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Rugby World Cup 2019 guide: All you need to know about the tournament as Ireland bid to reach first ever semi-final

The World Cup got under way with Japan's game against Russia at the Tokyo Stadium.
The World Cup got under way with Japan's game against Russia at the Tokyo Stadium.
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

The 2019 Rugby World Cup is finally upon us.

Rugby round up Newsletter

Game previews, plus expert insights and exclusive commentary from the Belfast Telegraph sports team.

Do you need to swot up on all the teams? We've got you covered with a handy quickfire guide to all 20 teams taking part, including informed predictions on how the tournament might go.

Have a look right here:

Pool A - Ireland

Head coach: Joe Schmidt

Captain: Rory Best

Key man: James Ryan

Last time: Quarter-finals

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Best: Quarter-finals (1987, 1991, 1995, 2003, 2011, 2015)

Verdict: Anything less than the semi-finals this time around will be seen as a failure, but Ireland must avoid their customary slow start with Scotland and Japan first up. It will take their Six Nations form of 2018, rather than that of this year, to win a game in the last eight.

James Ryan


Head coach: Gregor Townsend

Captain: Greig Laidlaw

Key man: Finn Russell

Last time: Quarter-final

Best: Semi-final (1991)

Verdict: The Scottish will hope that their warm-up performances hold little sway once they get going in Japan, but their form away from Murrayfield remains the cause for much concern for head coach Townsend and his backroom staff. Lose against Ireland first up and they’ll be sweating for the meeting with Japan.


Head coach: Jamie Joseph

Captain: Michael Leitch

Key man: Amanaki Mafi

Last time: Pool stages

Best: Pool stage exit (3 wins, 1 loss, 2015)

Verdict: Having lit up the last World Cup with the biggest shock in rugby history — that unforgettable win over South Africa — there is more expected of the hosts this time around. Will know that the scalp of either Ireland or Scotland will be required to make a first quarter-final.


Head coach: Lyn Jones

Captain: Vasily Artemyev

Key man: Yuri Kushnarev

Last time: Did not qualify

Best: Pool stages (2011)

Verdict: Having qualified on the basis of fellow European minnows being disqualified, Russia are likely to be the poorest side making the long trip to Japan. They shipped more than 100 points to Italy in the warm-up fixtures and were then beaten by both Jersey and Connacht.


Head coach: Steve Jackson

Captain: Jack Lam

Key man: Tim Nanai-Williams

Last time: Pool stages

Best: Quarter-finals (1991, 1995)

Verdict: It’s been a tough build-up for Samoa this summer but they looked much-improved in their final warm-up game against the Wallabies earlier this month, even though they were eventually beaten. They will be physical, but it is likely that they will be going home with just one win.

Pool B - New Zealand

Head coach: Steve Hansen

Captain: Kieran Read

Key man: Brodie Retallick

Last time: Champions

Best: Champions (1987, 2011, 2015)

Verdict: After losing key players, and more games, over the past four-year cycle, the All Blacks feel more vulnerable than when heading into the 2015 tournament. Probably still favourites for the crown but will feel much more confident once they get Brodie Retallick back in harness.

Brodie Retallick

South Africa

Head coach: Rassie Erasmus

Captain: Siya Kolisi

Key man: Pieter-Steph du Toit

Last time: Semi-final

Best: Champions (1995, 2007)

Verdict: Were in a sorry state as recently as a year and a half ago but have enjoyed a dramatic turnaround since. Winners of the Rugby Championship, will fancy themselves of going much further than the quarters regardless of how they fare against New Zealand first up.


Head coach: Conor O’Shea

Captain: Sergio Parisse

Key man: Matteo Minozzi

Last time: Pool stages.

Best: Pool stages (eight times)

Verdict: They could hardly have asked for a tougher draw, playing against two of the favourites for the title in the pool stages. As such, they are nothing more than a long shot to make the knockout rounds for the first ever time but they should have enough to at least pick up a pair of wins.


Head coach: Phil Davies

Captain: Johan Deysel

Key man: Janco Venter

Last time: Pool stages

Best: Pool stages (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015)

Verdict: They clinched their first ever World Cup point in defeat to Georgia four years ago but face another big challenge in the search for that elusive maiden victory at the showpiece. Canada naturally present the best opportunity this time around, but it will still be a tall order.


