The Rugby World Cup starts on September 20 and will dominate the sporting agenda for the next six weeks until the final in Yokohama.
Twenty teams will be reduced to eight after 40 pool matches, after which the knockout rounds that start on October 19 will be the winner on November 2.
For many of you, rugby union will be an unknown concept, so here’s a simple question and answer to keep you informed about what to expect and what to look out for during the World Cup …
HOW CAN I VIEW IT?
Every game is on ITV, so they are all free. Ten of the lesser pool matches are on ITV4, but the other 38 matches, including all home matches and knockout matches, will be on ITV’s main channel.
As Japan is eight hours ahead of the UK, the games will be mainly watched in the morning, with kickoffs between 5:45 am and 12:15 pm. England’s group matches all start between 9am and 11.45am, with the knockout stage scheduled between 8.15am and 11.15pm.
ITV’s star-studded World Cup team included Brian O’Driscoll (top left), Jonny Wilkinson (top row, second right) and Sportsmail columnist Sir Clive Woodward (bottom row, second right)
WHY SHOULD I VIEW IT?
What better way to start your weekend mornings by watching free sports in bed? And the morning commute flies by when you can watch a game on your smartphone or tablet.
We all know that football is undisputedly the No. 1 sport in the world, but rugby has been growing fast in the era of professionalization since the 1990s. Gone are the days of the 6-3 game played in mud with endless scrums and no ball visible. It is now a fast, exciting game with incredible athletes from all over the world.
In addition, the depth in the game has grown enormously. Six teams have realistic hopes of winning the World Cup and there is quality on all sides.
ARE YOU NOT NEW ZEALAND YOU WALK?
Not necessary. The All Blacks are favorites to win the World Cup – as they have been since every edition in 1987 – but this has been their worst side for some time now and they seem to have at least three real challengers.
After being choked in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007, New Zealand finally won their second Webb Ellis Trophy in 2011 with a nervous victory over France in the final of their home World Cup, before the last edition got underway in England. But there’s no doubt that Steve Hansen isn’t as good as the 2015 vintage after several major retirement – including Richie McCaw and Dan Carter – and high-profile defeats to Australia, South Africa, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions in the last two years.
Richie McCaw (center) lifts the Webb Ellis trophy while New Zealand wins the 2015 World Cup
WHAT ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES OF ENGLAND?
Fairly good. Most bookies have them as second or third favorites and that seems fair. You can probably divide the contenders into four categories:
- Expect to win: New Zealand
- It wouldn’t be a shock if they won: England, South Africa, Wales
- Have the talent but go against the form book: Ireland, Australia
- Highly unlikely, but have a chance if everything falls into place: France, Scotland, Argentina
FOR WHOM ARE THE BOX-OFFICE STARS?
Halves are always at the center of rugby and Irish Johnny Sexton and New Zealand Beauden Barrett have won the last three IRB World Player of the Year awards. Sexton is more in the classic half shape, while Barrett is a magician who is not on the cuff, but both are able to win games independently.
English ball-bearing duo Billy Vunipola and center Manu Tuilagi have the potential to blow the Red Rose to the title if they stay fit, while Welsh Liam Williams is just as elusive as in the back three. Beware of 1.85 m in the South African lock Eben Etzebeth, not that you can miss it.
Ireland Fly-half Johnny Sexton (right) is the reigning IRB World Player of the Year
WHAT ARE THE 10 BEST GROUP GAMES TO WATCH?
1) Japan vs Russia: Friday, September 20, 11:45 AM
The curtain raiser certainly creates an electric atmosphere.
2) Australia v Fiji: Saturday, September 21, 5:45 am
Expect a high-scoring affair to kick off an epic rugby day.
3) France v Argentina: Saturday September 21, 8.15am
Feels like a knockout match on the second day of the tournament.
4) New Zealand vs. South Africa: Saturday, September 21, 10:45 AM
An unstoppable force meets a fixed object.
5) Ireland v Scotland: Sunday September 22, 8:45 am
Scotland will see their chances of being shocked.
6) Australia v Wales: Sunday, September 29, 8:45 AM
Probably to decide the group because both are trying to avoid New Zealand.
7) England vs Argentina: Saturday, October 5, 9:00 AM
England’s first real test.
8) Wales v Fiji: Wednesday, October 9, 10:45 AM
The entertaining Fijians will throw everything on Warren Gatland’s side.
9) England vs France: Saturday October 12, 9.15 am
Les Bleus will desperately do their best to derail England’s offer at Le Crunch.
10) Japan v Scotland: Sunday, October 13, 11.45 am
Hosts will likely know that a victory will forward them.
The World Cup Final will be held on November 2 at Yokohama International Stadium (photo)