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All Blacks, 2015 Rugby World Cup

A look at the four pools ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The start to the 2015 Rugby World Cup is just a matter of days away with Twickenham set to host the opener between England and Fiji on September 18th.

Fans across the globe are whetting their appetite for the big kick off as the teams put the finishing touches to their preparations. Questions remain ahead of the tournament: can New Zealand become the first team to defend their crown? Can England evoke memories of 2003 and win gold? And can Ireland ride the wave of their Six Nations win into the competition?

Let's take a look at how the groups are shaping up ahead of the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

 

Pool A: Australia, England, Wales, Fiji, Uruguay

Based: London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Manchester

As hosts, England could not have been landed with a more difficult pool. This is the dreaded 'pool of death' with Stuart Lancaster's side up against 2011 world champions Australia, former semi-finalists Wales and tricky games against Fiji and Uruguay.

With only two teams advancing, there will be a lot riding on each match. For the hosts, they start with an opening day game against Fiji at Twickenham before facing Wales at home, a fixture they will be glad to be playing away from the furore of the Millennium Stadium. Twickenham will also be venue for the crucial Wales v Australia match, which could potentially play into England's hands.

The Red Dragons haven't beaten the Wallabies since 2008 and will be hoping to do the business against England to open the group up. A Welsh victory at Twickenham could hand Fiji a huge opportunity. The improving Pacific Islanders will be tough customers and in new head coach John McKee, they have someone that has made them a much more difficult opposition to face.

Wales will know all about Fiji's threat as they were knocked out by them in the 2007 World Cup in France. The Flying Fijians could have a major say in how the pool pans out and will not be a walkover for any of the sides.

Prediction: Home advantage could be key and we fancy England to top the group. Uruguay aren't expected to have any sort of impact on the pool.

 

Pool B: South Africa, Samoa, Scotland, Japan, USA

Based: Brighton, Gloucester, Birmingham, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Newcastle

South Africa are red-hot favourites to top Pool B and should cruise through leaving the intrigue for who will finish second - Scotland, Samoa, USA or Japan? The runners-up will have to face the winners of Pool A, the group of death, so if any have aspirations of lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy, they will have to do it the hard way.

Scotland will be desperate to bounce back after this year's Six Nations. Vern Cotter's side will be pleased playing their big games against both Samoa and South Africa in the most northern city of Newcastle, which could create a home match atmosphere. However, they can not afford any form of slip-up against both USA and Japan.

Samoa were once a feared entity in the early days of the World Cup and regularly reached the quarter-finals during the 1990s, pulling off famous victories against the likes of Wales and Italy. Despite faltering of late, this year provides a great opportunity with England-based stars such as Longovi'l Mulipola, Jack Lam and Sinoti Sinoti among their ranks.

Both Japan and USA are the outsiders of the group but are both investing heavily in rugby. The former will host the 2019 World Cup and the pair will be desperate to make an impact at this year's tournament.

Prediction: South Africa are bound to romp home in first place and we're backing Scotland for a second-placed finish, although Samoa could be shock second place winners! 

 

Pool C: New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Georgia, Namibia

Based: London, Gloucester, Exeter, Cardiff, Leicester, Newcastle

The world champions New Zealand arrive in England aiming to retain the Webb Ellis Trophy, which would make them the first ever side to achieve this feat. They are not expected to have any problems in Pool C with only Argentina predicted to put up much of a resistance. The All Blacks have lost just three times since the 2011 Rugby World Cup and with Akira Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea in their ranks, it would be hard to bet against winning the title again.

Argentina could be dark horses of this tournament and come to England with wind in their sails. The Pumas recently pulled off a historic victory against Australia in Mendoza and were hugely impressive when they finished third at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. However, they have problems at the front with Juan Figallo and Matias Diaz ruled out while Ramiro Herrera is also a doubt.

Should they progress, they could meet France in the quarter-finals, whom they have a good record against and it would not be that much of a shock if Los Pumas were lining up in the final at Twickenham. Their match against the All Blacks at Wembley Stadium is sure to be an intriguing tie.

Tonga, Georgia and Namibia will all prove stern challenges for New Zealand and Argentina but both are expected to emerge as the top two. Namibia are searching for their first World Cup win.

Prediction: We can't see beyond New Zealand to top the group with Argentina finishing second. Georgia, Tonga and Namibia will battle it out for third spot.

 

Pool D: France, Ireland, Italy, Canada, Romania

Based: Cardiff, London, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Leicester, Exeter

There is a distinct Six Nations feel to Pool D with France, Ireland and Italy all competing while Canada and Romania make up the remaining spots.

Ireland come into this tournament on a high from winning a pulsating Six Nations earlier in the year. Early games against Canada and Romania should give Joe Schmidt's side momentum going into the crunch game against Italy at the Olympic Stadium in London. The emergence of Robbie Henshaw following the retirement of legend Brian O'Driscoll has been encouraging while Jonathan Sexton will prove pivotal to Irish success.

France narrowly lost the 2011 Rugby World Cup to New Zealand and will be desperate to go one further this time around. However, there have been many ups and downs since then and a lot of inconsistency in their line-up. While captain Thierry Dusautoir is a guaranteed starter for Les Bleus, eyes will be on whether Camille Lopez or Jules Plisson can step up to be the recognised and first choice number 10.

Italy have been growing in confidence in the build-up to this tournament with recent wins over both Scotland and Samoa. In Sergio Parisse, they have a fearless leader and the addition of Josh Furno, Samuela Vunisa and Leonardo Sarto will give the Azzurri hope they can challenge France and Ireland.

Both Canada and Romania remain rank outsiders but could spring a surprise should the other three drop their game.

Prediction: We fancy Ireland to edge France to top spot, with the two clashing at the Millennium Stadium in the final round of matches. Italy should take third place.

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