Rassie Erasmus' tremendous development of the South Africa squad has made Bryan Habana extremely optimistic about their Rugby World Cup hopes.

Former Stormers and Munster boss Erasmus in March 2018 took over from Allister Coetzee, whose dismal spell at the helm included 11 wins in 25 Tests and the Springboks' heaviest loss – a 57-0 drubbing at the hands of New Zealand in the 2017 Rugby Championship.

Coetzee was appointed in 2016 and in his first year suffered eight defeats in 12 Tests.

Although Erasmus lost his first match at the helm, he engineered a series success against England and ended a nine-year wait for an away victory against New Zealand in 2018.

The Springboks head into the World Cup undefeated this year and having won the Rugby Championship for the first time since 2009.

"Given that 2016, 2017 [were] pretty disappointing years, 2018 - Rassie's first year in charge - also only a 50 per cent win ratio, a really poor Super Rugby season for all of the South African sides, so going into this Rugby Championship, [there was] a lot of uncertainty," Habana told Omnisport, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.

"Fast forward four weeks post the start of that championship and I think the optimism, the positivity and excitement around this Springboks side leading into a World Cup is absolutely incredible, and justifiably so given that they've gone out and won a Rugby Championship for the first time since 2009.

"It's the first time since 98 that they've gone unbeaten in the competition, albeit a shortened competition. They've really come to the fore in a massive way over the last month and a half, and what has been even more brilliant to see is that a year ago you didn't really know who your 31, 23, or even starting 15 were, given that you're not quite sure what the talent was.

"All of a sudden, Rassie's conundrum of having to choose only 31 players going into the this World Cup was a fantastic one to be in, given that development from a squad perspective that he's been able to achieve over the last 18 or so months.

"It all bodes really well in a World Cup that is probably going to be the most unique we've ever, ever seen. Unique by the fact that the top six teams realistically go into this competition with a pretty decent chance of winning it, realistically."

A late draw against the All Blacks was key to the Springboks' Rugby Championship triumph and they begin their campaign in Japan against the two-time defending champions in Yokohama on Saturday.

Habana said: "I don't think it's just the draw that will be fresh in South Africa's mind. I think the win in Wellington in the Rugby Championship last year, the first time a South African side has ever gone to Wellington and scored five tries against a New Zealand outfit, to then win it for the first time since '98 in Wellington was incredibly special.

"I think they'll take a lot of confidence out of that going into what is almost a decider against New Zealand because [over] the last three games everything is all equal - they've both won one, lost one and then drawn one. The points difference is zero at the moment.

"What an epic game to start out a brilliant tournament against the number one side in the world, the current reigning champion of the tournament.

"The South African side will be able to go into that game with an incredible amount of confidence, knowing what they've achieved against New Zealand in the last 12 months."

Wales backs coach Rob Howley has been sent home from the Rugby World Cup over an alleged breach of betting regulations.

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) confirmed Howley has returned to Wales six days before the team's opening World Cup match against Georgia in order to "assist with an investigation in relation to a potential breach of World Rugby regulation 6, specifically betting on rugby union".

A WRU statement said: "The decision was taken to act immediately in light of recent information passed to the WRU.

"No further details can be provided at this stage as this would prejudice the investigation. If required an independent panel will be appointed to hear the case.

"Rob has co-operated fully with our initial discussions and we would ask that the media appreciate this is a difficult and personal matter for Rob and that his privacy is respected before an outcome is reached.

"Warren Gatland has consulted with senior players and Stephen Jones will be arriving in Japan imminently to link up with the squad as attack coach."

Howley has been a key member of Gatland's backroom staff and oversaw their 2013 Six Nations success while the New Zealander was on a British and Irish Lions sabbatical.

The former Wasps scrum-half was part of Gatland's coaching team when the Lions triumphed in Australia in 2013 and drew a series against the All Blacks four years later.

The 48-year-old will leave his role with Wales when Gatland departs after the World Cup and had been touted as a potential replacement for Conor O'Shea as Italy boss.

Talk of two-time defending champions New Zealand being vulnerable as they bid to make Rugby World Cup history will be music to the ears of Steve Hansen.

The All Blacks start their quest to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for an unprecedented third time in a row as favourites, and rightly so.

