Namibia and Canada's final Pool B match at the Rugby World Cup has been cancelled due to the impact of Typhoon Hagibis.

Both teams were aiming to claim a first win of the tournament in Japan, but the tropical storm – one of the most powerful to hit the country in decades – means Sunday's match in Kamaishi will not go ahead.

New Zealand's match against Italy and England's clash with France, both of which were due to take place on Saturday, were cancelled on Thursday. Italy's slim chance of reaching the quarter-finals was ended by the decision.

The crucial Pool A fixture between Japan and Scotland has also come under threat, with Gregor Townsend's team needing a bonus-point victory to be sure of progression.

A pitch inspection was due to decide the fate of Sunday's Yokohama contest. In the result of a cancelled fixture the score would be classed as 0-0, resulting in Scotland going out of the competition and Japan progressing to the last eight for the first time.

Scottish Rugby has threatened legal action in such a scenario.

However, World Rugby said in a statement that it hoped Sunday's remaining fixtures, including the Japan-Scotland match, would go ahead as planned.

World Rugby chief operating officer and tournament director Alan Gilpin said: "We remain optimistic that Sunday's remaining matches will go ahead as scheduled in Kumamoto, Hanazono and Yokohama, which are much further south and therefore outside of the impact of the storm conditions this morning."

Canada coach Kingsley Jones wants his team to end a disappointing year on a high when they tackle Namibia in their farewell to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The Welshman has overseen dismal campaigns at the Americas Rugby Championship and the Pacific Nations Cup in 2019, and three World Cup defeats means their tournament record this year reads: won one, lost 10.

That lone success was a victory over Chile, and the only way Canada can leave Japan with a sense of real achievement will be to see off Namibia on Sunday in Kamaishi City.

Jones has gone with experience for the Pool B wooden spoon match, making five changes to the side that lost 66-7 to South Africa last time out, as Gordon McRorie, Djustice Sears-Duru, Eric Howard, Conor Keys and Patrick Parfrey come in.

"It might be the last time some of these guys get an opportunity in the shirt," Jones said.

"Everybody really wants to be a part of this big game ahead. Some tough decisions for us but we feel we've got to pick the best 23 to make sure we get that result."

Given Canada have scored just 14 points across three defeats so far, the Canucks need to find a hitherto unseen cutting edge against a dangerous Namibia side.

"They're well organised, they're fast, and they want to play physical so it's a big challenge for us," Jones said of Namibia, as quoted on Canada's official website.

The Namibians are also coached by a Welshman in Phil Davies, and the chance of a first World Cup victory after 22 consecutive defeats at the tournament since their 1999 debut is one they are eager to snatch.

Speaking after his side went down 71-9 to New Zealand last time out, Davies said his squad were physically "banged up" by the All Blacks experience.

But he said the opportunity to play in Kamaishi, a city devastated but now recovering from the deadly March 2011 tsunami, was something Namibia would embrace this weekend.

"I visited Kamaishi in December and it's an amazing place," Davies said. "The way they've fought back from that disaster is incredible, using the spirit of rugby to rebuild the city.

"We feel very privileged and humbled that we're trying to add to that rebuild and hopefully we can leave a positive legacy post-match."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Namibia - Eugene Jantjies

Jantjies returns to the Namibia XV after starting on the bench against the All Blacks, coming in for Damian Stevens. The 33-year-old could play a key role in landing that long-elusive first victory.

Canada - DTH van der Merwe

The experienced Van der Merwe will be familiar to British club rugby supporters after his two spells with Glasgow Warriors, either side of stints with the Scarlets and Newcastle. He will win his 62nd cap, moving him level with James Pritchard and Rod Snow for seventh on Canada's all-time list.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be the third meeting between Namibia and Canada in Test rugby. Canada have won both previous clashes, 72-11 at the 1999 Rugby World Cup and 17-13 in 2014.

- Canada have lost just three of their 12 Rugby World Cup matches against second-tier opposition, winning seven and drawing two; however, across their last five such matches they have won just once (D2, L2).

- Namibia's most recent Rugby World Cup match against a fellow tier-two opponent saw them lose 17-16 to Georgia in the 2015 tournament.

- Canada's total of 14 points makes them the lowest-scoring side in the pool stage at this tournament. They have scored at least 45 points in each previous Rugby World Cup campaign.

