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back into the team – looked far more ruthless and were able to give Best a victorious send-off, with the 37-year-old withdrawn in the 53rd minute.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.

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.

Wallabies flanker David Pocock will retire from internationals after the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

Pocock, 31, is set to make his 78th Test appearance for Australia in a clash against Samoa in Parramatta on Saturday.

But the flanker will end his Test career after the Rugby World Cup, which begins in Japan on September 20, he announced on Friday.

"I think looking at the flankers coming through, I think we're in good hands and that's exciting for Australian rugby," the former Wallabies captain told a news conference.

"I feel like I've put a lot into it, I've really enjoyed it, benefitted a huge amount.

"As an immigrant to Australia, rugby's provided me with somewhere to make friends, to feel like I belong and obviously gone on to get huge opportunities playing professional rugby – Force, Brumbies and for the Wallabies.

"So, I feel like it's time to move on to other things and contribute in other areas."

Pocock is the third Wallaby to announce their international retirement this week, joining Sekope Kepu and Tatafu Polota-Nau.

Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray will feature together for the first time since March when Ireland host Wales at the Aviva Stadium in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up match on Saturday.

Joe Schmidt - who will be overseeing his final match in Dublin - and Warren Gatland named largely second-string teams for their first encounter at the Principality Stadium last weekend, which the visitors won 22-17.

Ireland have made 12 changes to their line-up, with Sexton returning from a thumb injury and half-back Murray making his first appearance since going off in the defeat to England at Twickenham on August 24.

Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw will make their first pre-World Cup appearances, while Rory Best will captain the side in his last Test on home soil.

James Ryan, Jack Conan and Bundee Aki are the only players to have retained their spots in the starting line-up.

On the returns of Sexton, Henshaw and Earls, defence coach Andy Farrell said: "They've been held back for a week or two and are raring to go.

"It's important that we put in a cohesive performance and have the right mental attitude heading into the World Cup.

"It's about trying a few different combinations, too. The squad is down to 31 players but there is still massive competition for places.

"It's our last game before we get on the plane on Wednesday and we're after a performance that we're proud of."

 

Ireland: Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Keith Earls, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Jean Kleyn, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson, Rhys Ruddock, Jack Carty, Garry Ringrose.

Wallabies veteran Tatafu Polota-Nau has announced he will retire from Tests at the end of the year.

Polota-Nau, 34, is set to make his 90th appearance for Australia against Samoa in Parramatta on Saturday.

It could be his last game for the Wallabies, the Leicester Tigers hooker having only been named on standby for the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

"It is [special] because the west has given me the opportunity to take rugby with both hands and go for it," Polota-Nau said on Wednesday.

"If it wasn't for Parramatta Two Blues picking up the skill set I possessed back in schoolboys days, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to don the green and gold.

"It's a privilege really to wear the Wallabies jersey.

"It's another opportunity to wear the gold jersey, most likely for the last time, and it's been a hell of a journey and I have been incredibly fortunate to wear the jersey every time."

Polota-Nau joins fellow Wallaby Sekope Kepu in announcing his retirement from Tests this week.

Stuart McInally will captain Scotland at the Rugby World Cup but there is no place for Huw Jones in the 31-man squad.

Edinburgh hooker McInally was confirmed in the role on Tuesday by coach Gregor Townsend, who has selected 12 players from Glasgow Warriors for the tournament in Japan.

However, Warriors centre Jones failed to make the cut for one of the midfield spots, with Northampton's Rory Hutchinson also missing out.

Peter Horne and Chris Harris have instead been chosen alongside expected first-choice pairing Sam Johnson and Duncan Taylor, while Adam Hastings will provide cover for fellow fly-half Finn Russell.

John Barclay - the most-capped player in the squad with 74 international appearances - will be involved in a third World Cup campaign, having also featured at the 2007 and 2011 editions.

"We're delighted with the squad and believe we've picked a group capable of playing our best rugby and doing this consistently throughout the tournament," said Townsend, who announced his final list of players at an outdoor ceremony held at a rainy Linlithgow Palace.

