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Rugby World Cup Preview and Predictions for Group A: Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Samoa, Russia

It gets closer every day


Head Manager: Joe Schmidt Captain: Rory Best (120 matches)

Former Rugby World Cup Best: Quarter-Finals (1987, 1991, 1995, 2003, 2011, 2015)

Key competitor: James Ryan. The 23-year-old second row has become the most significant and coherent player on the Irish team. His job in both the open and the back is critical to both Ireland’s offensive stage game and offensive setups. With Devin Toner excluded from the team, Ryan will also have to move up on the line-up.

Current Shape: Curiously enough, despite having endured a much tougher 2019 than 2018, for the first moment in memory, Ireland has entered the World Cup as the No. 1 team in the globe. Last year saw all of them hit before that.

They captured the Grand Slam of the Six Nations, finished the tournament in Australia and defeated the All Blacks in Dublin. This year, Wales and England (twice) endured severe losses, with their overall shape and trust shaken. Their ultimate pre-World Cup victory over Wales in Dublin was remarkable though and will offer them a boost on their way to Japan.

31-Man World Cup Squad: Forwards (17): Rory Best (c), Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne, Iain Henderson, Jean Kleyn Peter O’Mahony Andrew Porter, Rhys Sócratesock, James Ryan, John Ryan, Niall Scannell, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier.

Backs: Bundee Aki, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmor, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose, Jonathan Sexton, Jacob Stockdale.

Fixtures: Ireland vs Scotland, Sunday, 22 September

Japan vs Ireland, Saturday, 28 September

Ireland vs Russia, Thursday, 3 October

Ireland vs Samoa, Saturday, 12 October


Head Coach: Gregor Townsend Captain: Stuart McInally (29 Tests)

Previous Rugby World Cup Best: Semi-final (1991)

Key competitor: Finn Russell. When Russell is in shape, Scotland is a very hazardous part to protect against and hard to control. His speed, his capacity to pass off either side and his propensity to pass through the row, render him a highly offensive menace. The kind of maverick player that he is, however, implies that Scotland is too constantly out of the match if he is not playing at the top of his game.

Current Shape: A lot like Ireland, Scotland is going to glance away more fondly in 2018 than in 2019. In the past, they defeated England, France, Argentina (house and back) and Fiji, while also offering the Springboks a nice ride. In 2019, they went to Ireland, France, and Wales, while also winning the 38-38 Twickenham win with England. In the warm-ups, situations could not have begun worse with a demoralizing 32-3 failure in France, but they returned to defeat France at home and Georgia at home and abroad. All in all, their shape is a mixed bag.

31-Man World Cup Team: Forwards (17): John Barclay, Simon Berghan, Fraser Brown, Scott Cummings, Allan Dell, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Stuart McInally (c), WP Nel, Gordon Reid, Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson, Ben Toolis, George Turner, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson.

Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg, George Horne, Peter Horne, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn, Greig Laidlaw, Sean Maitland, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour, Duncan Taylor.

Ireland vs Scotland, Sunday, September 22  Scotland vs Samoa, Monday, September 30

Scotland vs Russia, Wednesday, October 9

Japan vs Scotland, Sunday, October 13


Head coach: Jamie Joseph

Captain: Michael Leitch (62 caps)

Previous Rugby World Cup best: Pool stage (1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015)

Key competitor: Michael Leitch, please. Not only their skipper, but Leitch is also Japan’s greatest athlete, with a superb match of offloading, conversion abilities and overall work ethic. He’s the main ruler for this team, and he was central to the choice four years earlier to reject the opportunity of a win for a match to beat the Boks-the biggest embarrassment the sport has ever seen.

Current shape: In fact, Japan’s shape over the last few years against Tier 1 resistance does not create a good deal of learning. With only one win over Italy in Oita in 2018, New Zealand, England, and South Africa were well beaten-though there is no shame in defeating perhaps the three World Cup favorites-while also losing to Italy in another test. They beat Fiji, Tonga, Georgia, Russia, and Italy. Are they going to surprise Ireland and Scotland?

1-Man World Cup squad:

Forwards (18): Michael Leitch (c), Keita Inagaki, Yusuke Kizu, Jiwon Koo, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Valu, Takuya Kitade, Atsushi Sakate, Shota Horie, Luke Thompson, Wimpie van der Walt, Uwe Helu, James Moore, Hendrik Tui, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno, Amanaki Mafi.