- DTH van der Merwe has gained 948 metres in his Rugby World Cup career, and 52 more would see him become the first player from Canada in the tournament’s history to log 1,000 metres. Only three players from any nation have reached the milestone: Jonah Lomu, Bryan Habana and David Campese.

New Zealand's players were on the receiving end of a fearsome half-time dressing down from head coach Steve Hansen before they pulled away from Namibia to claim a 71-9 win at the Rugby World Cup.

Minnows Namibia comfortably exceeded expectations in the early stages of Sunday's Pool B clash and trailed by just a solitary point after half an hour.

Converted tries from Angus Ta'avao and Ben Smith ensured the All Blacks were 24-9 up by the interval, but that did not stop Hansen from letting rip at his players in an aggressive team talk, which reaped rewards as New Zealand crossed seven times in the second period.

"It was one of the better ones and rightly so," hooker Dane Coles was quoted as saying by the New Zealand Herald. "We deserved it so he got into the boys. It was direct, old school; it was bloody good. You don't see too much of that these days so I was bloody enjoying it."

Prop Ta'avao added: "We needed that and the boys came out firing in the second half and got back to being direct and looking after the ball.

"Hopefully we shouldn't really need that from Steve again. I haven't seen him [like that] in my short time in the black jersey, but I haven't been in a side where we have started like that.

"It was good to see. Every coach needs to have that. You have to keep the boys honest when you need to. But hopefully that is the last time he needs to step in because it is our job as players to do our jobs."

Speaking in a news conference, Hansen suggested a short turnaround following Wednesday's win over Canada was a factor in the world champions' poor first-half showing against Namibia.

"In the first half, we probably didn't turn up with the right attitude and allowed Namibia to partake a lot more than they should have," said Hansen. "That's not being disrespectful to Namibia but we sorted that out at half-time and came up with a bit more direction and understanding of what we wanted to do, and played pretty well.

"I think when you have a short turnaround, like four days, you have to have two pretty soft training runs from a physical point of view, then it's pretty easy to turn up not quite mentally right. And that's one of the biggest challenges in sport, particularly when you know you're gonna play an opposition that - and again, I'm not being disrespectful here - you know you should beat.

"Players and coaches and management can get a little bit lost in their mental preparation, for want of a better word. And when the opposition are right up for the game, it can look ugly and messy and that's what happened in the first half.

"I don't think it's a major issue. I think it's just something that happens in sport and it's a good reminder to all of us that every time you play you have to get yourself mentally in the right head space to be able to go out and perform to the level you want to perform at."

The All Blacks produced a dominant second half to thrash Namibia 71-9 at the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.

After a sloppy start, New Zealand improved after the break in Chofu on their way to a third win in as many games in Pool B.

Anton Lienert-Brown, Sevu Reece and Ben Smith crossed for two tries apiece as the All Blacks went over 11 times.

The two-time defending champions – who had Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu'ungafasi sin-binned during their win – scored seven tries in the second half, a much-needed response after their struggles in the opening 40 minutes.

Namibia made a bright start and Damian Stevens kicked them into a shock early lead.

The All Blacks responded immediately as Reece easily took a Jordie Barrett kick to the right wing before scoring.

New Zealand were sloppy during the first half, making numerous errors, but Lienert-Brown stretched their lead in the 20th minute when he powered to the line after a pass inside from Ardie Savea.

A couple of Stevens penalties followed for Namibia before Nepo Laulala was sent to the sin bin for a high shot on Lesley Klim.

But the All Blacks struck twice more before half-time through Angus Ta'avao and Smith, before Joe Moody powered over to make it 29-9 shortly after the break.

New Zealand were finally starting to find their rhythm and Lienert-Brown went over again on the right, Barrett throwing the final pass after his initial break.

Reece went over for his second try and the All Blacks' seventh before captain Sam Whitelock crashed over from close range with 25 minutes remaining.

A brilliant pass from Lienert-Brown helped set up Smith for the full-back to bag a double before New Zealand received another yellow card for a high tackle, this time to Tu'ungafasi.

Barrett scored a deserved try late on as he took his individual tally to 21 points before TJ Perenara capped off the victory with a superb finish in the corner after a behind-the-back pass from Brad Weber.

 

Retallick's return gives All Blacks another boost

Brodie Retallick made his first appearance since dislocating his shoulder in July to give the All Blacks another boost. The lock got through half an hour before being replaced, New Zealand surely managing his minutes as he regains fitness.