"The players have worked hard to be in the best physical shape of their careers and we know that when they play to their potential they are capable of beating any team in the world."

On selecting McInally for the captaincy, Townsend revealed: "Stuart has done a really good job in the opportunities he's had to captain Scotland.

"We have a number of leaders in our squad and it was great to see them work well together out in Georgia last week."

Scotland open their Pool A campaign against Six Nations rivals Ireland in Yokohama on September 22. Host nation Japan, Russia and Samoa are also in the same group.

 

Scotland Rugby World Cup squad in full:

Forwards: John Barclay, Simon Berghan, Fraser Brown, Scott Cummings, Allan Dell, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Stuart McInally (captain), Willem Nel, Gordon Reid, Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson, Ben Toolis, George Turner, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson.

Backs: Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg, George Horne, Pete Horne, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn, Greig Laidlaw, Sean Maitland, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour, Duncan Taylor.

Brian O'Driscoll feels England have "all the attributes" to win a Rugby World Cup, making Eddie Jones' side a "huge threat" in Japan.

England have one World Cup warm-up match remaining against Italy at Newcastle's St James' Park this week, having impressed in recent weeks with home victories over Wales and Ireland.

The defeat of Ireland was particularly striking, with Jones' men running up a record margin of victory over one of the world's best sides.

Manu Tuilagi, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola all starred in that victory and retired Ireland great O'Driscoll, who played at four World Cups, was impressed.

"I feel as if England are in a phenomenal position at the moment," O'Driscoll, a Land Rover ambassador, told Omnisport. "They are playing great stuff, they've got all their main players fit and in rude health, they're trying different combinations.

"If they can go into it with a limited injury list off the back of the final game against Italy, I think they are really humming at the moment and they'll be a very, very difficult team to beat.

"They look fit, they look strong, powerful, good variety to their game.

"I think they've got all the attributes we've seen in other previous World Cup-winning teams if they're able to implement that on the big stage. I think they'll be a huge threat."

Jamie Heaslip, O'Driscoll's ex-Ireland team-mate, similarly sees England challenging in Japan, suggesting injuries have prevented the team from getting the credit they deserve previously.

"Ireland, England and Wales have shown their form over the last two years – particularly England in the last 12 months," said Heaslip, also a Land Rover ambassador.

"People forgot they had a lot of players who were injured. They have a very fit squad right now available for selection.

"Look at Manu Tuilagi and his impact [against Ireland]. You've got Billy Vunipola, who impacts the game at number eight, and Joe Marler and the difference he makes."

As a former number eight, Heaslip has paid particular attention to Vunipola and the balance England have been able to strike in their back row with Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.

"Billy carries unbelievably well – he's so dynamic for such a big man, he's fast, he's got really good footwork – so you need balance," he said.

"I think you saw that [against Ireland]. There was a really balanced back row. That's going to be the trick for Eddie Jones in the back row, finding that balance.

"You can't just carry the ball, you need guys who rook, guys who do some hard yard work at times, and I think England have a very vast pack to be able to do that.

"They've got some players who are really dynamic and I look at that England back row and it's pretty formidable."


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Rory Hutchinson scored two tries on his first Test start as Scotland cruised to a 44-10 victory over Georgia in their Rugby World Cup warm-up match in Tbilisi.

In the last game before coach Gregor Townsend names his final squad of 31 on Tuesday, Hutchinson boosted his chances of tournament selection with a fine display that helped Scotland to their first away win in 14 months.

Prior to the match, Townsend and star man Finn Russell defended the decision to name a strong XV for the contest, despite losing Sam Skinner for the World Cup in an injury picked up in last week's home win over France.

While there were 10 changes, Hamish Watson, Greig Laidlaw and Russell all started, while hooker Stuart McInally returned to captain a side containing many players expected to be on the plane to Japan.

Scotland, the first tier-one nation to play a Test in Georgia, produced a much better performance than in their last away game, the humbling 32-3 defeat to France in Nice for which they took revenge in Edinburgh.

