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Rugby World Cup squads: The Home Nations verdict

02 Sep | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Rugby World Cup squads: The Home Nations verdict

With all four announcing their final 31-man squads, we analyse the big calls, the main gambles and the key to their tournament success


Who’s in and who’s out?

Luther Burrell, an ever-present in the centres during the last two Six Nations, misses out with Sam Burgess taking his place.

Ben Morgan gets the nod at number 8 despite only playing 40 minutes of competitive rugby since breaking his leg in January.

That leaves no room for the experienced and versatile Nick Easter, a veteran of two World Cup campaigns in 2007 and 2011.

Danny Cipriani is the other high-profile omission, who was ultimately a victim of his own versatility in being unable to usurp any of the specialist fly-halves or full-backs.

Biggest gamble?

Selecting rugby league convert Burgess is certainly a brave call given that he has just 70 minutes of international rugby union under his belt.

Betway ambassador Mike Tindall has argued that he would be better utilised in the forwards in his first exclusive column, but his raw power can still be an enormous asset in midfield.

The question is, how best to utilise him in a tournament that represents the pinnacle of rugby union without betraying his inexperience?

Strengths and weaknesses?

With Dylan Hartley fulfilling yet another suspension England look a little light at hooker.

Tom Youngs is the most likely starter, but the British and Irish Lion will need to keep his throw steady if England are not to miss out on set pieces.

The host nation have the backs to dazzle in Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson in particular, although are lacking the sort of maverick to thrive in broken play.

It is therefore vital that the pack flush out the rustiness evident in both games against France in order to give them a foothold from which they can shine.undefinedWALES

Who’s in and who’s out?

Warren Gatland made most of his tough decisions early, meaning there were very few surprises when the final 31 were announced.

Prop Samson Lee made the cut despite not playing since March after rupturing his Achilles tendon, while winger Liam Williams has also been given more time to recover from a foot injury.

Rob Evans and Eli Walker are the men to make way after waiting in the wings.

Matthew Morgan gets the nod as a utility back over Gareth Anscombe.

Biggest gamble?

It is often said that experienced heads help to alleviate the pressure within a squad during the rigours of a World Cup campaign, yet Warren Gatland has chosen to chop most of his. 

In leaving Adam Jones out of his initial selection and cutting Richard Hibbard, Mike Phillips and James Hook loose after the first warm-up game, he has discarded 300 caps worth of experience.

Given Samson Lee’s injury problems, the inclusion of only two hookers in the squad and a lack of quality back-up to Rhys Webb at scrum-half – circumstances could conspire against him to leave him ruing those big calls.

Strengths and weaknesses?

Slight injuries to Alun-Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris could see them start the tournament without their first-choice second row, although both ought to recover in time for the crunch matches.

Centre Jamie Roberts can put any defence on the back foot with George North a powerful runner both on the wing and coming infield.

Their real strength however is in the loose, with any combination of captain Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau justifiably being able to claim to be the best all-round back row in the world.

Even without their old stalwarts, Wales can call upon a spine of a team that has achieved it all with both Wales and the Lions.

Everything, that is, except a World Cup win.warburtonIRELAND

Who’s in and who’s out?

David Trimble is the biggest omission, with Ireland’s 2014 Player of the Year just unable to shake off a recurring foot injury which minimised his game time during the warm-ups.

Tommy Bowe gets his spot on the wing with the experienced and versatile Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls providing extra covers in the backs.

Darren Cave is chosen as the primary back-up centre meaning that Gordon D’Arcy’s retirement has come early.

As expected, prop Cian Healy is given the chance to prove his fitness with Tadhg Furlong’s first and only cap against Wales last week enough to earn him the nod alongside him in the front row over Michael Bent.

Biggest gamble?

In truth, such has been the steady progress of Ireland in the lead up to this World Cup they have not needed to take any risks.

Given that Cian Healy is still not fully recovered from neck surgery in May his inclusion could be classed as a gamble, but such is his quality it is a calculated one.

Besides, with their two opening games against Canada and Romania representing little more than walks in the park, he ought to have enough time to find his fitness. 

Strengths and weaknesses?

On the back of two consecutive Six Nations wins, Ireland have proven themselves to be the most consistent team in the Northern Hemisphere who have a real chance of making a big impression on the World Cup.

The main difference this time around is that they are able to call upon a genuinely quality half-back pairing of Connor Murray and Jonny Sexton who have got the game management skills to take on any side in the world.

However, with just one scrum-half in reserve and neither Paddy Jackson or Ian Madigan in the same class as Sexton, Joe Schmidt will be praying his 9 and 10 last course and distance.

Without them, he’ll struggle to get the best out of his impressive squad.sextonSCOTLAND

Who’s in and who’s out?

Given Scotland’s struggles during recent years, you can understand Vern Cotter’s decision to not go with a final 31 full of tried and tested players – but that is not to say that some of his selections have not raised a few eyebrows.

Despite impressing in the 48-7 victory over Italy at the weekend, the 43-times capped flanker John Barclay misses out, as does recent first-choice open-side Blair Cowan.

John Hardie and Josh Strauss are their replacements in the back row, with Hugh Blake also failing to make the cut.

In the backs, Ruaridh Jackson and Greig Tonks are left behind with Cotter plumping for just two specialist fly-halves and one full-back in Stuart Hogg.

Biggest gamble?

The parachuting in of imported talent is undoubtedly a risk.

Kiwi convert John Hardie and South African-born Willem Nel have just 57 and 63 minutes of Test rugby to their name respectively – both against Italy.

Another South African in Josh Strauss meanwhile only qualifies on the residency rule the day after the tournament starts, five days before Scotland’s first game.

All are quality players, but are they good enough to make up for any resulting loss of camaraderie that is always so important to lesser sides? Only time will tell.

Strengths and weaknesses?

It was only six months ago that Scotland were being given the wooden spoon after another insipid Six Nations performance that saw them score just six tries in the entire tournament.

Suddenly, the Scots are looking to play a more expansive game – and with some success, too.

Of the 10 tries they have scored in their first three warm-up matches, eight have come from the backs.

Stuart Hogg at full-back is their one truly world-class player, while Peter Horne and Richie Bennett have both touched down in putting their hands up to be first-choice centres.

With Finn Russell looking their most convincing fly-half in some time and bags of experience on either wing in Sean Lamont and Tim Visser, you feel that their success will lie in sticking to running rugby.

Whether their forwards can give them the field position to do so effectively, however, remains to be seen.stuart hoggREAD: Mike Tindall: Sam Burgess is the right man for England, just in the wrong position

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