Stars return for Rugby World Cup places

A double header of Rugby World Cup warm-up matches sees the return of top players tomorrow when Ireland take on Wales and Scotland go up against Italy.

All four Nations are welcoming back some big-name-big-game players who will be desperate to impress with World Cup places still up for grabs.

Scotland will be looking to record only their second win of 2015 while Italy will want revenge for their defeat against the Scots last weekend. Wales travel to Dublin looking to avenge their defeat to Ireland three weeks ago.

BACK LINE OPTIONS

Wales have named a near full strength squad while the Irish will welcome back Jonny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw and Peter O’Mahony who are all expected to play their first games of the summer.

Luke Fitzgerald, the Leinster winger is set to play at outside centre with coach Joe Schmidt assessing his back-line options. Keith Earls is back on the wing having made an impressive return to international rugby against Wales although Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe will be missing due to the friendly match between Ulster and Edinburgh.

Cian Healy’s chances of making the final cut are improving but the loose-head prop is being rested against the Welsh and may get a chance to prove his fitness next weekend in Ireland’s last warm-up match against England at Twickenham on September 5.

NORTH’S 50th TEST

Wale’s winger George North is set to win his 50th Test cap against Ireland in what will be his first game since suffering concussion in March.

The 23-year-old has a history of big knocks to the head – being concussed against New Zealand in 2014 and suffering two big bangs against England during this season’s Six Nations opener.

Wales coach Warren Gatland expressed his concerns to keep player safety paramount, adding that “if he [North] does pick up one or two more serious knocks it could be the end of his career.”

After Ireland, Wales will take on Italy in Cardiff on September 5 – their final World Cup warm-up before kicking off their campaign for World Cup glory against Uruguay at the Millennium Stadium on September 20.

BIG NAMES BACK FOR SCOTS

Scotland coach Vern Cotter is waiting until after tomorrows’ clash against Italy before naming his 31 man squad.

Scotland beat Italy last week to record their first win of 2015, but only Sean Lamont will start tomorrow out of the 15 who kicked off in Turin.

Cotter has named a strong line-up for their final warm-up, welcoming back the likes of Mark Bennett, Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Jonny Gray, and captain Greig Laidlaw for their first game of the summer.

“It’s a good indication of our growing quality and depth that we’re able to pitch another quite different, yet talented, side into battle this Saturday,” said Cotter.

Italy will be looking for better handling and fewer errors at Murrayfield to atone for their recent defeat and players will be out to impress the coach who is yet to name his 31 man World Cup squad. Italy face France in their final warm-up game.

by Joe Cahal

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