Devastating second half what New Zealand needed

The All Blacks were well below their best in the first half, their errors helping keep Namibia in the game. But they delivered after the break, improved handling, speed and their physicality seeing them score seven second-half tries to produce a performance closer to the one most were expecting.

What's next?

The All Blacks wrap up their pool stage against Italy on Saturday, while Namibia face Canada a day later.

Steve Hansen says Jordie Barrett has the "swagger" to "boss the game" at fly-half when New Zealand face Namibia in the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.

Barrett will don the famous All Blacks number 10 jersey for the first time in the Pool B encounter at Tokyo Stadium, where the defending champions should claim a bonus-point win to go top of Pool B and put one foot in the quarter-finals.

All three Barrett brothers scored tries in a 63-0 battering of Canada on Wednesday, making history by becoming the first siblings to play in the same New Zealand side at a World Cup.

Youngest brother Jordie has played as a full-back, centre and wing at international level, and New Zealand head coach Hansen says he can thrive as a makeshift fly-half in a much-changed side that will be captained by Sam Whitelock.

"I don't see him playing too often at 10," Hansen said. "But in the circumstances we've got, someone had to do it and he's our best choice.

"He's a back-three player, I think. As he gets older, he may end up in the midfield, but for me, he's a got a skillset ideally suited to the back three - he's got a big boot, he's good under the high ball, he's brave on the chase and he's got good handling skills.

"He's got plenty of swagger. That boy is not short of it. But I don't think you can mistake swagger or confidence for arrogance. He's not an arrogant boy, he's a humble kid.

"He'll be looking forward to it. I know he's excited by the challenge and he'll boss the game, because that's how he plays."

Fit-again lock Brodie Retallick will make his first appearance of the tournament for the holders.

Centre Johan Deysel returns to the starting line-up to lead a Namibia team which shows nine changes after the 57-3 thumping by South Africa.

First-choice fly-half Cliven Loubser plays no part as a result of an ankle injury suffered against the Springboks, so TC Kisting comes in at number 10.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

New Zealand - Brodie Retallick

Retallick returns ahead of schedule after a 10-week absence caused by a dislocated left shoulder. Hansen says he has been "counting down the days" for what is set to be a short comeback, with an eye on making a bigger impact later in the tournament.

Namibia - Johan Deysel

Centre Deysel recovered from a shoulder injury to come off the bench against South Africa and the centre will want to make his presence felt in midfield, with fond memories of scoring against New Zealand in the last World Cup.


KEY OPTA FACTS

- New Zealand have won their last 16 World Cup matches, the longest run of victories by any side in the history of the tournament.

- Namibia have played the most World Cup matches of any side yet to win a match at the tournament, losing each of their 21 fixtures.

- The All Blacks have won 13 of the 32 World Cup matches that have been won by 60 points or more, after their drubbing of Canada.

- The two nations have met in just one Test, that clash coming at the Olympic Stadium in London at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, with the All Blacks winning 58-14.

Brodie Retallick has been named to make his return for the All Blacks when they face Namibia at the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.

Retallick, 28, was initially in doubt for the tournament due to a dislocated shoulder suffered against South Africa in July.

However, the lock will make his return against Namibia in the Pool B encounter in Chofu.

"It's great to have Brodie back. There's been some great work done by not only Brodie himself but also by the medical team," All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said in a statement on Friday.

"Obviously, Brodie is very excited to be in a position to pull the jersey back on."

Retallick's return is a huge boost for a New Zealand side who have won their opening two games of the tournament.

Jordie Barrett will start at fly-half for the All Blacks, who will be in action just four days after their 63-0 thrashing of Canada.

"In naming this team, we had to consider the short turnaround between the Canadian and Namibian games," Hansen said. "We've managed to ensure that we've got plenty of fresh players starting this match.

"We're very happy with where we are at after our first two games. However, the expectations going into the match on Sunday don't change. We need to keep improving. In all games it's important to nail the mental self-preparation, as it's not about who you're playing, it's about your own personal standards.

"Our preparation on-field this week is all about getting the balance right over the next two days. It's a case of not too much and not too little, from a physical point of view."

Samuel Whitelock will captain the All Blacks for a sixth time.

 

New Zealand: Ben Smith, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge, Jordie Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Samuel Whitelock, Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea.
Replacements: Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Matt Todd, Brad Weber, TJ Perenara, Rieko Ioane.

