Win or lose, a black day will dawn

New Zealand start as huge favourites. Woebetide them if they come up short

New Zealand are budgeting to be more than a few million quid down from staging the seventh Rugby World Cup but that will be as nothing compared to the loss of face if the All Blacks fail to win the tournament that kicks off in Auckland on Friday night. Everything points to the world's top-ranked side regaining the trophy they last held an agonising, sometimes embarrassing two decades ago, but if Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are not tossing the little gold pot between them with grins on their faces on 23 October, the wailing and gnashing of teeth will be heard for eons.

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There were grumbles everywhere else when the International Rugby Board awarded New Zealand the hosting rights ahead of Japan and South Africa back in 2005. The chance to open a new frontier in Asia was lost; more than that, you suspected, the critics simply viewed the decision as all but engraving the All Blacks' name on the Webb Ellis Cup. They may have stuffed up in the past – most famously in the 1999 and 2007 defeats by France – but playing at home would dot the i's and cross the t's in the words "certain victory".

Of course, the trouble with World Cups – not to mention their tantalising appeal – is that the best team do not always win. To triumph is to be anointed with the title of world champions for the next four years, but the losing of it is easier. Even Martin Johnson, who won as England's captain in 2003 and since 2008 has been plotting a sometimes stumbling path to doing the double as manager, has admitted the helpless truth that one knock-on or missed kick can make all the difference.

On marginal moments, careers turn. Who remembers Stirling Mortlock's kick that would have – should have – knocked England out in the 2007 quarter-finals? Mortlock's miss and a million other tiny actions helped Phil Vickery's side through to the final and cemented a reputation that the English revel in World Cups. Three shattering defeats at southern hemisphere hands in 1991 (a final defeat at Twickenham), 1995 (Jonah Lomu and all that) and 1999 (Jannie de Beer's dropped goals) paint a contrary picture.

Easier, perhaps, in predicting what joys may lie ahead in the next seven weeks and 48 matches, to forget history and live in the here and now. England have the advantage – brought on by the earthquake that removed Christchurch from the roster of venues – of playing their first three pool matches at the same ground: albeit an unfamiliar one, indoors at Dunedin's brand-new Forsyth Barr Stadium. Opening opponents Argentina finished third in 2007, one place behind England. If the Pumas' pack click on Saturday, Johnson's side, beset far beyond precedent this year by suspensions and injuries, could be in trouble.

Defeat would leave them needing to see off Georgia, Romania and finally Scotland in Auckland – just to be sure of a quarter-final against New Zealand or France. So starting well is a must.

Good decisions win World Cup matches, so the onus is on Wales's captain, and son of a fireman, Sam Warburton. A young leader of young men – the Welsh may open up against the reigning champions, South Africa, next Sunday with half a dozen players aged 22 or under – the flanker will cross his fingers that the line-out holds up. The Welsh front row, too, is a worry with Matthew Rees out already, and Gethin Jenkins struggling to be fit. With Samoa, Namibia and Fiji to follow, it is no wonder Wales have worked hard to get themselves fit. On the upside they have two world-class finishers in George North and Shane Williams.

Ireland and Scotland have flown to New Zealand with wildly divergent warm-up results but they will not mean much for long. A home from home in Invercargill and Dunedin may cheer the Scots and their straight-faced English coach, Andy Robinson. And what better prospect for Al Kellock's team than shooting down the auld enemy when they meet in Auckland on 1 October and nicking a quarter-final place?

The Irish talisman, Brian O'Driscoll, deserves a whole lot better than for his career to peter out; his team have an outstanding back row and may just find their feet as they go along although alarm lights are flashing.

Everyone will be watching to see whether the classic openside flanker – not an English priority – still has a say. And the role of the 'seven' is just part of the numbers game. The World Cup organisers claim 95,000 visitors are on their way. If it's true, they are braving savage price hikes by greedy hotel chains; any empty seats for Argentina v England or Wales v South Africa in Wellington the following day would be an immediate embarrassment. The panel of 10 referees (and good luck to 'em with TV micro-analysing every decision) will meet the 20 head coaches in Auckland this week. The whistlers have five key areas in mind, including the line of offside after the tackle; wise head honchos will take careful note.