Yet New Zealand are not the all-conquering force that have taken on all comers for so many years and slipped to second in the rankings behind Ireland ahead of the tournament in Japan.

Chinks in the armour were exposed during a Rugby Championship campaign that New Zealand finished in third spot after they were soundly beaten by Australia and drew with South Africa.

The Springboks were crowned champions, making a strong statement just six weeks before the two heavyweights do battle in their Pool B opener in Yokohama.

Ireland have beaten Hansen's side twice in the last three years and South Africa consigned them to defeat in a Wellington classic 12 months ago.

The juggernaut has been halted, but there is no doubt it can fire up driven on by inspirational captain Kieran Read - hungry to end his international career by lifting the famous trophy yet again in November.

Australia were put in their place a week after rocking the 14-man All Blacks in Perth, going down 36-0 at fortress Eden Park just eight days later.

Hansen must be rubbing his hands together reading or hearing about his side being fallible as they prepare to try and make history and give him the perfect send-off.

The All Blacks supremo declared Ireland are favourites to dethrone New Zealand after his side were beaten in Dublin last year, but sounded a warning upon arrival in Tokyo.

"To try and do things that have never been done before is a hallmark of what New Zealand people are about." he said.

"We came away from the home shores and settled in a country at the bottom of the earth. We had to find ways to live in isolation when life wasn't like it is today.

"They became pioneers. That's important in life and particularly in sport; you've got to strive to be leaders rather than followers. We have an opportunity that no one else at the tournament gets; we can shy away from it or get really excited about it. We are really excited by it."

One look at the list of New Zealanders who failed to make the squad shows the challenge their rivals face in trying to end their dominance.

Test centurion Owen Franks was sensationally omitted along with outstanding centre Ngani Laumape, highlighting the embarrassment of riches at Hansen's disposal.

Liam Squire is also absent, but Hansen has such an abundance of quality to call upon that New Zealand remain the team to beat.

The fear factor may not be what it was, but write the All Blacks off at your peril.

Brian O'Driscoll has warned Ireland that Japan are capable of following up their 2015 Rugby World Cup upset of South Africa with a repeat performance on home soil.

Tournament hosts in 2019, Japan provided one of the greatest shocks in World Cup history four years ago with a stunning last-gasp 34-32 defeat of the Springboks in their opening fixture.

The Brave Blossoms are in Ireland's pool this time and former star O'Driscoll is wary of another surprise result when they meet on September 28.

He believes the memory of that South Africa win and the backing of the home support could make Japan a dangerous opponent.

"Of course it is [a potential banana skin]," O'Driscoll, a Land Rover ambassador, told Omnisport. "Speaking to people who know about Japan, they absolutely pose some threats to any team.

"They'll have a new-found confidence at the Rugby World Cup remembering what happened four years ago against South Africa. Sometimes, when you break that seal and beat one of the biggest Tier One nations, the next one might be difficult.

"With the home support, playing like their lives depend on it, it will make them a very difficult opponent. I think they will absolutely be given huge respect.

"Are they capable of causing an upset at the World Cup? Of course they are, because they've done it previously."

Ireland must also contend with conditions that will suit Japan and other Southern Hemisphere sides, but O'Driscoll is confident they have prepared well.

"That's definitely been a focus," he said. "I was looking at the fixture list and certainly the home warm-up games [wins over Italy and Wales] and the timing of them.

"I know, commercially, it makes sense to have games later on, afternoon, early evening, 5.30, 7pm. But the home games have been fixed for two o'clock to try to acclimatise to Japan as much as possible.

"It's those small little details which help you in trying to get your body right for the shock. The only thing they won't be able to plan in advance for [is] the humidity they're going to face.

"But everyone's going to have to deal with that. Obviously certain countries will get it a lot more - South Africa would be well used to huge levels of humidity - but it's going to be the same conditions for every team.

"It's a matter of who's done all the hard work and is able to deal with the pressurised situation in which they find themselves in the pool stage."


Land Rover is official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019. With over 20 years of heritage supporting rugby at all levels, Land Rover is celebrating what makes rugby, rugby. #LandRoverRugby

The Rugby World Cup is the greatest stage in the sport and offers an incredible chance for players to make a name for themselves.

