Preview: 2015 Rugby World Cup

Date published: September 17 2015

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The biggest event in the history of our sport kicks off this weekend with the eighth Rugby World Cup set to break all kinds of records. 

Unless you've been in a coma for the last month you'll know that tournament hosts England face Fiji on Friday in the opening clash of a competition that has a potential television reach of 772 million households in 209 territories. That's an impressive 15 percent increase from 2011. 

RWC 2015 has also already broken all previous ticket sales records, with 2.25 million or 95 percent of tickets sold, surpassing the figure set in 2007.

We've had a busy time in the build-up, ensuring that Planet Rugby has everything you need to know, including previews and profiles for all the pools, teams, players and venues.

Click on the links below for:

Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool previews

Country profiles 

All 620 player profiles 

Rugby World Cup 2015 kits 

Venue guides 

You can also sign up for our Fantasy league  or our Predictions game.

This year's event is being billed as the most open World Cup in history with as many as six teams harbouring realistic ambitions of getting their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup.

As two-times winners, the southern hemisphere giants – New Zealand, South Africa and Australia – are always at the front of the queue of potential champions but England and Ireland have strong arguments to be included on the list. Meanwhile, history has shown us that writing-off three-times runners up France is a dangerous game, irrespective of their form over the previous four years.

The biggest questions naturally revolved around whether the hosts can join the elite club of double winners as they aim to use their home ground advantage to add to their title of 2003; and whether the All Blacks can become the first team to defend the world title (and claim the cup on foreign soil for the first time in the process). 

Overall Tournament Betting Preview (Betting Expert)
 

Wales are the only team to have failed to make at least the semi-finals as hosts, so there is huge pressure on Stuart Lancaster's team to deliver. Playing at Twickenham should get the home side through to the quarter-finals, at least. New Zealand's ability to handle RWC pressure remains a favourite topic of discussion in pubs across the planet, but the lessons learnt from past failures should stand them in good stead.

England's pool is rightly referred to the 'Pool of Death' as it features three of the world's top five ranked sides as well as upset specialists Fiji in one group. England v Australia on October 3 must be considered the biggest game of the Pool stages as it has a massive impact on the way the play-offs shape up. The next most important clash is probably France's showdown with Ireland in Cardiff a week later, with the winners of that clash set to head to the more favourable side of the draw.

Indeed, depending on the result of that game between the hosts and the recent Rugby Championship winners, it's very possible that the southern heavyweights – the top three ranked teams in the world currently – will all end up on the same side of the knock-out draw. 

The Springboks will watch Pool A closely since they are set to face the runners up in the quarter-finals. The Boks have arguably the hardest path to the final. But the All Blacks will fear no team more, despite South Africa's string of poor results this year, which have overshadowed an impressive opening 60 minutes against the New Zealand back in July. 

Ireland are able to boast back-to-back Six Nations titles and victories over both South Africa and Australia in the past 12 months so they must be considered the dark horses. With an astute coach, a formidable captain, quality fly-half and a good draw, they will fancy their chances of reaching the final and thereby ending a long history of World Cup underachievement.

New Zealand are beyond doubt the clear favourites. They have consistently set the benchmark in the professional era and arrive with a squad showing almost no weaknesses. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are no longer the players they once were but they remain class acts. Any team that can afford to leave Sonny Bill Williams on the bench clearly does not lack depth in talent, even if the hooker position is their potential Achilles heel.

While excitement is guaranteed and upsets are very much on the cards, the World Cup is also likely to highlight – once again – the fact that rugby has yet to become a truly global sport. The gap between the tier 1 nations and minnows like Namibia is so massive that many games will hold zero intrigue beyond the treat of potential injury.

It's little wonder that one of the few games still not sold out is England's clash with Uruguay. Would you pay £250 to watch England's reserves go through the motions in what is sure to be a trashing? 

Luckily, there are many more games that are sure to keep us captivated for all 80 minutes. One can only hope, however, that we are spared the refereeing controversies that made headlines four years ago and that have become far too common in general. The additional of Hawkeye technology could have a significant impact.

One hopes too that players will be wise enough to avoid unnecessary scandals so we can focus on the rugby. Unfortunately that's probably unlikely as the dangers of social media are bound to catch up with someone.

What is sure is that the next six weeks are likely to rank amongst the most unforgettable of many players' and fans' lives. What a show it promises to be.

By Planet Rugby Editor Ross Hastie

To whet your appetite, we've cooked up some pre-tournament entertainment – enjoy!

5 Greatest Rugby World Cup Matches 

10 Most Exciting Players at the RWC 

Golden Oldies of the World Cup 

20 biggest names that missed the World Cup cut

Emerging stars to watch at the RWC

Rugby's most (in)valuable players 

Biggest World Cup controversies 

7 Biggest Rugby World Cup upsets 

Young guns who fired at the RWC 

5 unmissable World Cup pool games 

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