World Cup warm-up primer: What to look out for this weekend

Paul Eddison
07 August 2019

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As we count down the days to the start of the Rugby World Cup, the intensity increases and this week we get our first look at the teams in action.

Ireland take on Italy in Dublin on Saturday before Wales travel to Twickenham to face England on Sunday.

Meanwhile in the Rugby Championship, South Africa will look to clinch the crown away in Argentina, with Scotland entering the fray in ten days’ time against France in Nice.

That should allow us to form a better idea of where each team stands ahead of the big one in Japan, while also giving us an indication of how the training camp battles are progressing with a view to making the final 31-man squads.

LIFE UNDER FARRELL BEGINS FOR IRELAND

Joe Schmidt has returned to New Zealand for a family bereavement, so it will be Andy Farrell running the show in his absence.

The Englishman, who will take over from Schmidt after the World Cup, will look after the side until Schmidt’s return at the end of the week.

The squad has been trimmed to 43, with Rory Scannell and Ultan Dillane returning to Munster and Connacht respectively, the first cuts of the World Cup process.

That clears up the battle for centre and lock spots a little, but there are still seven back-rowers in contention, in addition to Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson.

While Munster duo Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander, and Leinster’s Jack Conan, seem nailed on for a place in the 31, the battle for potentially two spots between Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock, Tommy O’Donnell and Josh van der Flier will certainly be worth watching.

The clash against Italy will also see at least two of the four fly-half options involved. If Johnny Sexton is first-choice, the battle to back him up between Jack Carty, Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne is an intriguing one. The game at the Aviva should give someone the chance to stake a claim.

Finally a pair of Munster players, lock Jean Kleyn and full-back Mike Haley, will be hoping to make their international bows against the Azzurri.

Kleyn took a step closer to the final squad with Dillane’s departure, although there are still five locks for likely four spots.

Haley, meanwhile, is one of 12 outside backs, so will have to impress if given the chance against the Italians.

AZZURRI DEAL WITH INJURY ABSENTEES

It has been a tough week for Conor O’Shea, who has seen two Zebre players ruled out of the World Cup through injury.

After centre Tommaso Castello lost his fitness battle following a broken leg, he was joined on the sidelines by scrum-half Marcello Violi.

It is tough on Violi, who was first choice prior to a back injury which has kept him out of action since October barring one match off the bench against Munster in March.

Meanwhile prop duo Cherif Traoré and Giosuè Zilocchi will both miss the Ireland clash, leaving six players to fight for four spots in the matchday 23.

One of those is breakout Benetton youngster Marco Riccioni, who could make his debut against Ireland.

He is one of three potential debutants, along with hooker Engjel Makelara and scrum-half Callum Braley.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Italy team could be the return of Matteo Minozzi, who has not featured since suffering a serious knee injury for Zebre on the opening day of the season.

The full-back, who is off to Wasps next season, will be desperate to prove his fitness against Ireland, against whom he scored a try in the 2018 Six Nations on the same ground.

WALES COME BACK DOWN TO EARTH

Wales had a gruelling training camp in the Swiss Alps where the players were pushed to their absolute limits by head of physical performance Paul Stridgeon, not to mention his assistant, former Ospreys and Wales hooker Huw Bennett.

Following that, they are preparing for a double header against England, first at Twickenham on Sunday, followed by a six-day turnaround before hosting Eddie Jones’ side in Cardiff in a practice run for the short World Cup breaks between games.

The Welsh have been dealt a blow with Taulupe Faletau ruled out of the tournament, which will likely mean more game time at No.8 for Dragons’ Ross Moriarty.

With Faletau out, and Ellis Jenkins struggling to be fit, that could make selection in the back row a little easier, with Aaron Wainwright, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Moriarty having been the first-choice quartet for matchday squads in the Six Nations (Thomas Young played one game).

Two players will be targeting a Test debut, Cardiff Blues winger Owen Lane and prop Rhys Carre.

And Warren Gatland has revealed that the squad will head to Turkey for another training camp after the England games ahead of a home clash with Ireland that will be the last opportunity for players to impress before the final squad is announced.

With all that in mind, it is a huge weekend of international rugby on the horizon with major talking points for every country.

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