Hosts Japan and Russia will get the action underway on Friday and 24 hours later spectators will have also been treated to Australia v Fiji, France v Argentina and New Zealand v South Africa.

It promises to be a hugely entertaining tournament and we have taken a look at the young talents set to light up the competition.

 

Sevu Reece (22, New Zealand)

He only made his Crusaders debut as an injury replacement against the Chiefs in March, but Reece has already established himself as one of the most exciting wings in the world.

Reece's incredible pace and clinical finishing saw him top the Super Rugby try-scoring charts with 15 as the Crusaders won the title for the third straight year and he has touched down twice in his three appearances for the All Blacks.

Tom Curry (21, England)

Eddie Jones has long been an admirer of flanker Curry, making him the youngest player to start for England in 90 years during the tour to Argentina in 2017.

That came at the end of his breakthrough season at Sale Sharks and the back-rower has gone from strength to strength, starting all of England's Six Nations matches this year.

Romain Ntamack (20, France)

Ntamack can play at inside centre of fly-half and comes from good stock: his father Emile won 46 caps for France and was part of the side that won the Five Nations Grand Slam in 1997 and reached the World Cup final two years later.

But Romain has proved himself a promising player in his own right, winning the Six Nations and World Cup at Under-20 level in 2018 and helping Toulouse end a seven-year wait for Top 14 success last season.

Herschel Jantjies (23, South Africa)

Stormers scrum-half Jantjies wasted no time in making his mark for the Springboks, scoring a debut double against Australia in July.

Jantjies then touched down in the 80th minute to help earn a 16-16 draw against the All Blacks in his second cap - a result that proved crucial to South Africa winning the Rugby Championship for the first time in 10 years.

Rhys Carre (21, Wales)

The 6ft 3in, 20-stone prop was included in Warren Gatland's squad for Japan having only made his international debut against Ireland on August 31.

Towering front-rower Carre was in April snapped up by Premiership champions Saracens and will likely have a big impact in the breakdown, set-piece and when carrying the ball.

Australia head coach Michael Cheika has revealed he was threatened by fans after refusing to pick Israel Folau due to his controversial social media posts.

Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia in May for a "high-level breach" of contract after the full-back posted "hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters" on Instagram.

Cheika overlooked Folau before he was sanctioned, stating "the team is king", and the Wallabies boss has revealed that stance did not go down well with some supporters.

"People were saying all sorts of stuff," Cheika said. "Just threats I was getting; people on the street, some to my face, a couple at some games. It was just crazy stuff."

Cheika is disappointed not to have Folau in his Rugby World Cup squad, but has no issue with the 30-year-old expressing his opinion.

"I'm not disappointed in the individual because if that's what he believes, and that's where his passion is, I will never tell someone to hide it," he added.

"I might not agree with everyone, but I'd never want someone to not say what they feel. I'm no person to judge.

"The other disappointing part is that we lost one of our best players; a guy who I helped come back.

"I wouldn't say I'm responsible for what's happened. It's just life. But I had to do what was needed for the team."

Australia open their Rugby World Cup campaign next Saturday when they take on Fiji in Sapporo.

South Africa expect Trevor Nyakane to be fit for their Rugby World Cup opener despite a knee injury sustained against Japan on Friday.

Prop Nyakane was sent on for Frans Malherbe in the second half of the 41-7 victory in Kumagaya but was forced off just 14 minutes later.

However, the 30-year-old did not sustain a serious injury and is expected to be available when the Springboks begin their World Cup campaign against reigning champions New Zealand on September 21.

"The tighthead prop sprained a knee during the 41-7 victory over Japan in Kumagaya on Friday and was limited to a 14-minute appearance," read a statement from the Springboks.

"Nyakane made a scheduled return to South Africa on Saturday to be with his wife for the birth of their child this week. He will arrive back in Japan on Friday."

Following their match with the All Blacks, Rugby Championship winners South Africa take on Namibia, Italy and Canada in their other Pool B fixtures.

Ireland head to the Rugby World Cup as the highest-ranked side in the world after winning captain Rory Best's final home match before retirement 19-10 against Wales, who will just be glad to have avoided serious pre-tournament injury scares.

