BY Joe Cahal
The countdown’s begun for rugby fans with less than 100 days to go before the world cup kicks off when joint hosts England take on Fiji in the tournament’s opening game at Twickenham on September 18.
The full match schedule has been released and more than 2.3 million tickets have already been sold for the 48 matches to be played in England and Wales, climaxing with the final on October 31.
“The clock is ticking fast, there is a lot still to do and a lot to deliver, but we’re confident we are going to be in good shape for the 18th September,” said England Rugby 2015 managing director Stephen Brown.
Joint hosts Wales start their campaign for World Cup glory on September 20 with a clash against Uruguay at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium
Group of Death
The joint-hosts are both in Pool A and whether they can make it out of their group and progress to the quarter finals is far from certain given England and Wales will also be vying with Australia.
With only two nations going through to the knockout stages and the presence of three heavyweights who each have realistic ambitions to lift the trophy, Pool A – already dubbed “the group of death” – is by far the hardest to predict.
England are slight favorites to finish above Wales given they will enjoy home advantage as Twickenham hosts the highly anticipated match between the tournament hosts on September 26.
Australia take on England the following week at Twickenham, and the stadium also stages the clash between the Wallabies and the Welsh on October 10.
Straight Forward for All Blacks
Perennial favorites New Zealand are in Pool C and appear to have a straight forward route to the quarter finals given their only serious competition in the group stages comes from Argentina, with Tonga, Georgia and Namibia their other opposition. The All Blacks first outing will be at Wembley against the Pumas on September 20 in a match that will decide who finishes top of the group. Pool B seems equally predictable with South Africa and Scotland the massive favorites to take the top two positions above Samoa, Japan and the USA.
The fourth and final group is far less clear cut with Ireland, Italy and France competing for the all-important top-two spots. Canada and Romania make up Pool D and the first key game of the group will be France against Italy on September 19. Ireland’s first big test will be against the Italians at the Olympic Stadium on October 4, with Ireland taking on France in a possible decider in Pool D’s last game on October 11 in Cardiff. The quarter finals will be played in Cardiff and Twickenham on the October 17 and 18, with the semi finals to be played in London over the following weekend.
The Olympic Stadium hosts the Bronze Medal Match on October 30 with Halloween the date for the final at Twickenham to decide who will lift the Webb Ellis Trophy and be crowned Rugby World Cup Champions.