Simon Mail previews a big day of action in the Rugby World Cup with England starting their campaign against Tonga and Ireland facing old rivals Scotland...
"Eddie Jones has always maintained the target was peaking for this tournament and he will be encouraged by England's form in the build-up which included a record win over Ireland."
England v Tonga
Live on ITV
Gentle opener should lead to big England win
England are vying with South Africa for second favouritism in the outright market and Eddie Jones' side should make a smooth start to the World Cup with a straight forward opener. Former Japan coach Jones has always maintained the target was peaking for this tournament and he will be encouraged by their form in the build-up which included a record win over Ireland.
There is no doubt England are blessed with huge physical power, both in the forwards and their backline. The dynamism of Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje will add speed and muscle to their pack while centre Manu Tuilagi is an example of the athletic strength throughout England's team. Tougher tests will lie ahead, with France and Argentina also in the pool, but England have the potential to remain in the competition until the final at the start of November.
Tonga have never progressed beyond the pool stage and it is virtually impossible to make a case for them achieving this feat in Japan. Their final warm-up game resulted in a 92-7 drubbing against New Zealand and there is a danger they could be on the end of another hammering against England. Tonga will not be afraid to have a go but the gulf in class against England should be apparent in Sapporo.
England have faced Tonga twice, each time in the World Cup, winning both of the matches. The first in 1999 was a 101-10 thrashing although the second game in 2007 was much tighter as England prevailed 36-20. England were sluggish in their final warm-up against Italy before opening up after half-time and it could be similar this weekend. Jones' side should win comfortably enough but can profit from Tonga's fatigue in the second half and it is worth backing the most tries to come after the break.
Ireland v Scotland
Live on ITV
Ireland bidding to break quarter-final barrier
Ireland, who start their campaign against familiar opponrnts Scotland, were being talked up as the likely challengers to New Zealand after beating the All Blacks less than a year ago. Fast forward to present day and Joe Schmidt's side top the world rankings but you will find it difficult to find many people confident about their chances of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup. A lacklustre Six Nations title defence was worrying and not even back-to-back warm-up wins over Wales offered overwhelming encouragement about their credentials.
Remarkably, Ireland have never got beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup and their chances of breaking new ground are not helped by being lined up to face either New Zealand or South Africa in the last-eight. Ireland's lineout has been creaking lately and Schmidt needs to iron out their defensive problems if they are to succeed in Japan.
Scotland hoping to cure travel sickness
Scotland suffered a heartbreaking quarter-final defeat to Australia four years ago and Gregor Townsend will believe he has the attacking capabilities to guide the team on another run to the knockout stages. Fly-half Finn Russell is a world class creator while full-back Stuart Hogg has the ability to trouble any opposition. Whether Scotland have the defensive solidity and strength to succeed, particularly with a poor away record, remains to be seen.
These teams are no strangers to each other as they resume their rivalry and Ireland have certainly had the edge recently. Six of the last seven meetings have been won by Ireland including the last two matches. Three of the last four victories have been by no more than ten points though and with rain forecast in Yokohama, it could be another tight battle. Ireland should make a winning start against Scotland although the margin could be narrow.
Italy v Namibia
Live on ITV
Italy targeting rare victory
Italy have been starved of success in the Six Nations with Conor O'Shea's side having gone four years since their last win in the competition. Progress has been thin on the ground in terms of results and Italy will be hoping to finish best of the rest, after heavyweights South Africa and New Zealand, in their pool.
Namibia are the lowest rank team in the World Cup and Phil Davies has a job on his hands to steer them to a victory in Japan. This will be their sixth successive appearance and they are still waiting for their first win. Namibia's only matches this year resulted in a two-point win against Uruguay and a 20-0 defeat against Russia.
Italy are overwhelming favourites to win this game but whether they can be trusted to cover a 30-point handicap is questionable. Namibia have not lost by this margin since facing Argentina in the last World Cup. Italy have lost two of the three games against Namibia although they won the most recent game back in 2001. With only one win in their last 11 matches, Italy have plenty to prove and the outsiders appeal with a chunky handicap advantage.
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