Wales lost Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb to injuries in their final warm-up game before the 2015 tournament, but a bang on the head for Rhys Patchell – who was able to walk off the pitch unaided – was the only notable issue for Warren Gatland on Saturday.

Perhaps less superstitious about such situations, Ireland – welcoming Johnny Sexton back into the team – looked far more ruthless and were able to give Best a victorious send-off, with the 37-year-old withdrawn in the 53rd minute.

An evenly contested opening resulted in neither side adding points to the board until the 21st minute, when Rob Kearney received Conor Murray's quick offload before touching down in the corner before Sexton added the extras.

Wales did lose Patchell – making his first Test start since June 2018 – after he sustained a knock to the head in a collision with CJ Stander, though he walked off and the visitors' initial response was impressive.

After seeing one opportunity for their first try go begging when Dan Biggar was just about held up, the resulting five-metre scrum came to Hadleigh Parkes to charge over, with Halfpenny converting after a successful earlier penalty.

Ireland stepped things up after the interval and went back in front when Tadhg Furlong burrowed his way over following another scrum.

James Ryan followed suit 10 minutes later, touching down despite Aaron Wainwright's best efforts, leaving coach Joe Schmidt – like Best – triumphant in his final match in Ireland.

Australia got through their final Rugby World Cup warm-up game with no major injury scares, as they survived a Samoa rally to emerge 34-15 victors on Saturday in Sekope Kepu's final Wallabies match on home soil.

Kepu, getting his 106th Test cap, departed to a rapturous ovation in Parramatta in the 50th minute for his last international in Australia, and Samoa soon began to claw their way back into the contest despite losing halfback Scott Malolua to a potentially serious shoulder injury just before the break.

But Dane Haylett-Petty and Matt To'omua got late tries to halt any potential comeback by the visitors, wrapping up a win that ultimately flattered Australia.

The Wallabies looked to be running away with the contest in the first half, getting their first try after just seven minutes when Samoa lost possession with an overthrown line-out in their own 22, the ball eventually worked to Adam Coleman, who went over.

Marika Koroibete followed suit eight minutes later, receiving possession just inside the Samoa half, flattening Alapati Leiua before touching down by the left corner.

Adam Ashley-Cooper got in on the act just before the half-hour mark, jumping on to a bobbling ball after Haylett-Petty's incisive kick.

Lukhan Salakaia-Loto's converted score just prior to the interval gave the Wallabies a commanding 22-3 lead, but Samoa were fired up early in the second half, getting their first try of the contest when Dwayne Polataivao crossed after Afaesetiti Amosa broke away from a scrum.

Polataivao got a second soon after following a fine move. Leiua broke the line thanks to Ed Fidow blocking off Jack Dempsey and squared to Ahsee Tuala, who made the decisive final pass.

But the Wallabies upped their intensity again in the final 10 minutes to deny a Samoa comeback, Haylett-Petty spotting a gap and squeezing through, with Bernard Foley adding the extras.

To'omua wrapped things up in the final minute, with Australia heading to Japan in winning fashion.

Steve Hansen decided it was better for New Zealand to finish their 92-7 thrashing of Tonga with 14 men than risk Ryan Crotty for longer than necessary.

Crotty marked his first appearance since sustaining a broken thumb in the Crusaders' Super Rugby semi-final victory over the Hurricanes in June by touching down twice as the All Blacks sailed to victory in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up.

George Bridge scored four tries, Ben Smith bagged a double while Sevu Reece, Codie Taylor, Kieran Read, TJ Perenara, Matt Todd and Ardie Savea also got in on the act on Saturday.

Hansen had planned to limit Crotty to 65 minutes and stuck to that decision despite having already used all of his replacements.

"It was a good opportunity again to put ourselves under a bit of pressure when it comes to how many are on the park," Hansen said.

"We could have left him on, but Ben [Smith] came off because he was a bit tight in the hamstring, Beauds [Beauden Barrett] had already come off.

"We could have put Aaron [Smith] on the wing, but we were happy to put Aaron on for TJ and then of course we realised we wanted to take Ryan off at 65 because he's just come back and hasn't played for so long.

