Two giants collide
Watson and Nadolo set for a heavyweight contest down the wings
England wing Anthony Watson is ready for a thorough test of his all-round game when he confronts giant Fiji flyer Nemani Nadolo in the World Cup opener at Twickenham in London tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
At 1.85m and 93kg, Watson is no shrinking flower, but his statistics are put into the shade by Nadolo, who stands 1.95m and weighs almost 130kg.
Nadolo is more than just a giant, however.
The goal-kicking Crusaders flyer is one of the best finishers in the game, having been the joint-leading try scorer in the 2014 southern hemisphere Super Rugby tournament and adding nine more tries for the New Zealand side this year.
For the 21-year-old Watson, looking to add to his five tries in 11 Tests, confronting Nadolo will prove an acid test of his defensive game.
"I've got tremendous respect for him as a player," Watson said of Nadolo. "He's a world-class winger. I'm approaching it like I would playing against (Wales') George North."
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"Fiji have got the ability to counter-attack from anywhere," added Watson.
"So defensively, we're going to have to be on the money in all areas of the pitch.
"We can't switch off for a second otherwise they'll take advantage. It will be a good challenge for us."
Yet, for all the talk of England wearing down Fiji up front as the best way to subdue the Pacific Islanders, Watson hopes the tournament opener will see the backs showing their skills.
"We would like to think we can punish them from all areas of the pitch. While Fiji are always looking to do that, we pick and choose our moments when it's on. And, if it is on, then hopefully, we can take advantage," he said.
England's Chris Robshaw is among rival captains hoping he lead the hosts to World Cup triumph in a pressure-cooker atmosphere.
"We are under no illusions as to exactly how big it is going to be," Robshaw said.
"But, as players, it's about going out there and playing our game, and trying not to get too caught up in the emotion."
Appearing in a World Cup will be a new experience for many members of Lancaster's squad.
"It's new for me and a lot of the players, but we are making it business as usual in terms of our preparation work," said England prop Joe Marler.
The World Cup opener will be just the fourth time Fiji, who have never beaten England, have played a Test match at Twickenham.
Coach John McKee has done his best to prepare his side.
"We had a little bit of a strategy earlier in the campaign in Fiji, we had a PA (public address) system playing crowd noise and the sounds from Twickenham." - Wire Services.
Expect blood and bruises
England, Australia and Wales will battle for a route to the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals from probably the toughest first-round pool ever drawn in the tournament's history.
And even Fiji will not let the leading Pool A trio get away easily - particularly when the extravaganza starts at Twickenham tomorrow morning (Singapore time) when they take on the English hosts.
One of the criticisms of the World Cup is that the pool stage has too often been predictable, with the two major sides in any one group rarely being tested before the final eight come together.
However, Pool A is anything but a foregone conclusion. Only Uruguay having the look of makeweights.
It looks as if Wales have their backs to the wall after two huge injury blows.
A 23-19 warm-up win over Italy recently deprived them of star goal-kicker Leigh Halfpenny and in-form scrum-half Rhys Webb for the entire tournament.
Halfpenny's absence could be particularly tough in a group where points difference could be a factor in deciding which teams go through to the last eight.
Wales still have plenty of attacking threat in the likes of centre Jamie Roberts and wing George North.
Wales coach Warren Gatland was defiant about the situation.
"If you (media) can do your jobs and write us off as much as possible and we can come in there being written off, which seems to be happening at the moment, that's the best situation for a Wales team to be in," said the combative New Zealander.
For England, the challenge will be to put together three good performances - something they've rarely managed since Stuart Lancaster took charge in 2012 - starting with the opener against Fiji.
But home advantage could be an important factor for a squad with plenty of strength in depth.
"We are in a unique position to be playing in a World Cup on home soil and to have the support of a nation behind the team," said Lancaster.
Two-time world champions Australia boast a brilliant back division. But the scrum has long been a problem area for Australia and coach Michael Cheika hopes the Wallabies' reputation won't count against them.
"The only way we can change that perception is by consistently performing in that area," he said.
"I think we've made improvements... If we've improved enough, we'll do well in this part of the game." - AFP.
ON THE GROUP OF DEATH
We are in a unique position ... to have the support of a nation behind the team. That support will be a massive factor.
— England coach Stuart Lancaster
Number one (task) was to enjoy our work again and get people enjoying watching the rugby again,
— Australia coach Michael Cheika
If we can come into the competition being written off, that’s the best situation for a Wales team to be in.
— Wales coach Warren Gatland
We have a way to play to our strengths which doesn’t change a lot depending on who we’re playing
— Fiji coach John McKee
People will think we will be scared to be in the group but we never feel fear. Otherwise Uruguay can’t exist at this level.
— Uruguay coach Pablo Lemoine
Don't 'dive' like footballers
Rugby World Cup officials have been told to sin-bin players who dive or feign injury during matches in a bid to clamp down on a growing football culture in the game.
Players appealing to referees to award penalties will also be punished.
"There is a culture creeping in - I call it the football culture - of simulation, people appealing to the referee, players - and it has happened a couple of times - diving," John Jeffrey, chairman of the World Rugby match officials selection committee, said yesterday.
"That is going to be sanctioned very heavily in this tournament. We are the showcase of our rugby event and it's very important that we keep our values there and referees have been asked to sanction very heavily on that."
Diving is not specifically banned in rugby, but referees had been ordered to treat it as "ungentlemanly conduct" and issue a straight yellow card.
Jeffrey, the former Scotland flanker, said officials would also be encouraged to push teams 10 metres back if players persistently complained about decisions.
Player can also be cited for diving even if the referee misses the offence under a new process in which warnings will be issued for yellow-card offences.
Citing commissioners will watch the game from touchlines using Hawk-Eye camera technology and can give warnings for offences that referees may not see.
After three warnings from the commissioners, or three yellow cards from referees, a player will go before a disciplinary hearing that can impose a ban.
Jeffrey said players who grab opponents around the neck in the ruck will face an automatic sending off. - Reuters.
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