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Argentina, 2015 Rugby World Cup

A look at the teams that are set to make an impact on the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup is only a matter of days away now and final preparations are being put in place before the big kick off on September 18th.

The past weekend has seen competing teams get in their final practice matches before the start of the tournament with some laying down a marker for the rest of the campaign. England ran out 21-13 winners over Ireland at Twickenham while Wales triumphed 23-19 against Italy. Will this be a sign of things to come during the next month or so? We'll have to wait and find out.

In the meantime, let's take a look at the teams worth watching this year.

 

New Zealand - Pool C vs Argentina, Tonga, Georgia and Namibia

There's no better place to start this preview than with the reigning champions. New Zealand have been unstoppable in recent years. Since their 2011 Rugby World Cup final victory over France, the All Blacks have lost just three competitive games and there is not much to suggest they won't retain the Webb Ellis Trophy this year.

Under the guidance of head coach Steve Hansen, New Zealand have become the dominant force in international rugby. With the coaching of Hansen and the leadership qualities of captain Richie McCaw, the All Blacks look unstoppable.

Success in England will depend on the form of McCaw, considered the greatest openside flanker to the game, wing Julian Savea and 2014 World Rugby Player of the year Brodie Retallick. If these three are firing on all cylinders, then it could be difficult for anyone to pose a threat to New Zealand retaining their crown, becoming the first team to ever do so in the process.

They are expected to cruise through their pool but could face sterner tests along the way with potential knock-out ties against South Africa and England.

 

England - Pool A vs Australia, Wales, Fiji and Uruguay

A lot of focus will be on home nation England as they look to win the Rugby World Cup for the first time since 2003. Back then, the likes of Martin Johnson, Mike Tindall and Jonny Wilkinson drove England to victory, and England almost repeated the feat in 2007. This year's crop of players is very much the new breed of English rugby - but that hasn't detracted from the expectation.

They were hugely disappointing in New Zealand in 2011 and will want to put on a show in front of a boisterous home crowd. In head coach Stuart Lancaster, they have someone that has quietly gone about the job while also defeating every major side in world rugby, bar South Africa, during his tenure.

Lancaster began his role in 2012 by creating a young squad which has developed well over the years. The kicking of George Ford will prove vital, as will the running of centre Jonathan Joseph who impressed during the recent Six Nations. At the back the pair of Ben Morgan and Billy Vunipola will be an imposing sight for any opposition while Joe Launchbury is a key weapon at set pieces.

England have been drawn in a tough group alongside former world champions Australia and multiple Six Nations winners Wales, but they know that anything less than a semi-final appearance will be considered a failure.

 

Ireland - Pool D vs France, Italy, Canada and Romania

Fresh from winning back-to-back Six Nations, Ireland arrive in England as potential dark horses in this year's competition. Enjoying a much better performance in 2011 - reaching the quarter-finals - Joe Schmidt's side will be quietly confident as they kick off their campaign against Canada in Cardiff on September 19th.

Head coach Schmidt has helped to rejuvenate the Irish, making them the dominant force in the Six Nations and also guiding them through a difficult period as the legendary Brian O'Driscoll announced his retirement. What he has been able to do is create a strong team led by the giant captain that is Paul O'Connell.

With over 100 caps for his country, O'Connell has been the natural successor to O'Driscoll and is the force within this side. Flanked by the likes of Cian Healy, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, Ireland have the support at the back while the points will no doubt come from the boot of Jonathan Sexton.

Ireland will feel right at home in Pool D, which has a Six Nations feel to it with France and Italy also involved. A semi-final or even final appearance is not out of the realms of possibility for Ireland.

 

Argentina - Pool A vs New Zealand, Tonga, Georgia and Namibia

A controversial choice perhaps with the likes of South Africa, Wales and Australia arguably bigger draws than Argentina but Los Pumas could be the surprise package of this year's tournament.

They come into the Rugby World Cup riding the crest of a wave from 2011 when they reached the quarter-finals, shocking Scotland along the way. Back then, they were very much a team in development but now this promise is coming to fruition. A recent 37-25 victory over South Africa in Durban showed they are capable of mixing it with the big boys.

Under head coach Daniel Hourcade, who took over from Santiago Phelan in 2013, Argentina have been punching it with the best in rugby and beat Australia in the 2014 Rugby Championship. In captain Agustin Creevy, they have a real leader on the field who could be able to inspire this side to victory.

With a hugely powerful scrum in their arsenal, Los Pumas will be banking on Leicester Tigers prop Marcos Ayerza forming a strong partnership with Creevy alongside rising star Ramiro Herrera. In the number ten role is Nicolas Sanchez, regarded as the best fly-half during the 2014 Rugby Championship, and a source of Argentina's points.

Los Pumas are expected to get through Pool A to potentially play the Springboks in the quarters, if they get past the last eight, who knows where their adventure will end.

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