With Ireland opening their World Cup campaign at the Millennium stadium this Saturday against Canada, we take a look at the Pool D opponents who stand in the way of a quarter-final place.

Canada (world ranking: 17) 

The opening test for Joe Schmidt’s side will present a small challenge in the form of Canada. Ireland will be looking to implement their game plan early on to prevent any first-day embarrassments, while also quashing any tournament nerves. The Canadians may have been stronger in the past but will be relying on Ireland’s poor breakdown display against England in the warm-ups to help them achieve the scalp.

One to watch: 

Jamie Cudmore is a key figure in Canada’s quest for an upset, with the 37-year-old lock well known for his physical approach when it comes to carrying ball and clearing out rucks. His presence in the line-out should not be underestimated.

Romania (world ranking: 18)

A very intuitive team who work hard in the scrum in order to pressurise opponents into making mistakes. They are impressive in the close quarters as a result of a traditionally physical and committed pack. Romania’s backs will not set the tournament alight, so it’s just the up-front battle for Ireland to contend with.

One to watch: 

Captain Mihai Macovei is Romania’s key man. Switching between the second and back-row, he will spearhead Romania’s hopes of an upset through his role as a distinct driving force.

Italy (world ranking: 15) 

The Italians are always a threat when he comes to challenging the big sides. Another team defined by their abilities in the pack will seek to apply pressure in the early exchanges to rattle Ireland’s belief ahead of the pool-deciding fixture against France. Italy’s search for a fly-half to unleash some solid back-play continues, but on their day, they can cause anyone trouble.

One to watch: 

As always, it’s Sergio Parisse who will lead Italy’s charge for World Cup success. The No.8 and captain is the corner stone of the Italian attack, and will also look to link forwards and backs with his ball carrying abilities.

France (world ranking: 7) 

This will be the crucial game of Pool D and should decide its fate. Although unpredictable, France will bring their big-game attitude to Ireland with a combination of physical and effortless rugby. Coach Philippe Saint-Andre’s inconsistent selection has raised questions over his side’s unity and could present problems for them. This encounter is likely to decide Ireland’s quarter-final placement and should not be underestimated, the French can spoil the party, even at the death.

One to watch: 

Clermont’s Wesley Fofana is the threat in the centre. An electrifying combination of skill, power and pace will destroy Joe Schmidt’s men if they are not their best defensive behaviour.

Pool D prediction: 

Ireland to top with France second. If the Irish stay injury free in the build-up to their French encounter, Schmidt will push his side through. The avoidance of the All Blacks in the quarter-finals should be enough of an incentive.

Pool A prediction:

England followed by Australia. The World Cup hosts are entering the tournament high on confidence and will use the home support to their advantage. Always a contender for the final.

Pool B prediction:

South Africa are the odds on favourites for this one and it shouldn’t go any other way. The real contest will be between Scotland and Samoa for the second place finish. Scotland have key individuals who can challenge any team, so we should see them in the quarter-final.

Pool C prediction:

The result of pool C has written itself. New Zealand followed by Argentina is determined by the presence of lesser rugby nations, Tonga, Georgia, Namibia in the draw.

Predicted quarter-final draw:

QF1: South Africa V Australia

QF2: New Zealand V France

QF3: Ireland V Argentina

QF4: England V Scotland


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