The leap of faith that brought inJohnson's invaluable nous to his job could yet end with a rough landing. England's Grand Slam defeat in Ireland last March was a worrying form guide. But the personnel, including Courtney Lawes, Andy Sheridan and the Samoan tyro Manu Tuilagi, has improved since then. England have no Quade Cooper, the cock-sure Aussie fly-half, but Cooper cannot kick goals like Jonny Wilkinson. Which do you need most? England have no proven big-time enforcers, like South Africa's Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield. They lack the unpredictability of France – though Les Bleus seem no happier at that then their opponents.

But no one among the lot of them has anyone like Carter. OK, he was charged down early by Australia last weekend, and the All Blacks have (gasp) just lost twice in a row. But New Zealand have been top of the world rankings since the middle of August 2008, and their wondrously gifted fly-half is, at the age of 29, at his peak.

Like Armstrong on the moon, Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle and Welles as Harry Lime, this is his time. Carter and the All Blacks together surely add up to the winning team.

Pool A

New Zealand



Best World Cup Winners 1987. Worst quarter-final 2007.

Prospects By common consent, they possess the world's best forward and fly-half, Richard McCaw and Dan Carter respectively. The coaches, Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, have seen it all. For the first time since they won it in 1987, they are playing a World Cup at home. They have been No 1 in the world rankings for the last three years, and the front five are up to scratch. In short, the rest are playing for second place. Right?

Essential trivia Fly-halves Carter and Nick Evans both went off injured during the 2007 quarter-final choker against France.

Worst nightmare Any defeat on any day.

Squad

Forwards (16): J Afoa, B Franks, O Franks, T Woodcock, C Flynn, A Hore, K Mealamu, A Boric, B Thorn, S Whitelock, A Williams, J Kaino, R McCaw (capt), K Read, A Thomson, V Vito.

Backs (14): J Cowan, A Ellis, P Weepu, D Carter, C Slade, R Kahui, M Nonu, C Smith, S Williams, I Dagg, Z Guildford, C Jane, M Muliaina, I Toeava.

IoS Prediction Winners

France



Best World Cup Final 1987, 1999. Worst Quarter-final 1991.

Prospects Have haunted the All Blacks, in and out of World Cups – viz Jean-Luc Sadourny's wondrous 'Try from the End of the World' in 1994, and the knock-out wins of 1999 and 2007. If coach Marc Lièvremont ever stops tinkering, France's top XV drawn from their cash-rich clubs (not one of their players plays anywhere else) should be formidable. First question: will they go all out to win the pool?

Essential trivia Best team never to have won a World Cup.

Worst nightmare Lièvremont, who knows Philippe Saint-André is replacing him in December, resigns halfway through.

Squad

Forwards (17): F Barcella, L Ducalcon, N Mas, JB Poux, G Guirado, W Servat, D Szarzewski, R Millo-Chluski, L Nallet, P Pape, J Pierre, J Bonnaire, T Dusautoir (capt), I Harinordoquy, R Lakafia, F Ouedraogo, L Picamoles.

Backs (13): V Clerc, C Heymans, M Médard, A Palisson, P Estebanez, D Marty, M Mermoz, A Rougerie, D Traille, D Skrela, F Trinh-Duc, M Parra, D Yachvili.

IoS Prediction Semi-final if on form

Canada

Best World Cup Quarter-final 1991. Worst Pool 1987, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007.

Prospects The days when they could get through from a cushy pool, as they did by beating Romania and Fiji in 1991, are long gone. Shame, as it would be good to see the always gutsy successors to forwards Al Charron, Norm Hadley and Eddie Evans – who gave the All Blacks the hurry-up in the rain of Lille in the quarters 20 years ago – do some damage. But from this distance it looks a long shot.

Essential trivia Beaten by England Saxons in this year's Churchill Cup final.

Worst nightmare Jamie Cudmore lives down to his punchy reputation.

Squad

Forwards (16): H Buydens, S Franklin, J Marshall, A Tiedemann, R Hamilton, P Riordan (capt), F Walsh, J Cudmore, B Erichsen, T Hotson, A Carpenter, N Dala, A Kleeberger, J Kyne, C O'Toole, J Sinclair.