"He played 40 last week [in Canterbury's 80-0 Mitre 10 Cup victory over Southland] and 65 today and will be good to go in a couple of weeks.

"We could make a choice, and the scoreboard said we could make that choice without too much risk."

New Zealand begin their World Cup campaign against Rugby Championship winners South Africa in Yokohama on September 21 and Hansen felt the dismantling of Tonga was hugely beneficial to their preparation.

"Everyone got a run, and no injuries. We played some good footy and got the opportunity to just cement some combinations again, and finish a good week's work," he said.

"We got rugby time. We got collision time, we got set-piece time, we got time on the ball under pressure, and time on the ball in open space.

"That's what rugby's about, and we play a massive game in two weeks. If we didn't have any of that today, then we would have been in a lot of trouble. We got exactly out of it what we needed to get out of it."

Hansen will leave his post at the conclusion of the World Cup but was not feeling emotional about having overseen his last All Blacks Test on home soil.

"Clearly, you know it's your last game, but are we dwelling on that? No, [we are] trying very hard to stay focused on what we're trying to do, which is coach a team to try and win a third World Cup [in a row]," he said.

"When you retire you've got plenty of time to reminisce about all the stuff that's gone before you and pat yourself on the back or give yourself an uppercut depending on how things go."

Mako Vunipola will miss at least the first two of England's games at the Rugby World Cup, coach Eddie Jones has confirmed.

Prop Vunipola suffered a setback in his hamstring injury and was absent as England defeated Italy 37-0 at St James' Park on Friday in their final warm-up match ahead of the tournament in Japan.

Jones' men led 9-0 at half-time thanks to a trio of Owen Farrell penalties, but Ben Youngs, Joe Marchant, Ellis Genge and Anthony Watson touched down in the second half as Italy were put to the sword in Newcastle.

England next face Tonga in their opening Pool C game in Sapporo on September 22 and take on United States four days later, meaning Saracens forward Vunipola is expected to return against either Argentina or France.

"He's probably going to be right for the third or fourth game," said Jones.

"He just had a little scar tissue which was impairing his movement. But that's all been fixed. He's progressing really well now."

On whether he was worried about taking an injured Vunipola to the World Cup, Jones added: "No, not at all. He's a very important player for us.

"We feel that he's going to be ready to contribute in the World Cup. We've got two looseheads with us who are in great form, one who can play tighthead, so we've got three tightheads as well.

"We're confident that he'll make a great contribution for us."

Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell will also miss England's first two World Cup games after dealing with an ankle injury and appendicitis.

"Jack Nowell is probably in the same category [as Vunipola]," Jones added. "They are important players for us, so we are prepared to be patient with them."

New Zealand's final Rugby World Cup dress rehearsal was more like a training session as the defending champions demolished Tonga 92-7 in an ominous warning before the showpiece tournament.

The All Blacks fell just short of 100 points in a merciless display against Tonga in Hamilton, where New Zealand scored 14 tries to one on Saturday.

Tonga managed to get on the board late in the one-sided game, but it was all about New Zealand, who were led by winger George Bridge's four tries at Waikato Stadium.

Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty and Sevu Reece also had two tries apiece, while Beauden Barrett had seven conversions.

Steve Hansen's All Blacks will now jet off for Japan before they open their World Cup defence against South Africa on September 21.

Playing their first day-time Test in New Zealand since the 2011 World Cup, the All Blacks were a class above from the outset following Reece's opening try in the eighth minute.

Reece danced his way through Tonga's defence, but no one would have imagined the rout to come as the All Blacks ran in eight tries for a demoralising 54-0 half-time lead.

New Zealand – who beat Tonga 47-9 in their last encounter at the 2015 World Cup – did not take their foot off the pedal in the second half, with records in sight.

Bridge came within touching distance of Marc Ellis' record of six in a match, which he set at the 1995 World Cup against Japan, as he became the 13th All Black to score four tries in a Test.

The second half started with Bridge catching the ball from the restart and crossing after just nine seconds in a forgettable moment for Tonga.

New Zealand added another 38 points in the second 40 minutes and while Siale Piutau recorded a five-pointer for the visitors, Tonga were condemned to their second heaviest loss to the All Blacks following the 102-0 humiliation in 2000.

