Saturday is the big day and plenty of Guinness PRO14 stars will be on show as Ireland host Italy before Wales travel to Twickenham to take on England on Sunday – Scotland facing France a week later.
With the World Cup drawing ever closer we’re taking a look over how each country has been preparing ahead of the warm-ups and the global showpiece in the Far East.
IRELAND EAGER FOR KICK-OFF
For Ireland it’s Aviva Stadium on Saturday and in matchweek the squad has returned to it’s usual Maynooth training base after five weeks of tough pre-season.
Joe Schmidt’s men started with two weeks at Carton House followed up by a week each at Connacht Rugby’s base in Galway and UL at Munster’s training facilities.
The setup has included two regeneration weeks while seven days at the IRFU’s new high performance centre in West Dublin completed the five weeks.
The squad now numbers 43, with lock Ultan Dillane and centre Rory Scannell returning to their provinces.
Speaking ahead of the Italy showdown Munster centre Chris Farrell commented: “We’re excited about the World Cup coming up in a month, but we’re most excited about getting back on the pitch in a competitive sense this weekend.
“You’re not looking beyond this weekend certainly. I’m not anyway, whether I’m involved this weekend or not.”
PADOVANI EXPECTING TOUGH TEST
Where Ireland stand at 43 Italy are down to 38 and not entirely of their own choosing, with Zebre’s Tommaso Castello and scrum-half Marcello Violi both now ruled out through injury.
— The Pavilion (@Thepavilionire) August 7, 2019
Two intense months of training have preceded, largely having been based at Pergine Valsugana since June 2 and working alongside Benetton Rugby and Zebre, as well as a short session with England last week in Treviso.
Captain Sergio Parisse is in the running for his fifth World Cup while there are high hopes for the return of the exciting Matteo Minozzi, one of six back-three options in the squad for the Ireland clash, likewise Edoardo Padovani.
“We are preparing the best we can for the first game of the season,” said Zebre’s Padovani.
“We know Ireland well and we know that it will not be an easy game: we will be immediately up against an important benchmark to understand where we are in our work.”
SCOTLAND MIX IT UP
Gregor Townsend’s Scotland have certainly launched themselves into a varied pre-season, starting with a fitness week in Portugal, a session with Judo Scotland and an inter-squad ‘race to the north’.
Fans have been able to get a look in with the squad playing cricket on Elie Beach and holding an open training session at BT Murrayfield, also training at the University of St Andrews and Scotstoun.
Former back row Kelly Brown has also been in to do sessions with the squad, currently numbering 44, but updates have been scarce with a few days yet until their matchweek starts.
The good news for Scotland is that unlike during the Guinness Six Nations injuries seem to be at a minimum, with Townsend’s toughest decisions looking to be in the back row, with the likes of John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie and Magnus Bradbury amongst ten contenders in this area.
WALES LOOKING FOR THE EDGE
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.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) July 26, 2019
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.