Backs (14): M Evans, J Pritchard, C Hearn, T Paris, R Smith, C Trainor, P Mackenzie, M Scholz, D van der Merwe, N Hirayama, A Monro, E Fairhurst, J Mackenzie, S White.

IoS Prediction Out at pool stage

Japan



Best/worst World Cup Pool 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007.

Prospects The Brave Blossoms rummage the world's fallen fruit for any player to bolster their squad under the three years' residency rule. Fly-half James Arlidge is one such itinerant, and a summer win over Tonga in the Pacific Nations Cup gives Japan hope of winning a second World Cup match 20 years after their first. Coach John Kirwan was a rampaging superstar on New Zealand's wing in the 1987 tournament.

Essential trivia One win v Zimbabwe (1991) and one draw v Canada (2007) from 20 World Cup matches.

Worst nightmare It dawns on Kirwan that even at 46 he's the best wing Japan have got.

Squad

Forwards (16): H Hirashima, N Kawamata, Y Aoki, S Horie, H Yuhara, K Hatakeyama, N Fujita, H Ono, T Kitagawa, L Thompson, J Ives, T Kikutani (capt), M Leitch, S Vatuvei, R Holani, I Taniguchi.

Backs (14): T Usuzuki, H Onozawa, K Endo, T Ueda, A Tupuailai, K Taira, R Nicholas, Y Imamura, M Williams, S Webb, J Arlidge, T Yoshida, F Tanaka, A Hiwasa.

IoS Prediction Straight out again

Tonga



Best World Cup Pool 1987, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007. Worst Did not qualify 1991.

Prospects Ah, what memories of their sunlit assault on South Africa's second string in Lens at the last World Cup. If a last-minute crossfield kick had been caught, the Tongans might have won and changed history. It wasn't and they didn't. Traditionally Tonga tremble in the face of big cousins New Zealand but with Northampton prop Soane Tonga'uiha leading the pack, they may unleash their giant-killing potential on the French.

Essential trivia Coach Isitolo Maka has picked his brother as captain.

Worst nightmare All Blacks click on opening night and run up a cricket score.

Squad

Forwards (17): H Aulika, T Filise, K Pulu, A Taumalolo, S Tonga'uiha, A Lutui, I Ma'asi, E Taukafa, P Hehea, S Kalamafoni, T Lokotui, J Tuineau, V Ma'afu, F Maka (capt), S Timani, S Vahafolau, S Vaiomounga.

Backs (13): S Fisilau, A Fatafehi, V Lilo, F Vainikolo, S Piutau, V Longi, W Helu, A Taufa, A Ma'ilei, S Hufanga, T Palu, K Morath, T Moa.

IoS Prediction Possible for quarters

Pool B

England



Best World Cup Winners 2003. Worst Quarter-final 1987, 1999.

Prospects Should be a doddle: Argentina on the slide, Scotland on a plateau at best, Georgia and Romania making up the numbers. Jonny Wilkinson to kick the goals and France and Australia to follow. But wait, there are similarities here to what faced Ireland four years ago – and that way lay disaster. England must have their hardest heads on from the off and Chris Ashton must have his finishing boots on.

Essential trivia Manager Martin Johnson played for King Country and NZ Colts.

Worst nightmare Ferocious Pumas pounce in opening match.

Squad

Forwards (17): D Cole, A Corbisiero, A Sheridan, M Stevens, D Wilson, D Hartley, L Mears, S Thompson, L Deacon, C Lawes, T Palmer, S Shaw, T Croft, N Easter, J Haskell, L Moody (capt), T Wood.

Backs (13): D Armitage, B Foden, C Ashton, M Cueto, M Banahan, S Hape, M Tindall, M Tuilagi, T Flood, J Wilkinson, J Simpson, R Wigglesworth, B Youngs.

IoS Prediction Quarter-final unless forwards fire

Argentina



Best World Cup Third in 2007. Worst Pool 1987, 1991, 1995, 2003.

Prospects Unfocused build-up and less stardust than their third-placed brethren of 2007 suggest the Pumas will struggle for a repeat. Gus Pichot, the firebrand scrum-half, is on the Argentinian Union now, while Juan Martin Hernandez, the Maradona of the oval ball, is out with an injured knee. And yet... quality remains and most sides would kill for such forward power.