Rassie Erasmus said South Africa left plenty of room for improvement despite thrashing Namibia 57-3 at the Rugby World Cup.

But the Springboks boss felt difficult conditions were again a factor in Toyota City on Saturday, where his team scored nine tries but found the humidity a challenging obstacle to performing at their fluent best.

The heat, and its intensity, has been a challenge for most teams in the tournament, leaving the ball slippery and players swiftly coated in sweat.

Erasmus believes the problem will pass later in the tournament, as the climate changes, but for now he says it is "tough for everybody".

That problem did not prevent the Springboks dominating from start to finish against Namibia, however, with Makazole Mapimpi's try double taking him to 10 five-pointers in 10 Tests for South Africa. Only Rieko Ioane and Joe Taufete'e, both with 12, have scored more tries in Test rugby than Mapimpi since his debut in June 2018.

Bongi Mbonambi also grabbed two tries, with the hooker burrowing over from close range on each occasion against unsteady Namibian defence.

After last weekend's defeat to New Zealand, the objective was straightforward for South Africa.

"We needed to bounce back and to win," Erasmus said.

He added: "For us, I think a few boxes ticked. Certainly not a perfect performance; certainly a lot of work still to do.

"It wasn't a wonderful performance but it was a solid performance. I think it was the first 50-pointer in the World Cup so that's not too bad."

Ball-handling was an issue that affected Ireland in their shock defeat to hosts Japan earlier in the day, and after watching that match in its entirety on television, Erasmus insisted it was a serious factor for teams to contend with.

"It's difficult to explain to people how tough it is to handle in those conditions," he said.

"It's always easy the first 15 or 20 minutes. The ball's going to stick, and then after that it's going to be almost impossible to handle the ball."

Erasmus added: "I think after the pool games, according to what players who've played here before and some of the coaches who've coached here in Japan have told me, there's a sudden change in two or three weeks' time; not so much in the temperature but the humidity changes quite quickly, and I think then handling the ball gets a little bit easier.

"There might be one or two upsets in the pool stages but when you get to the quarter-finals, semi-finals, final, then the best team probably will win, because that humidity factor won't play such a big role.

"A classic example was probably today with Ireland and Japan, just because of the way Japan are used to this and the way they handle the ball.

"Ireland are a team that love to keep ball in hand, although they do have a great kicking game. I watched that game right to the end and only went to the warm-up after that game was finished.

"It definitely changes your approach. I don't think you will adapt in the next week or two, and all of a sudden it probably will go away. It's tough for everybody."

Schalk Brits began the match at number eight, rather than his usual hooker berth, and said South Africa delivered "a great performance".

"Whatever the coach wants, I'll play. Just to be on the pitch with such a great bunch of boys, it's phenomenal," said 38-year-old Brits.

South Africa move on to face Italy next and cannot afford to stumble against the Azzurri, who have beaten Namibia and Canada so far.

"They'll bring different challenges," Brits said. "We've watched both of their games and it's a great side with Conor [O'Shea] in charge.

"We'll analyse them and hopefully we can outsmart them."

South Africa are aiming to shrug off their opening Rugby World Cup loss to New Zealand and Kwagga Smith believes they will have no problem putting that defeat behind when they face Namibia.

The Springboks were many people's tip to dethrone the All Blacks - winners of the last two World Cups - but a 23-13 win for the holders in Pool B last Saturday reaffirmed that New Zealand remain the team to beat.

Rassie Erasmus' side are already 10 points behind Italy following their two bonus-point wins and know they cannot afford to slip up in their final three games - starting with Namibia on Saturday - as they chase a quarter-final berth.

Smith, who will start at openside flanker against Namibia, intends to utilise his experiences of sevens rugby to ensure South Africa do not dwell on their New Zealand defeat.

Both Smith and wing Cheslin Kolbe were part of the South Africa sevens team that won bronze at the 2016 Olympics.

"In a sevens tournament, you don't have time to doubt yourself if you lose the first game," Smith said in quotes published on the Rugby World Cup's website.

"It has happened before, and we won [sevens] tournaments like that. It's about focusing on the next game and doing what you can to win the game.

"For us as a World Cup team, this game [against New Zealand] is finished now, and we can't do anything about it. We have the next game in front of us, and we can't focus further than that."

Erasmus has made 13 changes to the side beaten by the All Blacks in Yokohama, and Schalk Brits, who typically operates at hooker, will captain the team from number eight.