Head coach: Kingsley Jones

Captain: Tyler Ardron

Key man: DTH van der Merwe

Last time: Pool stage

Best: Quarter-final (1991)

Verdict: The side featuring Dungannon native Pete Nelson have featured at every tournament, reaching the knockouts on one occasion. A repeat of that feat will be a near impossibility but in a best-case scenario they should beat Namibia and perhaps even give Italy a scare.

Pool C - England

Head coach: Eddie Jones

Captain: Owen Farrell

Key man: Billy Vunipola

Last time: Pool stage

Best: Champions (2003)

Verdict: England lost a bit of steam in the Six Nations but recent showings against Ireland have displayed exactly what they can do when they are fully firing. If they can keep a core group of players fit throughout the entire tournament, then Jones’ men are a huge threat to win the whole thing for the second time.

Billy Vunipola will face Tonga – the side his father played for at two World Cups (Adam Davy/PA)


Head coach: Jacques Brunel

Captain: Guilhem Guirado

Key man: Antoine Dupont

Last time: Quarter-finals

Best: Finalists (1987, 1999, 2011)

Verdict: The ultimate cliché but it depends on which France we get. Have recently started the novel idea of playing their best players in their best positions and look all the better for it. Have a serious squad and really should be comfortably enough into the quarters.


Head coach: Mario Ledesma

Captain: Pablo Matera

Key man: Emiliano Boffelli

Last time: Semi-final

Best: Semi-finals (2007, 2015)

Verdict: Ireland’s frequent World Cup foes have become known as a tournament team thanks largely to their impressive showings in 2007 and 2015, but they come into this tournament showing little form. Their scrum has been a real issue rather than an area of strength too.


Head coach: Gary Gold

Captain: Blaine Scully

Key man: AJ MacGinty

Last time: Pool stage

Best: Pool stages (seven times)

Verdict: The United States come in with a bit of confidence having beaten both Canada and Samoa in the Pacific Nations Cup, while big carriers like Joe Taufete’e and Paul Lasike will certainly leave their mark. They will expect to beat Tonga, but have little chance of winning two games at the tournament for the first time.


Head coach: Toutal Kefu

Captain: Siale Piutau

Key man: Sonatane Takulua

Last time: Pool stage

Best: Pool stages (seven times)

Verdict: Tonga have a glut of talent waiting to don the red jersey, including former Ulster All Black Charles Piutau, but the stand down period for such players has yet to conclude. As such, this is not a particularly strong squad who have had to endure some tough days over the last few months. More could be on the way.

Pool D - Australia

Head coach: Michael Cheika

Captain: Michael Hooper

Key man: David Pocock

Last time: Beaten finalists

Best: Champions (1991, 1999)

Verdict: The Wallabies are consistently inconsistent, as their two results against the All Blacks this summer shows. An exciting backline and the brilliant tandem of Hooper and Pocock can be a match for anyone on their day, but it doesn’t happen as often as the very best.

David Pocock


Head coach: Warren Gatland

Captain: Alun Wyn Jones

Key man: Jonathan Davies

Last time: Quarter-final

Best: Semi-final (2011)

Verdict: What to make of this year’s Six Nations Grand Slam winners? It would certainly be foolish to write off the rest of their 2019 due to a less than impressive summer of action, but so much will hinge on their game with the Wallabies — a side that they have a horrid record against.


Head coach: Milton Haig

Captain: Merab Sharikadze

Key man: Mikheil Nariashvili

Last time: Pool stages

Best: Pool stages (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015)

Verdict: A similar story to past editions of Los Lelos, they still boast a fearsome scrum of Top 14 pedigree but at the same time lack much in the way of imagination behind the pack. Given the three higher ranked sides in the pool, matching the two wins of last time is a tall order.


Head coach: John McKee

Captain: Dominiko Waqaniburotu

Key man: Leone Nakawara

Last time: Pool stages

Best: Quarter-finals (1987, 2007)

Verdict: It has been a total of 12 years now since they last made the knockouts, and the hope will be that some rare time together sees them equal the sum of their attacking parts, but the reality is that they need a shock result to have any hope of reaching the tournament’s last eight.


Head coach: Esteban Meneses

Captain: Juan Manuel Gaminara

Key man: Felipe Berchesi

Last time: Pool stage

Best: Pool stage (1999, 2003, 2015)

Verdict: Two decades on since beating Spain, Uruguay haven’t sniffed a win since and aren’t likely to do so here either. Theoretically their best chance would come against Georgia but even the schedule is against them, that game coming with just three full days of rest post-Fiji.

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