Essential trivia Felipe Contepomi, the captain, is a qualified doctor.

Worst nightmare Toss-up between a defeat by the Scots or limping through to an All Black pasting.

Squad

Forwards (17): M Ayerza, M Bustos, J Figallo, R Roncero, M Scelzo, A Creevy, M Ledesma, P Albacete, M Carizza, M Galarza, T Vallejos, A Campos, J Farias Cabello, J Fernandez Lobbe, G Fessia, L Senatore, J Leguizamon.

Backs (13): L Amorosino, J Imhoff, A Gosio, G Camacho, H Agulla, G Tiesi, N Sanchez, M Rodríguez, S Fernandez, F Contepomi (capt), M Bosch, N Vergallo, A Lalanne.

IoS Prediction Struggle to beat Scots

Scotland



Best World Cup Fourth, 1991. Worst Quarter-final 1987, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007.

Prospects A wily head coach (a World Cup winner with England in 2003), Andy Robinson, knows what's required, but do the Scots have the quality to deliver it? They beat South Africa last year and Richie Gray, Al Kellock and John Barclay are decent forwards. Joe Ansbro's exciting running is a tantalising sign that the backs could fire.

Essential trivia Chris Paterson did not miss a kick in the 2007 World Cup: seven penalties and 10 conversions.

Worst nightmare Draw with Argentina but get hammered by England and go out on bonus points.

Squad

Forwards (17): G Cross, A Dickinson, A Jacobsen, M Low, E Murray, R Ford, D Hall, S Lawson, R Gray, J Hamilton, N Hines, A Kellock (capt), J Barclay, K Brown, R Rennie, A Strokosch, R Vernon.

Backs (13): R Lamont, C Paterson, S Danielli, J Ansbro, N De Luca, M Evans, S Lamont, G Morrison, R Jackson, D Parks, M Blair, C Cusiter, R Lawson.

IoS Prediction Pumas win is the key

Georgia



Best World Cup Pool 2003, 2007. Worst Did not compete/qualify 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999

Prospects England's Andrew Sheridan trotted out the party line that Georgia have big and capable prop forwards. Asked if he knew their names, the Sale man replied in a flash: ''No, do you?'' Well, the two Davits – Kubriashvili of Toulon and Zirakashvili of Clermont Auvergne – are their main men. The Georgians' backs are not so well known – even to their own forwards.

Essential trivia Backs coach Don Caskie used to play for Gloucester.

Worst nightmare Front rowers blub like girls after defeat to Romania in Palmerston North.

Squad

Forwards (17): V Kakovin, D Khinchagishvili, D Kubriashvili, D Zirakashvili, J Bregvadze, A Giorgadze, G Shvelidze, L Datunashvili, V Maisuradze, G Nemsadze, S Sutiashvili, I Zedginidze, G Berishvili, G Chkhaidze, V Kolelishvili, D Basilaia, M Gorgodze.

Backs (13) M Urjukashvili, A Todua, I Machkhaneli, L Gugava, I Chkhikvadze, T Zibzibadze, D Kacharava, R Gigauri, L Malaguradze, M Kvirikashvili, L Khmaladze, I Abuseridze (capt), B Samkharadze.

IoS Prediction Must see off Romania

Romania



Best/worst World Cup Pool 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007.

Prospects Ever present in World Cups but no great danger. Saw off Uruguay comfortably enough in qualifying play-off and, like Georgia, they have some good forwards playing in France's Top14, including Perpignan hooker Marius Tincu who served a long ban for eye-gouging two seasons ago, so they should be no pushovers, literally or metaphorically.

Essential trivia Scrum coach Steve McDowell propped in New Zealand's 1987 winning side.

Worst nightmare Already suffered the star wing Catalin Fercu's last-minute withdrawal, through fear of flying.

Squad

Forwards (16): N Dragos Dima, S Florea, P Ion, M Lazar, N Nere, M Tincu, B Zebega, C Petre, V Poparlan, C Ratiu, V Ursache, S Burcea, D Ianus, M Macovei, D Carpo, O Tonita.

