Rugby World Cup: Welcome back!
PUBLISHED: 09:30 23 September 2015
PA/Press Association Images
After three days off, rugby’s biggest event continues today
If, like me, you’ve been suffering World Cup withdrawal symptoms over the past few days - which include trying to drop goal scraps of paper into bins - then fear not as the action returns today with a triple header.
The blue touch paper for the tournament was lit on the opening weekend with greatest shock ever in the sport, and possibly sport on the whole.
And those Brave Blossoms are back in action today as Japan take on Scotland in the day’s first game, kicking off at 2.30pm.
Fans at Kingsholm, where the match is taking place, won’t any encouragement to get behind Eddie Jones’ men, but they are helped by playing in the same cherry and white colours as the ground’s home team Gloucester.
Sadly I missed most of Japan’s victory over South Africa, although I did see Adriaan Strauss score a try that I thought had put the Springboks into a commanding lead.
How wrong I was, making it back through the door just in time to see my dad, an Irishman, cheer wildly as Karne Hesketh touched down in the corner.
Today’s match could be a meeting of ‘United Nations XVs’, with both sides fielding naturalised citizens, for which Scotland in particular have attracted much criticism.
Scotland boss Vern Cotter says Japan’s stunning win over the Springboks caused him to lose sleep but if Scotland suffer defeat today, he’s likely to lose even more.
Australia are another team to get their campaign underway today and can expect a hostile reception when they take on Fiji in Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium at 4.45pm.
The Wallabies are likely to be given the traditional welcome from the Welsh support, who will look to start the mindgames early ahead of the crucial Pool A clash on October 10.
Michael Cheika has named a strong squad for the opener and I for one am looking forward to seeing Israel Folau in action, one of the most exciting players to watch in world rugby.
Fiji, meanwhile, will be looking to show they deserved more from their opener against England with Josh Matavesi, a back from Cornwall who contacted about playing for the Flying Fijians over Facebook, likely to come off the bench again.
Then at 8pm, France continue their campaign against Romania in the first World Cup match to be held at the Olympic Stadium.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an afterthought - the Oaks have the power in the pack to cause Les Bleus problems.
But should the French get the ball out to the backs, they should be fine with the centre pairing looking particularly exciting.
For years I have been praying Philippe Saint-Andre would play Wesley Fofana and Gael Fickou together and he has finally listened - the dynamic duo can be a menace for any international team, not just Romania.
There is also likely to be much discussion today surrounding England’s selection for Saturday’s clash with Wales.
Jonathan Joseph has been ruled out, with league convert Sam Burgess set to take his place in the starting line-up, a move which also sees Owen Farrell replace fly half George Ford.
For me, that is a horrendously defensive decision from Stuart Lancaster to play two crash balls in the centre, Burgess and Brad Barritt, with no creative spark in the back line - he must be worried about Jamie Roberts.
With Ben Youngs set to keep his place at scrum half, it’s worth noting he and Farrell have not started together for England since March 2013 - when the Red Rose were pumelled 30-3 in Cardiff.