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Five talking points ahead of the Rugby World Cup

Published 17/09/2015

Can England captain Chris Robshaw emulate Martin Johnson and lift the World Cup?
Can England captain Chris Robshaw emulate Martin Johnson and lift the World Cup?

The eighth Rugby World Cup kicks off on Friday night when host nation England tackle Fiji at Twickenham.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at five key talking points ahead of the tournament.

WORLD CUP 2015 IS GUARANTEED TO BE RUGBY UNION'S BIGGEST - BUT WILL IT BE THE BEST?

Biggest does not always equate with best, but tournament organisers have every reason to feel confident. A record 2.25million tickets - 95 per cent of the total available - have been sold, and the build-up is almost complete. Now, it is over to the players. The stage is set, the actors are in place, it is just the script that needs writing. Some pundits feel that any one of seven countries could realistically win the tournament - New Zealand, England, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Wales and France - and if it proves to be that wide open, then a sporting treat beckons.

CAN ANYONE STOP NEW ZEALAND?

New Zealand, as seems to be the case with every World Cup, have arrived as favourites to lift the trophy. The defending champions ended a 24-year wait for global domination when they triumphed on home soil in 2011, and little has happened since to suggest that they will end up as bridesmaids on British soil. A successful world title defence, though, has never previously been achieved in rugby union, which underlines how big a challenge the All Blacks face.

WHO WILL BE THE TOURNAMENT'S STAR PLAYER?

Virtually every country in the competition possess at least one player capable of providing an unforgettable moment, whether it be through a scintillating try, a nerveless last-minute goalkick or a piece of remarkable skill. New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, though, is on a different level as the finest player of his generation, and World Cup 2015 looks certain to be his last hurrah before retirement. McCaw, as has always been the case, is unlikely to disappoint.

CAN ENGLAND WIN THE TOURNAMENT?

The bookmakers would have everyone believe that an October 31 England versus New Zealand final is what they should be putting their money on. If England reach the final, then six of their seven games will be at Twickenham, and home advantage will either inspire Chris Robshaw's men or see them buckle under unbearable pressure. Will Robshaw become England's second World Cup-winning captain after Martin Johnson? Will England even emerge from a pool that also includes Australia and Wales? It is likely to be a case of feast or famine.

HOW WILL THE WORLD CUP MINNOWS FARE?

Countries like Uruguay, Namibia and Georgia are what makes the World Cup such a rich tapestry of rugby cultures, but it is also to be hoped - maybe forlornly - that blow-out scorelines are few and far between. 100-point beatings might keep the statisticians busy, but they do absolutely nothing for the sport. There were six points centuries racked in four World Cups between 1995 and 2007, but none in New Zealand four years ago. A repeat of 2011 would be fantastic, yet it appears highly unlikely.

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