Namibia have also shuffled their pack in making 10 changes from the XV that started the 47-22 loss to Italy in their opening game.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

South Africa - Makazole Mapimpi

The Springboks will have a new-look back-three combination against Namibia. Mapimpi is the only man to keep his place and he will see this game as an opportunity to continue his excellent international record. The wing has scored eight tries in nine appearances for South Africa.

Namibia - Eugene Jantjies

Scrum-half Jantjies is featuring in his fourth World Cup and is his country's most-capped player. After coming off the bench against Italy, he has been promoted to the starting line-up and will make his 68th international appearance.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- South Africa have met Namibia just twice before, with the Springboks winning both clashes and scoring 192 points in the process. Their only previous meeting at a World Cup ended in an 87-0 win for South Africa in 2011 - their largest ever victory in the competition.

- The Springboks have won 17 of their 18 World Cup matches against non-tier one opposition. Their lone defeat was Japan's stunning success in 2015.

- Namibia have played the most World Cup matches without recording a victory, losing each of their 20 games to date.

- They have also conceded 169 tries in those 20 games at an average of 8.45 per game. Only Japan (174 tries in 29 games at an average of 6.0) have conceded more.

South Africa have made 13 changes to their starting side to face Namibia at the Rugby World Cup on Saturday.

The Springboks suffered a 23-13 loss to the All Blacks in their Pool B opener, but are expected to kick-start their campaign with a big win over Namibia.

They have opted to rotate their team, with only wing Makazole Mapimpi and centre Lukhanyo Am making back-to-back starts.

Schalk Brits is starting at number eight and will captain the Springboks, with Siya Kolisi to begin the encounter on the bench.

Usually a hooker, it marks a change in role for Brits, the 38-year-old who has made 13 Test appearances for South Africa.

Thomas Du Toit, called into the squad as a replacement for the injured Trevor Nyakane, is into the matchday 23, taking a spot on the bench.

 

South Africa: Warrick Gelant, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Frans Steyn, Makazole Mapimpi, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies; Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Lood De Jager, Francois Louw, Kwagga Smith, Schalk Brits.

Replacements: Steven Kitshoff, Thomas du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Cobus Reinach, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe.

Conor O'Shea was left frustrated by Italy's display against Namibia, despite his side starting their Rugby World Cup campaign with a 47-22 victory in Osaka.

Italy started a World Cup campaign with a win for the first time since 1991, with the Azzurri scoring seven tries in their encounter with the Pool B minnows.

It was not all plain sailing as Namibia struck first before O'Shea's side sparked into life.

A brilliant offload from Federico Ruzza's teed up Tito Tebaldi to burst clear and put Italy in control before half-time, and they tightened their grip after the interval.

However, with matches against South Africa and defending champions New Zealand still to come, O'Shea was not impressed with what he saw.

"We'll have to move on from that pretty quickly," he said. "It wasn't very pretty. There were too many errors in it and it was difficult conditions at times in the second half, which doesn't excuse it.

"We're disappointed with the way we played. We have a job to do in these first two games and you know that's not the true version of us, but we'll improve massively by the time we come to Thursday.

"It's a quick turnaround and you make lots of changes when you have the game in the bag that sometimes you shouldn't but you lose the continuity you might have started to build up.

"We just didn't get the pace into the game that we wanted. It was difficult out there and credit to Namibia anyway, but we'll take five points and we'll move on quickly."

Player of the match Ruzza, meanwhile, believes Italy deserved the win, having managed to overcome some turbulent weather conditions in Osaka.

"It was a tough match, the first of the World Cup, so everybody wants to put in a good performance. It was a very tough first half," Ruzza said.

"But we stayed in the game, respected the game plan and managed to get the points.

"We managed the conditions well, played well in the line outs. Now we turn the page for a tough match with Canada."

Italy had plenty to celebrate as Sergio Parisse and his team opened their Rugby World Cup campaign with a 47-22 victory over Namibia on Sunday.

Not since 1991 against the United States had Italy started a World Cup with a win but that changed against minnows Namibia in Osaka, where the Azzurri scored seven tries to three in the Group B clash.

Italy captain Parisse also earned a share of history, joining Mauro Bergamasco and Samoa's Brian Lima as only the third player to feature at five World Cups

Eyeing their first World Cup win at the 20th attempt, Namibia struck first in the fifth minute. A sensational passage of play featuring pace and slick hands seeing the speedy Damian Stevens emphatically cross over, and Cliven Loubser added the extras in a memorable moment.

