Weeks ahead of the date that the World Cup rugby tournament kicks off, Wales and England clashed at Cardiff on Saturday for the first of what will probably be many unofficial trials. It revealed a new and rejuvenated Wales after they had finished a dismal fifth in the 2023 Six Nations four months ago. But it was an old error-strewn England that justified their coach Steve Borthwick beginning an intensive early programme of matches and training for his large squad. Even allowing for the fact that this was probably not going to be anywhere near the full England first XV that will start with their opening match, against Argentine.

This one will be a tough kick-off for them. Argentine recently only lost to the powerful South Africa by just one point in a gruelling encounter at Ellis Park, Johannesburg.     

Wales rather overwhelmed England in the second half on Saturday after being down 9-6 at half time, Gareth Davis and George North running in converted tries. England failed to cross the Welsh line, their score coming entirely from penalties.

The World Cup proper gets under way in dramatic and spectacular fashion when France, playing at home, take on New Zealand, who will fittingly start proceedings with their famous “haka.” France is host for all matches in a busy schedule when record crowds in some instances can be expected.

Some countries have been through a gruelling qualifying period, including Zimbabwe. Other than France and New Zealand the final line-up will be Australia, South Africa, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Argentine, Namibia, Georgia, Japan, Chile, Fiji, Uruguay, Samoa, Portugal, Tonga and Romania.

 Can Ireland justify their world number one ranking? The Irish and New Zealand, who have recently easily beaten Australia, South Africa and the hosts France are the most fancied. But we should be prepared for one of the “lesser lights” making the later stages.


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