Backs (14): F Vlaicu, I Dumitras, C Nicolae, M Lemnaru, S Ciuntu, C Gheara, C Gal, I Cazan, D Dumbrava, I Dimofte, F Surugiu, L Sirbu, V Calafeteanu, A Apostol.

IoS Prediction Will lose to Georgia

Pool C

Australia



Best World Cup Winners 1991, 1999. Worst Quarter-final 1995, 2007.

Prospects Began the run-in to New Zealand messing around with line-up and tactics against Samoa and were embarrassingly beaten by the Islanders in Sydney. Finished it with the recalled No 8 Radike Samo splintering the All Blacks in last weekend's 25-20 win to win the Tri-Nations for the first time since 2001. Which makes them the form team, if still officially No 2.

Essential trivia World Cup record 22 tries in 142-0 win v Namibia in 2003.

Worst nightmare So busy planning to upset the All Blacks they get beaten by England in the semi-finals.

Squad

Forwards (17): B Alexander, S Kepu, J Slipper, S Ma'afu, S Moore, S Faingaa, T Polota-Nau, J Horwill (capt), R Simmons, N Sharpe, D Vickerman, B McCalman, R Samo, W Palu, D Pocock, R Elsom, S Higginbotham.

Backs (13): K Beale, J O'Connor, D Mitchell, D Ioane, A Ashley-Cooper, R Horne, P McCabe, A Faingaa, B Barnes, Q Cooper, N Phipps, L Burgess, W Genia.

IoS Prediction Runners-up

Ireland



Best World Cup Quarter-final 1987, 1991, 1995, 2003. Worst Pool 2007

Prospects High hopes in 2007 were shattered by an unhappy camp in Bordeaux (not exactly slumming it, lads) and a pool of piranhas with France and Argentina. This time Europe's greatest player of the past decade, Brian O'Driscoll, has Italy as the only obvious obstacle to a quarter-final and possibly much better. Like the French, the Irish have a very good XV lurking in their squad, somewhere.

Essential trivia Jamie Heaslip was sent off v All Blacks for kneeing Richie McCaw in New Plymouth, 2010.

Worst nightmare BOD gets bashed and it ends in tears for SOB (key flanker Sean O'Brien).

Squad

Forwards (16): T Buckley, T Court, C Healy, M Ross, R Best, S Cronin, J Flannery, L Cullen, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, D Ryan, S Ferris, J Heaslip, S Jennings, D Leamy, S O'Brien.

Backs (14): R Kearney, G Murphy, T Bowe, A Trimble, K Earls, F McFadden, G D'Arcy, P Wallace, B O'Driscoll (capt), R O'Gara, J Sexton, E Reddan, I Boss, C Murray.

IoS Prediction Should get past Italy

Italy



Best/worst World Cup Pool 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007.

Prospects Consistent if unexciting in World Cups: apart from 1999 (when they were in with New Zealand, England and Tonga), the Azzurri have always won at least one match. Coach Nick Mallett masterminded a home win over France last March, but despite fielding a world star in Sergio Parisse at No 8, the backs are unlikely to enjoy a Roman holiday in New Zealand.

Essential trivia Nick Mallett coached South Africa to the 1999 semi-finals.

Worst nightmare Exciting tyro Tommaso Benvenuti chokes on his own spaghetti.

Squad

Forwards (16): M Castrogiovanni, L Cittadini, A Lo Cicero, S Perugini, T D'Apice, L Ghiraldini, F Ongaro, M Bortolami, C del Fava, Q Geldenhuys, C van Zyl, R Barbieri, M Bergamasco, P Derbyshire, S Parisse (capt), A Zanni.

Backs (14): T Benvenuti, M Bergamasco, G Canale, G Garcia, A Masi, L McLean, M Pratichetti, A Sgarbi, G Toniolatti, R Bocchino, L Orquera, P Canavosio, E Gori, F Semenzato.

IoS Prediction Out at the pool stage

Russia



Best/worst World Cup Have qualified for the first time

Prospects The form line of the last two years' Churchill Cups has shown the Bears to have a decent flanker in Victor Gresev and a scintillating back three starring Northampton's new signing, wing Vasily Artemyev. Lack of top tight forwards means the eclectic coaching panel of Nikolay Nerush, Kingsley Jones and Henry Paul have their work cut out.