However, Italy responded six minutes later courtesy of a penalty try and it sparked Conor O'Shea's men.

A mix of desperation and determination kept Namibia on level terms until Tommaso Allan scored underneath the posts and converted his own try approaching the half-hour mark after a move that started in Italy's own half.

Italy moved clear 21-7 on the stroke of half-time after Federico Ruzza's brilliant no-look offload allowed Tito Tebaldi to burst clear as Allan added another two points.

Greeted by sunny skies in the first half, the second 40 minutes started with rain lashing the stadium and it benefited Italy, who scored two tries within seven minutes of the restart via Edoardo Padovani and Carlo Canna.

There was another enjoyable moment for Namibia approaching the hour mark after J.C. Greyling charged into the far corner and Chad Plato also had the crowd on their feet at the death, after Italy pair Jake Polledri and Matteo Minozzi had crossed over.

 

Italy show glimpses in pursuit of knockout round

The Azzurri have never progressed beyond the group stage of a World Cup, but Italy impressed at times in mixed conditions. If not for some sloppy hands, the margin of victory could have been greater. It was, however, the second most points Italy have scored, behind the 53 managed against Russia in 2011.

Namibia no pushovers

Namibia enjoyable a memorable opening to the match and while they walked away emptyhanded, there was a lot to like about this team, who displayed plenty of grit and skill.

What's next?

Italy will face Canada in Fukuoka on Thursday, while Namibia take on South Africa two days later in Toyota.

Sergio Parisse will earn a share of Rugby World Cup history on Sunday but insists his focus is on victory for Italy against Namibia.

The Azzurri begin their campaign in Higashiosaka this weekend and, as expected, captain Parisse has been selected by Conor O'Shea to lead the side.

This appearance will make the Italy skipper just the third player to feature at five World Cups, joining compatriot Mauro Bergamasco and Samoa's Brian Lima.

Parisse is also due to collect his 141st cap, meaning he moves level with Brian O'Driscoll as the second most-capped player of all time behind Richie McCaw.

But Parisse is determined to deliver team success rather than worrying about his individual achievements.

"I cannot wait to play on Sunday," he said. "The preparation has been long and intense and we have built up well. We have prepared for this game against Namibia in the best way possible.

"It will be important to find our feet quickly. Playing my fifth World Cup for Italy is a point of pride but, at the moment, I'm not thinking about it. The team is the priority."

Coach O'Shea must also remain focused on the task at hand despite continued confusion over whether he will remain in his role beyond the tournament.

It had been suggested Franco Smith would replace O'Shea, although that was denied, and reports linked Rob Howley with the job before the Wales backs coach was sent home from Japan over an alleged breach of betting regulations.

Discussing the clash with Namibia, O'Shea said: "We have been preparing for this moment for a long time, going through several stages. Now we will finally take to the field.

"We have worked to a good level and now we want to demonstrate our value on the field. Our only goal now is to start the World Cup in the best way and get a good result against Namibia."

Tjiuee Uanivi will captain Namibia, while Eugene Jantjies becomes their first player to appear at four World Cups.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Italy - Edoardo Padovani

The Azzurri finished the 2019 Six Nations bottom of the pile after seeing their run of consecutive defeats in the competition stretch to 22 matches. However, Padovani at least proved a bright spark, scoring tries against Scotland, Wales and Ireland as Italy threatened the occasional scare.

Namibia - Tjiuee Uanivi

Former Namibia captain Renaldo Bothma confirmed his international retirement ahead of the squad announcement, with Johan Deysel taking on the role. But the new skipper's absence from the opener sees the responsibility on the shoulders of deputy Uanivi increase further.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Italy won the sides' previous meeting 49-24 in 2001, but Namibia had come out on top in their prior two meetings in 1991.

- Not since 1991 against the United States have Italy began a World Cup campaign with a victory, losing their past six openers.

- This will be Namibia's 20th World Cup match and they are still looking for their first win at the tournament.

- Italy's only away Test win in their past 16 such matches came in Japan against the World Cup hosts in June last year.

It may not prove to be the case in the long run, but New Zealand feel a little vulnerable going into the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Having failed to win this year's shortened version of the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks are no longer the top-ranked side prior to the tournament in Japan.

