Rugby World Cup Preview: Pool D

Date published: August 26 2015

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Ireland and France are the two favourites to make it out of Pool D, with Italy the next in line should they shock one of their Six Nations rivals.

The battle for top spot is going to be fierce as the pool winner will likely face Argentina instead of New Zealand before then possibly taking on Pool A's winner in the semi-finals.

That is a much more favourable route so expect France versus Ireland to be a real scrap. A plus for France is they face Canada ten days before meeting Ireland while Joe Schmidt's men tackle Italy three days after that game so enjoy less rest.

Key fixture:
France v Ireland

What a match to finish as les Bleus collide with the Irish in what's likely to be a pool deciding fixture at the Millennium Stadium. These two teams are expected to be on three victories from three heading to Cardiff on October 11. Ireland haven't lost to France since 2011 as two wins and two draws have given them something of a hoodoo over their Six Nations foes. On recent form it surely has to be Ireland but how can anyone write off the French, who showed in 2011 that they can up their game at the crucial time during a Rugby World Cup. Expect fireworks in Cardiff.

Potential upsets: Could Italy really cause a shock and upset either France or Ireland? Les Bleus have lost two of their last five meetings with the Azzurri and therefore won't take them lightly while the Irish have lost to them just once since 1997. Elsewhere in the pool it's unlikely that either the Romanians or Canadians, who are seventeenth and eighteenth respectively in the World Rankings, will stun any of their Six Nations opponents.

Fixtures:

Ireland vs Canada – 19 September, Millennium Stadium
France vs Italy – 19 September, Twickenham Stadium
France vs Romania – 23 September, Olympic Park
Italy vs Canada – 26 September, Elland Road
Ireland vs Romania – 27 September, Wembley Stadium
France vs Canada – 1 October, Stadiummk
Ireland vs Italy – 4 October, Olympic Park
Canada vs Romania – 6 October, Leicester City Stadium
Italy vs Romania – 11 October, Sandy Park
France vs Ireland – 11 October, Millennium Stadium


The teams:

IRELAND

Dream scenario: No disrespect to Canada and Romania but Ireland's World Cup proper starts in October when they face Italy and France. They'll hope to be in top gear by that stage and see off France to conquer Pool D. That's likely to result in them facing Argentina in the last eight.

Nightmare scenario: A sloppy start against the two group minnows could cause tongues to wag about whether Ireland are ready to push for World Cup glory. If doubts creep into the camp and players haven't enjoyed the necessary minutes before the Italy fixture, they could come unstuck.


FRANCE

Dream scenario: If France back up the form that saw off England in Paris in the build up to the tournament they should open up with a win against Italy. Then it will be a chance to rotate against Romania and Canada, thus keeping their key players out of harms way and ready to finish the pool with a key win over Ireland.

Nightmare scenario: Could they do a repeat of 2007 and kick off with a loss? That would put a lot of pressure on Philippe Saint-André and his charges as the game against Ireland would be must-win for what would likely be a points difference race for the quarters. They must start well.


ITALY

Dream scenario: As mentioned, an opening win over France would turn this pool upside down and give Italy a great opportunity of making the last eight of a World Cup for the first time. They would then need to back that up against Canada and Romania then hope France go down to the Irish.

Nightmare scenario: Two defeats to the big boys and a slip-up against either Canada or Romania would be a disaster for Italy. Yes they've never made the knockouts and few expect that to change in 2015, but anything less than two wins and two close-fought efforts would be disappointing.


CANADA

Dream scenario: Games they will target must surely be against Italy and Romania, which come either side of tackling France. Two victories would be wonderland for the Canadians those fixtures promise to be arm-wrestles, which will suit them much more than facing an expansive opponent.

Nightmare scenario: A run of dismal results means Canada will be desperate to avoid what's fast looking like a possibility: the nightmare four defeats from four in the pool stages. The clash with Romania is last on their schedule so they may rotate for the France game five days before.


ROMANIA

Dream scenario: Much like Canada, their pivotal match is that meeting between the two sides on October 6. They will give it their all against Italy but few would back them to overturn the Azzurri so leaving England with one pool win would be viewed as a success for Lynn Howells' men.

Nightmare scenario: They beat Canada 18-9 the last time the two teams met in 2014, so Romania will be looking for a repeat of that result. If they end up on a reverse of that along with losses to France, Ireland and finally Italy, the Oaks will exit the tournament hugely disappointed.


Pool Prediction: We expect Ireland to build throughout this pool as simple victories should come against Canada and Romania before they meet Italy and then the French. While they have three fewer days rest before their finale on October 11, Ireland should edge les Bleus for the all-important top spot.

1. Ireland
2. France
3. Italy
4. Canada
5. Romania

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