RWC 2019: Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray key to Ireland's hopes ahead of day three

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Ireland face Scotland in their Rugby World Cup Pool A opener, in a game that is likely to leave the losers playing for second place in the group and a potential quarter-final battle against the All Blacks.

Elsewhere, England kick off their World Cup campaign against Tonga in Sapporo, while any early risers on Sunday will be able to take in Italy’s opening Pool B match against Namibia in Higashiosaka.

Here’s a look ahead to the action taking place on day three.


It won’t be a thriller by any stretch of the imagination but Sunday’s match will centre around Italy captain and star man Sergio Parisse who is set to make his 141st appearance for the Azzurri – just seven appearances behind rugby’s most-capped player Richie McCaw.

The 36-year-old backrower will become only the third man to play in five World Cups when he takes to the field against Namibia, following in the footsteps of compatriot Mauro Bergamasco and Samoa’s Brian Lima.

It remains to be seen how many more times the Toulon man will line out for Italy but this is certainly set to be his World Cup swansong. He made his debut against New Zealand all the way back in 2002 as an 18-year-old.

Italy have never made the quarter-finals of rugby’s global showpiece, winning two of their four pool matches at the last four competitions.

In this edition of the tournament, it is likely to be the same, with facile fixtures against Namibia and Canada, before meeting heavyweights New Zealand and South Africa.

Namibia will know there is a vulnerability about Italy, who have lost 10 of their last 11 matches, but they will have to do so without Ospreys winger Lesley Klim and captain Johan Deysel due to late injuries.


Joe Schmidt’s side come into the tournament as the top ranked side in the world and looking to peak at the right time.

The Men in Green are the only team in World Cup history to reach the quarter-finals more than three times and never make it to the semi-finals.

It is hoped, in this edition of the competition, that they can finally break that glass ceiling and advance to the last four.

Firstly, they must see off the stiff challenge of the Scots, who will be targeting ace playmakers Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton at every opportunity.

Less than a year ago, the duo were hailed as the world’s best, but have struggled for form since then to injury.

They will need to produce mammoth displays in Yokohoma to those who say their powers are warning. Sexton is 34 and Murray has just turned 30.

Age shouldn’t be used as an argument, especially given their sheer class, but a dominant performance on the big stage will have fans believing again of their vast talents.


England will want to make a statement in their opener against Tonga and to that end have named their strong team available that shows two changes from the side that hammered Ireland 57-15 at Twickenham on August 24.

One of the most interesting talking points from Jones’ starting XV is his decision to stick with the twin playmaker option of George Ford at fly-half and Owen Farrell at 12.

Shelved since June 2018’s series defeat to South Africa, Jones has revived the concept after last month’s rout of Ireland and could potentially stick with it for the remainder of the competition.

If he opts for a change, the Australian head coach has the influential Henry Slade to come in, one of the players of the Six Nations, and a man who’s cleverly weighed kicks coupled Manu Tuilagi’s brute force can provide the Red Rose with a strong blend in the midfield.

Either way, England players know they are carrying the weight of a highly-expectant nation, determined to atone for their dismal pool stage exit in 2015.

With a sparking team at Jones’ disposal, England should make a semi-final against the All Blacks, and from there, it is anybody’s chance to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Tonga, ranked 15th in the world, are expected to be swept aside by 40 points or more on Sunday, but as Japan showed four years ago against South Africa, anything is possible in a World Cup tournament.

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