Admittedly, they have not suffered a World Cup defeat since 2007, when they were stunned by France in a quarter-final in Cardiff. Their pedigree, plus their strength in depth, means Steve Hansen's side deserve to be considered the favourites.

Still, there is a glimmer of hope for the rest of the rugby heavyweights. The question is: who is best placed to dethrone the champions? 

 

1. SOUTH AFRICA

Could the Springboks be peaking at just the right time? They won the Rugby Championship for the fourth time this year and, after a shocking start against Japan, came as close as any nation to ending New Zealand's march towards a second straight World Cup in 2015. An early crack at the All Blacks in their Pool B opener will give them the chance to land a potentially telling blow. Also, the Boks ruled the world in 1995 and 2007. Now, 12 years on from their previous success, will the trend be repeated? They deserve to be viewed as the main contenders to the defending champions.

2. ENGLAND

It cannot possibly go any worse than four years ago, right? Eddie Jones – who was in charge of the Japan team that upset the Boks in Brighton in 2015 – is at the helm and the schedule has aided their campaign, as they have Tonga and the United States in their opening two fixtures in Pool C, giving them a chance to iron out any issues before they round out the stage by facing Argentina and France. The talismanic Owen Farrell is the key – and not just because of his outstanding kicking off the tee.

3. WALES

Warren Gatland could finish his spell in charge by doing a Six Nations Grand Slam and World Cup double. The Kiwi reached the semi-finals in 2011 and then the quarters four years ago. The reason they are not rated higher, however, is the list of absentees. Flanker Taulupe Faletau and fly-half Gareth Anscombe are missing due to injuries, scrum-half Rhys Webb is unavailable due to selection rules and attack coach Rob Howley has returned home over an alleged betting breach.

4. IRELAND

Like several of his counterparts, Joe Schmidt's tenure comes to an end with the World Cup. His final Six Nations did not go quite to plan, but Ireland top the world rankings, defeated New Zealand less than a year ago (in a game where the mighty All Blacks failed to score a try) and have plenty of experience in their squad. Much will depend on the form and fitness of fly-half Johnny Sexton - can he help the team recapture the form they displayed in 2018? While Pool A looks to be plain sailing, they face the prospect of New Zealand or South Africa in the last eight.

5. AUSTRALIA

The beaten finalists from four years ago will be relying on experience to go one better than 2015. Michael Cheika has often seemed on the brink as their head coach, but he raised hopes by beating New Zealand 47-26 in Perth in August. Still, they lost the rematch 36-0 on the road and are minus their leading strike weapon in Israel Folau, who is locked in a legal dispute with the Australia Rugby Union following his sacking for comments on social media. Without him, they will be more workmanlike than eye-catching in attack. 

6. SCOTLAND

Scotland are in a pool that, apart from Ireland, looks softer than some of the alternative options. They will not take hosts Japan for granted in their final round-robin fixture and, if they do progress, will have to cause an upset against either New Zealand or South Africa in the next round. Gregor Townsend has plenty of World Cup experience from his playing days, but this is his first in charge of the national team - expect the Scots to be in some highly entertaining contests but the last four looks a long shot.

7. ARGENTINA

Los Pumas languish outside the top 10 in the rankings but have made the semi-finals at two of the last three World Cups. The reason they are listed so low here, though, is their group. Only two can progress and having been drawn alongside England and France, Argentina face a challenge to make the quarters. Mario Ledesma's squad is dominated by players from Jaguares, who reached the Super Rugby final for the first time this year, but will lean on the Stade Francais' Nicolas Sanchez to provide control.

8. FRANCE

There was a time when France were the team you wanted to avoid in the knockout stages (just ask New Zealand 12 years ago, while they only won the 2011 final 8-7 against Les Bleus). Yet this current bunch are not living up to previous versions, with a distinct lack of flair put down to a domestic game now dominated by big-name overseas recruits occupying key positions. Sure, France have turned it on for the big occasion in the past, but the 2019 squad should concentrate first on making it out of their pool.

AND THE REST...

Japan have improved since 2015. Italy? Not so much. The hosts can justifiably think a quarter-final slot is within reach, but the Azzurri look doomed in Pool B alongside the All Blacks and the Boks. Currently placed inside the world's top 10, Fiji will likely have to beat one of Australia or Wales just to make it out of their group. The other nations will hope for damage limitation against the big boys and aim to take points off each other in their remaining fixtures. 

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.