Liam Williams This is another fancy component!!
With the World Cup set to begin on Friday, nobody can predict with any confidence which side will lift the Webb Ellis trophy on November 2.
A number of teams will fancy their chances as champions New Zealand have shown vulnerabilities recently and this is the most open tournament in recent memory.
Here, England’s 2003 World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodwood runs the rule on every side in Japan, the key players and their chances of success.
The Webb Ellis Cup is up for grabs and the 2019 tournament kicks off on Friday
Liam Williams POOL A
World Cup best:Quarter-Finals — 1987, 91, 95, 2003, 11, 15
Joe is clever, experienced and driven, he rarely misses a trick. There have been some superb Ireland wins under Joe as they have climbed the world rankings, but this last 12 months has been far from smooth with key players either injured or tired while others have been short of their best form.
The Ulster hooker and captain has steered his team to victory over all the Southern Hemisphere giants as well as a Six Nations Grand Slam so the pedigree is there, but he has a huge job on his hands before he steps down. Firstly he must fix Ireland’s line-out which has a habit of misfiring under pressure and then he must get this side firing on all four cylinders again.
Key man:Johnny Sexton
Up front the key man is young lock James Ryan but if Ireland are to progress deep into this tournament Sexton must rediscover his very best form. With him buzzing, the Ireland backs come alive.
The memory of two big maulings against England this year won’t go away. The 32-20 Six Nations defeat at the Aviva really dented their confidence after a barnstorming 2018 when they won the Grand Slam and a series in Australia.
Last month’s 57-15 battering at Twickenham was a shocker even if it was only a warm-up. They have recovered well with a double over Wales, but I was surprised at the omission of line-out ace Devin Toner with Jean Kleyn coming in.
That could niggle away in the dressing room. Ireland do have quality players, and this is not the most brutal of pools so a quarter-final place awaits — but can they arrive in the knockout stages in the form to challenge either New Zealand or South Africa?
Johnny Sexton will be the man to pull the strings for Ireland and his fitness is integral
World Cup best:semi-Finals — 1991
Gregor was an exciting, imaginative player and since taking over he has tried to mould a Scotland team in his image.
The results have been mixed, There have been some encouraging performances and certain passages within games have been breathtaking but, as yet, they have achieved little of substance. Now Townsend must take his team to the next level.
Former flanker who switched to hooker but still contributes around the park with his speed and mobility. As a hooker though his priority must always be ensuring his side are rock solid at the line-out and scrum.
Key man:Finn Russell
The audacious fly-half is essentially Townsend reincarnate. His style is pretty much how Townsend played although the latter suffered from often being moved to centre, wing or full-back.
The key for Russell is not to chase the Hail Mary miracle play. The orthodox and routine is often what is called for. Russell needs to choose his moment. His spell in France has helped in this respect.
Can top what is by no means the hardest pool, but a brutal quarter-final against either New Zealand or South Africa could be as far as they go.
DID YOU KNOW?
Gavin Hastings scored 227 points in his World Cup career including 44 in one game against Ivory Coast in 1995.
If Stuart McInally can get his work at scrum and line-out right he will be a major player
World Cup best:Pool stage — 1987, 91, 95, 99, 2003, 07, 11, 15
Experienced former All Black flanker has coached the Highlanders and New Zealand Maori in his homeland.
Key man:Fumiaki Tanaka
The heart and soul of the team, a real warrior at scrum-half.
High quality openside flanker, outstanding four years ago.
Should beat Samoa and Russia and have a fighting chance of taking either Scotland or Ireland. Caused an almighty upset against South Africa in Brighton in 2015 and another shock on home soil can’t be ruled out.
Jamie Joseph and his Japanese side will be full of confidence on home soil
World Cup best:Pool stage — 2011
Was a terrific flanker with Neath and has been around the block as a coach with various teams. Used to making the best of limited resources.
Fleet-footed full-back, educated in Ireland and played Premiership rugby for Northampton.
Key man:Andrei Ostrikov
Flanker always looked a good operator at the line-out with Sale — and Russia badly need a good supply of line possession.
Will get hammered in all four games. They simply don’t have the class or experience but must keep their heads up and play to best of their ability.
Flanker Andrei Ostrikov is a stand-out player for Russia but they have little chance in Japan
World Cup best:Quarter-finals — 1991, 95
Athletic lock who has been doing great things with Bristol.
Key man:Tusi Pisi
Experienced fly-half who must get his backs on the move.
Not the team they were. The dynamite has gone out of their play. There has been player unrest in recent years over financial issues and the extra scrutiny on big, physical hits has detracted a little from their natural game.
Will beat Russia and must surely target Japan as their other winnable match. I hope they can produce one big half against Scotland or Ireland.
Tusi Pisi will have a huge say in Samoa’s fortunes from fly-half and must get the backs firing
Liam Williams POOL B
World Cup best:Winners — 1987, 2011, 15
Been there, done it, got the t-shirt. Took Wales to the 2003 tournament, assisted Graham Henry’s All Blacks in 2007 and 2011 and masterminded New Zealand’s brilliant campaign in 2015.
A re-assuring presence, somehow manages to shield his team from the hype of the New Zealand media and keep their feet on the ground. This will be tricky, though, as they have shown signs of vulnerability recently.
A fabulous player but the two-time World Cup winner has been struggling these last couple of seasons with a back injury.
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