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Chris Henry: England have quality to turn on power and win the World Cup

Mastermind: England head coach Eddie Jones and his team are my picks for the World Cup
Mastermind: England head coach Eddie Jones and his team are my picks for the World Cup
Owen Farrell
Chris Henry

By Chris Henry

If you were looking at it from a neutral perspective, then the day this World Cup really caught fire was that August morning when the Wallabies hammered the All Blacks.

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It'll have been a result felt not just in Australia and New Zealand but all over the rugby world, raising the morale of every side with aspirations of lifting the trophy come November 2.

The fact of the matter is that the less invincible Steve Hansen's side seem, the better it is for the tournament. Four years ago it always felt like they were going to come out on top and, while we saw some great matches along the way, that's what came to pass.

What's fantastic news for Japan is that we probably have the most open tournament that we've ever had.

If I had a charity bet to place, I'd be edging towards England.

They have picked a squad that I believe has two things going for it we don't normally see from the Six Nations sides.

Firstly, genetics. It's a power game nowadays and their travelling party is filled with genuine power athletes, the type that we tend to produce fewer of here in the Celtic nations.

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They've a core of players there - Maro Itoje, the Vunipolas, Manu Tuilagi and Owen Farrell - that, if they can keep fit, they'll be a match for anyone.

Secondly, there's not much in the way of baggage. England have had two fairly disastrous campaigns since reaching the final in 2007, but the way Eddie Jones has selected his squad means that even though there's a healthy number who were part of those tournaments, this feels like a very different group to the ones attached to those failures. So many older, more experienced heads have been left at home, which can have its drawbacks, but I see it as a really exciting selection.

For all I've said about New Zealand, let's not kid ourselves. They remain a huge threat to any team's aspirations of winning the competition, and South Africa are in the same boat. They've been motoring along and they'll come in confident after the summer they've had.

Like England, they've a powerful squad full of the kind of physicality you need to succeed at this level in 2019.

Wales are coming in as Grand Slam winners but their chances have dropped in my eyes since losing Gareth Anscombe and Taulupe Faletau to injury. Those are two key men and it's a real test of depth to overcome that.

Australia and Argentina are two sides who have the calibre of players to beat any of the top contenders on their day and demand respect, but are probably the level below.

And then there's Ireland. I think the squad is in a better place than we were four years ago and there's confidence to be gained from the past fortnight.

What's going to be interesting to watch in these early games is how they go about these first weeks. We can see they've been holding back throughout the summer and that game plan might be enough to get through the pool. To go further, though, I think we'll need to see more. After all the talking... let the games begin!

Injuries a given, but Henshaw would be a big loss for Ireland

Injuries are an inevitable part of any World Cup and there was simply no way that Ireland were going to get to September 22 with their first choice XV intact.

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Robbie Henshaw is suffering with a hamstring injury (Brian Lawless/PA)

Dan Leavy was lost as early as April and, as sure as night follows day, the news these past few days has been dominated by fitness concerns.

There's no point in denying it. Robbie Henshaw will be a loss for that Scotland game if, as expected, his hamstring issue keeps him out of the opener.

I was on the tour to the USA and Canada when he made his debut for Ireland and since then he's really grown his game in the green jersey.

I think that since Jared Payne retired he's really become that defensive lynchpin, the organiser and communicator in the midfield.

It's not always immediately obvious as he's still a fairly quiet lad - he may be playing for Leinster nowadays but he still doesn't have that Leinster, shall we say, swagger - but he's massive for the side in what is traditionally the hardest position to defend.

The fact that he's still with the team has to be taken as a good sign and I'm sure the hope then is that it's a grade one injury and we could see him back in the latter stages of the pool or a quarter-final.

He's important enough that I think he's the type of player you absolutely keep with the squad safe in the knowledge that he can come back and make an impact when you need him most.

In the meantime, Garry Ringrose can bring something different to the team. While Robbie is a real leader, his Leinster midfield mate has an x-factor that many accuse Ireland of lacking at times, and we all know what quality he can bring. It's not long ago he was seen as a nailed-on starter.

With Rob Kearney emerging as a doubt now too, Ireland could well be stretched in the early going. Hopefully none of the injuries prove to be tournament-ending and, if the worst does come to pass, there's certainly worse players to be sat with their bags ready to go than Will Addison.

Huge experience is just reward for committed Pete

I'm sure that any Ulsterman in the market for a second team at this World Cup will be keeping a keen eye on how Canada fare at the tournament.

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Pete Nelson

What an opportunity for Pete Nelson to get the experience of a World Cup, in Japan and against the All Blacks and Springboks to boot.

I was surprised that he didn't get something at Ulster for this season, but to go from that low to what he'll be experiencing these next few weeks is unbelievable. I couldn't be happier for him because he's an awesome guy.

It's a gut-wrenching experience for any player when you don't get a deal, especially at your hometown club, but Pete is someone that's always had the talent.

Sometimes you just need a coach to back you and he probably didn't get that in his early years at Kingspan Stadium.

His versatility was almost a curse at times as he didn't get a proper run in his best positions. I think back to when he came in and did a real job for us at 10 at the start of one season, at a time when we really needed him.

Even last season we saw him getting a run at centre when he'd probably always prefer to be getting his games in the back three.

I know there were a few clubs looking his signature for the new season but for this chance to go to a World Cup to come so out of the blue, I'm sure he's pinching himself at times.

There's no doubt about it, he'll be a real asset for Canada too. It's just the reward he deserves after everything he's put into the game the past few seasons.

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