Backs (13): Kaito Shigeno, Fumiaki Tanaka, Yutaka Nagare, Yu Tamura, Rikiya Matsuda, Kenki Fukuoka, Ataata Moeakiola, Lomano Lemeki, William Tupou, Ryoto Nakamura, Timothy Lafaele, Kotaro Matsushima, Ryohei Yamanaka.

  • Japan vs Russia, Friday, September 20 (11.45am)
  • Japan vs Ireland, Saturday, September 28 (8.15am)
  • Japan vs Samoa, Saturday, October 5 (11.30am)
  • Japan vs Scotland, Sunday, October 13 (11.45am)


Head coach: Steve Jackson

Captain: Chris Vui (14 caps)

Previous Rugby World Cup best: Quarter-finals (1991, 1995)

Key player: Chris Vui. You just have to listen to Pat Lam and Eddie Jones talk about Vui to know the talent that the lock possesses. Indeed, the phrase ‘ world-class ‘ has even been used. Power and dexterous hands, he’s great player.

Current shape: not excellent at all. Over the last two years, Germany, Spain, and Tonga have been the only countries they have defeated. They have gone to Fiji (twice), Tonga, Georgia, the United States (twice) and Australia. But with most of their European-based teams home in now, this World Cup could come true.

31-man World Cup squad:

Forwards (17): Afaesetiti Amosa, TJ Ioane, Jack Lam, Piula Fa’asalele, Josh Tyrell, Chris Vui (c), Teofilo Paulo, Kane Leaupepe, Senio Toleafoa, Michael Alaalatoa, Paul Alo-Emile, James Lay, Jordan Lay, Logovi’i Mulipola, Motu Matu’u, Ray Niuia, Seilala Lam.

Backs (14): Ed Fidow, Tim Nanai-Williams, Ahsee Tuala, Belgium Tuatagaloa, Henry Taefu, Alapati Leiua, Reynold Lee-Lo, Kieron Fonotia, AJ Atatimu, Tusi Pisi, Ulupano Seuteni, Dwayne Polotaivao, Melani Matavao, Scott Malolua.


  • Russia vs Samoa, Tuesday, September 24 (11.15am)
  • Scotland vs Samoa, Monday, September 30 (11.15am)
  • Japan vs Samoa, Saturday, October 5 (11.30am)
  • Ireland vs Samoa, Saturday, October 12 (11.45am)


Head coach: Lyn Jones

Captain: Vasily Artemyev (88 caps)

Previous Rugby World Cup best: Pool stage (2011)

Key competitor: Andrey Ostrikov. The lock is one of the only two Russian teams to do business outside the nation and has expertise performing for Agen in France and Sale Sharks in England, where he played between 2011 and 2019. He has applied for the top 14 Grenoble team for the coming summer.

Current shape: this month’s showpiece will only be Russia’s second involvement in the World Cup, having earlier competed in 2011 without a win, failing to advance in 2015. Their shape is quite abysmal, having delivered 85 marks to Italy in the build-up, and wasted to the likes of Jersey Reds and Connacht. They will close the game against Japan on Friday, September 20.

31-Man World Cup Squad:

Forwards (18): Azamat Bitiev, Andrey Garbuzov, Kirill Gotovtsev, Victor Gresev, Bogdan Fedotko, Vitaliy Zhivatov, Evgeny Matveev, Andrey Polivalov, Vladimir Podrezov, Evgeny Yelgin, Stanislav Selsky, Nikita Vavilin, Sergey Chernyshev, Tagir Gadzhiev, Roman Khodin, Andrei Ostrikov, Valery Morozov, Anton Sychev.

Backs (13): Vasily Artemyev (c), Igor Galinovsky, Kirill Golosnitsky, Vasily Dorofeev, Yuri Kushnarev, German Davydov, Dmitry Perov, Vladislav Sozonov, Dmitry Gerasimov, Ramil Gaysin, Denis Simplikevich, Vladimir Ostroushko, Sergey Yanyushkin.


  • Japan vs Russia, Friday, September 20 (11.45am)
  • Russia vs Samoa, Tuesday, September 24 (11.15am)
  • Ireland vs Russia, Thursday, October 3 (11.15am)
  • Scotland vs Russia, Wednesday, October 9 (8.15am)

Group A Predictions

1) Ireland

2) Japan

3) Scotland

4) Samoa

5) Russia

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