now I paid no attention to the Six Nations, but I'm assuming that France were very mediocre while Ireland were the opposite. That Six Nations win came on the back of a mighty defensive effort in which they only conceded 56 points (points differential gave them the Six Nations title) but that has apparently fallen away as they have conceded 80 points in their past four outings.
Ireland could be a factor in this World Cup, but they would need to combine rugged defence with an improvement on their attacking ability. Or could coach Joe Schmidt just have them defending tough, while first-five Jonathan Sexton controls the game with his boot - this World Cup is in England after all where that brand of rugby goes down well. This will be Paul O'Connell's last World Cup, he's their skipper and lock who has been a key contributor for yonks. Kiwi fans will be interested to see how Jarryd Payne goes, while I'm going to be intrigued to see what Ireland serve up in pool-play as this could give as a glimpse into whether they'll be serious contenders or not, especially as they'll have two tough games against France and Italy.
Italy - There was a small chance that Italy are able to offer up a few upset victories, but that chance got far smaller when skipper Sergio Parisse was ruled out for their opening game against France. I really have no idea what to expect from Italy who aren't filling me with any confidence, but there is a small glimmer of hope which is assisted by first-five Tomasso Allan who from all reports is a promising young player.
While there's not much confidence, I'm eager to see what Italy offer because they are and always have been on the cusp of rugby's second tier. An encouraging display in the World Cup could be the focal point for some sort of growth which would be great for world rugby but a lacklustre showing will only see them stay as a novelty.
Canada And Romania - If we're talking about the growth of world rugby, then I'd struggle to pick between Canada and Romania as a team I want to see do better than the other. There's a greater market for rugby in Canada than there is in the USA, so it would be awesome to see Canada continue to build on their Pacific Nations Cup appearances and start to build some momentum.
Romania? Well do you know much about rugby in Romania? Fuck no, but my image of your stereotypical Romanian guy is perfectly suited to rugby and I think I might just pick Romania as my team.
Stay Up To Watch...
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