Essential trivia Full-back Denis Simplikevich is not a plant by a meerkat-related insurance company.

Worst nightmare Rest of world can't resist seeing past Cold War and Olympic wrongs righted in meeting with Americans.

Squad

Forwards (17): V Botvinnikov, A Khrokin, S Popov, I Prishchepenko, A Travkin, V Korshunov (capt), E Matveev, V Tsnobiladze, D Antonov, A Byrnes, A Ostrikov, A Voytov, A Fatakhov, A Garbuzov, M Sidorov, V Grachev, V Gresev.

Backs (13): I Klyuchnikov, D Simplikevich, V Artemyev, A Kuzin, V Ostroushko, M Babaev, I Galinovsky, A Makovetskiy, Y Kushnarev, K Rachkov, A Bykanov, A Shakirov, A Yanyushkin.

IoS Prediction Straight defeats

USA



Best World Cup Pool 1987, 1991, 1999, 2003, 2007. Worst Did not qualify 1995.

Prospects Needed to dig deep to win their meeting with the Russians, 32-25, in the Bowl final of the Churchill Cup in Worcester last June. Each had finished bottom of their three-team pool, which tells you plenty about both sides' world standings. Takudza 'Zee' Ngwenya's skinning of Bryan Habana for a great try in 2007 is a happy memory and this campaign will stand or fall on similarly singular moments.

Essential trivia Chris Wyles is the George Best or Ryan Giggs of world rugby: great player, wrong country.

Worst nightmare See above entry under Russia.

Squad

Forwards (16): E Fry, M MacDonald, M Moeakiola, S Pittman, C Biller, B McClenahan, P Thiel, S LaValla, H Smith, J van der Giessen, I Basauri, T Clever (capt), P Danahy, L Stanfill, JJ Gagiano, N Johnson.

Backs (14): C Wyles, B Scully, K Swiryn, J Paterson, T Ngwenya, C Hawley, R Suniula, A Suniula, J Sifa, P Emerick, N Malifa, T Enosa, T Usasz, M Petri.

IoS Prediction Should see off Russia

Pool D

South Africa



Best World Cup Winners 1995, 2007. Worst Quarter-final 2003 (did not compete 1987, 1991).

Prospects Tempting to believe the survivors of 2007 will be unable to back it up. No one has done it yet. But why should familiarity breed contempt for Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Bryan Habana? Add in hooker Bismarck du Plessis, dogged flankers Heinrich Brussow and Willem Alberts, plus the lavishly gifted Pierre Spies at No 8 and you have a top-quality team.

Essential trivia Winning 2007 captain John Smit is joining Saracens after the World Cup.

Worst nightmare Coach Peter de Villiers does anything other than allow his brilliant forwards to take the lead.

Squad

Forwards (16): J du Plessis, T Mtawarira, G Steenkamp, CJ van der Linde, B du Plessis, C Ralepelle, J Smit (capt), B Botha, V Matfield, J Muller, D Rossouw, W Alberts, H Brussow, S Burger, F Louw, P Spies.

Backs (14): F Steyn, JP Pietersen, O Ndungane, B Habana, G Aplon, J Fourie, J de Villiers, J de Jongh, M Steyn, P Lambie, B James, R Pienaar, F Hougaard, F du Preez

IoS Prediction Semi-final v All Blacks

Wales



Best World Cup Third in 1987. Worst Pool 1999, 2007.

Prospects Apart from the 1987 quarter-final defeat of England, their happiest World Cup memories are of plucky losses in 2003. Otherwise, it's one sorry episode after another, usually at the hands of Pacific Islanders. This time they are in the pool from hell but have two top-notch try-scorers in Shane Williams and George North. Hey, they could even shock South Africa in the opening match. But don't we always think that?

Essential trivia North, Warburton and Lydiate all have English roots.

Worst nightmare Time-honoured trauma delivered by Samoa and/or Fiji.

Squad

Forwards (16): R Bevington, P James, G Jenkins, A Jones, C Mitchell, H Bennett, L Burns, K Owens, L Charteris, B Davies, AW Jones, S Warburton (capt), T Faletau, R Jones, D Lydiate, A Powell.