They led Georgia 23-3 at the interval after Ben Toolis and Hutchinson dotted down inside the first 19 minutes.

They raced clear in the second half, with centre Hutchinson scoring his second before Darcy Graham and Scott Cummings went over, the latter getting his first international try.

Laidlaw had 15 points with his boot to supplement a five-try display, with Karlen Asieshvili scoring Georgia's only try just before the hour mark.

Warren Gatland acknowledged six positions in Wales' Rugby World Cup squad are still to be decided in the wake of their final warm-up match, with Cory Hill a doubt due to a leg fracture.

Wales' squad for the tournament in Japan is set to be announced on Sunday and Gatland's players were given one final opportunity to impress against Ireland on Saturday.

However, they were beaten 22-17 in Cardiff after a poor first-half showing.

The performances of certain individuals still appeared to give Gatland much to ponder, though, as he confirmed his plans to debate Wales' various options.

"We're going back to the hotel tonight to sit down and it'll take a few hours," he told a news conference. "There are probably six positions really up for debate."

Gatland confirmed Hill's inclusion was one issue that was still to be settled, revealing the 24-cap lock has been absent from the warm-up games due to a leg fracture.

"Our big discussion tonight is with Cory Hill," he explained. "He's got a fracture in his leg.

"We scanned yesterday [Friday] and he has a very small fracture which will probably keep him out until game two or three. It'll be a big discussion point as to whether we take him or not."

Another area of contention would appear to be at fly-half, where Jarrod Evans started against Ireland before Rhys Patchell came off the bench to score a smart late try.

Gatland insisted Patchell's role in Wales' attempted second-half fightback would not necessarily give him the edge over Evans.

"There's no doubt that Rhys came on and did a good job," the head coach said. "But it's a hell of a lot easier coming off the bench when there's no pressure on you.

"It was hard for Jarrod in the first half when the team isn't going as well as it could."

Saturday's defeat means Wales, the world's top-ranked side, will fall to number four in next week's update.

Ireland did not do enough with a narrow margin of victory to take top spot in the rankings, but they will climb to second as New Zealand return to the summit.

Next week's remaining warm-up fixtures are set to decide who will head to the World Cup as the number-one team.

Ireland bounced back from last week's dismal defeat to England with a much-improved display and a 22-17 win in Wales in their latest Rugby World Cup warm-up.

Jacob Stockdale scored twice in the first half to secure bragging rights for the Irish in the first match of a double-header between the sides across consecutive weekends.

The display was extremely encouraging considering what had gone before for Joe Schmidt's side, although they were kept off the top of the rankings, having needed a 15-point victory against the world's number one side.

A late flourish from Wales in Warren Gatland's final home match could not quite complete a comeback.

Ireland's improvement was evident from the off and Jack Carty kicked the game's first points after nine minutes, although Jarrod Evans - making his first Test start - levelled the scores for Wales with a penalty in front of the posts.

Opportunities in open play were initially few and far between until a glorious weaving run from Andrew Conway created the opening try.

The winger raced away from three challenges and then unselfishly passed to Stockdale on the left to dash through.

And Stockdale had his second before the break as he preyed on a loose Wales pass and toed the ball clear of the recovering red shirts to dart across the line.

Wales enjoyed a better spell immediately after half-time but were soon on the back foot again and saw Leon Brown sent to the sin bin following a collapsed scrum as Ireland piled on the pressure.

A blatant forward pass denied Conway a try on the right, yet there was no let-up and Rory Best helped drive Wales back to secure a penalty try following a series of re-set scrums.

The home side belatedly got a breakthrough try with some lovely footwork from Owen Lane, with Ireland then suddenly hanging on as Elliot Dee lunged just short of the try-line.

Bundee Aki's challenge on an airborne James Davies meant Garry Ringrose's counter-attacking score was struck off, and Rhys Patchell's impressive late try could not rescue a Welsh result.

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