England rounded out their preparations for the Rugby World Cup with an emphatic 37-0 win over Italy at St James' Park on Friday.

Eddie Jones' much-changed side completed their warm-up fixtures by scoring four tries without reply in Newcastle, captain Owen Farrell converting them all as he finished with a personal haul of 17 points.

However, while they stretched their winning record against Italy to 26 Tests, England produced a performance of two contrasting halves in their final outing before this year's tournament in Japan.

They led only 9-0 at the break thanks to a hat-trick of Farrell penalties and were fortunate not to concede in defence, Tommaso Benvenuti appearing to get around Jonny May only to drop the ball as he headed for the line.

Farrell failed with a penalty attempt early in the second half but England crossed for their first try not long after their skipper's miss, scrum-half Ben Youngs getting over from close range.

Joe Marchant marked his first Test start by crossing in the 53rd minute, the centre – picked by Jones for the game despite not being included in the final 31-man party for the World Cup – slicing through some flimsy tackling to score.

Replacement Ellis Genge benefited from his colleagues in the pack to get his maiden international try when finishing off a powerful maul, Farrell's successful conversion making it 30-0.

The fly-half was also on target after setting up the final try for team-mate Anthony Watson, who capitalised on a tiring Italy defence to breeze through a huge gap and slide over.

Jones will hope to receive a clean bill of health from those involved before England fly out on Sunday. Their opening Pool C fixture is against Tonga on September 22.

Chester Williams, a key figure in South Africa's 1995 Rugby World Cup triumph, has died at the age of 49.

Williams was considered one of the greatest wings in Springbok history. He passed away in Cape Town on Friday following a heart attack, national governing body SA Rugby said.

Nicknamed the Black Pearl, Williams scored four tries in South Africa's quarter-final win against Western Samoa on the road to glory at their home World Cup.

Williams was a pioneer - one of the few black players to star for South Africa in that era - and he played 27 Tests, scoring 14 tries for the Springboks.

Mark Alexander, president of SA Rugby, said in a statement: "The news of Chester’s passing is devastating and hard to believe, as he was still young and seemingly in good health.

"Chester was a true pioneer in South African rugby and his performances at the World Cup in 1995, as a snapshot of his Springbok career, will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of our rugby public.

"As a member of the Springbok class of 1995, Chester was not only well known in the rugby fraternity, but he was a much-loved South African whose influence stretched wider than just the rugby world.

"He was passionate about rugby and South Africa and as coach, at various levels, selflessly gave back to the game after he hung up his boots. He played with courage and was a beacon of light in his community and in the broader South African context.

"Chester Williams had so much more to give. Our thoughts and condolences are with his wife, Maria, his children, family and friends during this very sad time."

Williams, whose honours included being named SA Rugby Player of the Year in 1994, turned his hand to coaching after retirement, leading teams including the national teams of Uganda and Tunisia.

The news of Williams' death comes two months after fellow wing and 1995 World Cup hero James Small died, with their team-mates Ruben Kruger and Joost van der Westhuizen having already passed away.

Makazole Mapimpi scored a hat-trick as South Africa rounded off their Rugby World Cup preparations with a resounding 41-7 win over Japan in Kumagaya on Friday.

Japan stunned the Springboks at the World Cup in England four years ago but there was no chance of a repeat as Rassie Erasmus' side surged to a commanding victory that maintained their unbeaten record in 2019.

Cheslin Kolbe opened the scoring in the corner before Mapimpi got off the mark following some excellent work from Willie le Roux, who plucked down a high ball and shook off his marker to send the wing through.

Despite Japan enjoying plenty of possession, the Springboks took a 22-0 lead into half-time when Handre Pollard added a penalty to a routine second from Mapimpi.

Mapimpi showed incredible pace when he motored away with Pieter-Steph du Toit's pass to complete his hat-trick, but Kotaro Matsushima – born in Pretoria – pulled one back to the delight of the home support.

South Africa finished the match a man light due to Francois Louw being sent to the sin bin following repeated team infringements, but Kolbe charged home from inside his own 22 and Herschel Jantjies scored his fourth try in as many Tests to send the Rugby Championship winners into the World Cup full of confidence.

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