Backs(14): L Byrne, R Priestland, L Halfpenny, A Brew, G North, S Williams, J Davies, J Roberts, S Williams, J Hook, S Jones, T Knoyle, M Phillips, L Williams.

IoS Prediction Quarter-final... if they earn it

Samoa



Best World Cup Quarter-final 1991, 1995, Quarter-final play-off 1999. Worst Pool 2003, 2007 (did not compete 1987).

Prospects Rightly praised for their first ever win over Australia, in Sydney this summer, yet earlier this year finished bottom in the Pacific Nations Cup, behind Japan, Tonga and Fiji. They will be severely taxed over when is best to use their leading lights, like Sailosi Tagicakibau.

Essential trivia Coach 'Dickie' Tafua missed playing in the inaugural World Cup when Western Samoa were not among the 16 invited teams.

Worst nightmare Brothers Henry and Alesana Tuilagi knock each other out in a fight over the biggest bed at the hotel.

Squad

Forwards (16): C Johnston, L Mulipola, A Perenise, S Taulafo, O Avei, T Paulo, M Schwalger, F Lavea Levi, D Leo, J Tekori, K Thompson, T Tuifua, M Faasavalu, M Salavea, O Treviranus, G Stowers.

Backs (14): P Williams, J So'oialo, A Tuilagi, S Tagicakibau, D Lemi, T Pisi, S Mapusua (capt), J Leota, E Fuimaono, G Pisi, T Lavea, J Sua, A Poluleuligaga, K Fotuali'i.

IoS Prediction Big threat to Wales

Fiji



Best World Cup Quarter-final 1987, 2007. Worst: did not qualify 1995.

Prospects Just re-watching Rupeni Caucaunibuca rip up Scotland in 2003, or Vilimoni Delasau galloping past the Springboks in '07 is to be reminded of the threat posed by the self-styled 'Flying Fijians'. The romantics love them. Reality suggests they could be exposed. Half-back looks a weak area, even if the tactics could be simple: chuck it to the back three, asap.

Essential trivia Lock Leone Nakarawa resigned from the Fiji army to qualify for an NZ entry visa.

Worst nightmare Reaching last pool match, v Wales in Hamilton, with nothing to play for.

Squad

Forwards (17): C Ma'afu, D Manu (capt), S Somoca, W Daveta, V Veikoso, T Talemaitoga, S Koto, S Kalou, L Nakarawa, W Lewaravu, R Nasiga, D Waqaniburotu, S Koyamaibole, A Qera, N Talei, M Matadigo, M Ravulo.

Backs (13): K Murimurivalu, I Keresoni, N Nalaga, M Tagicakibau, S Bai, A Vulivuli, G Lovobalavu, R Fatiaki, V Goneva, N Little, W Luveniyali, N Ranuku, V Buatava.

IoS Prediction Also threat to Wales

Namibia



Best World Cup Pool 1999, 2003, 2007. Worst Did not compete/qualify 1987, 1991, 1995.

Prospects Neatly, the world's top 20 teams as ranked by the IRB are the 20 who will be in New Zealand – and Namibia are ranked No 20. This pool gives them ample chance to show the rankings are wrong. More probably, they will sink without trace. At least they have an arch-warrior in the flanker/captain Jacques Burger, a Premiership winner with Saracens last season.

Essential trivia Namibia's Rudi van Vuuren is the only man to have played in the rugby and cricket World Cup finals in the same year (2003).

Worst nightmare Burger invalided out in match one.

Squad

Forwards (16): J du Toit, R Larson, J Redelinghuys, M Visser, H Horn, E O'Callerghan, N Esterhuyse, H Franken, U Kazombiaze, H Koll, R van Neel, J Burger (capt), T du Plessis, R Kitshoff, J Nieuwenhuis, P van Lill.

Backs (14): C Botha, L Winkler, M van Wyk, C Marais, H Dames, H Bock, P van Zyl, D van Wyk, D Philander, D de la Harpe, T Losper, T Kotze, E Janjties, R de la Harpe.

IoS Prediction Could be very bad

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Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there