Pool A features Fiji, Uruguay, Wales and hosts England.
Qualification would be seen already as a success, considering the relatively small stature of Uruguayan rugby compared to the powerhouse teams they will face in Group A. Having beaten the ever improving Russian side in their qualification playoff, Uruguay will head to England with a mostly local based side. Veteran lock Rodrigo Capo Ortega announced his retirement a few weeks before the final squad was announced, leaving the Teros with only 4 European based players, and none in any top tier.
Their aim will be to keep the scores as low as possible, possible targeting their match with Fiji as one where they can realistically score an upset.
Pool Prediction: 5th
Key Players: Felipe Berchesi, Agustin Ormaechea, Mario Sagario
A seemingly impossible task awaits Fiji in Pool A, facing England, Australia and Wales in consecutive matches. They will need a lot of skill and an equal amount of luck to match their performance in 2007 when they reached the quarter finals, which was also coincidently the last time they beat Wales. They have however never beaten the English while their last victory against Australia came in 1954, progression seems unlikely for the Fijians.
The large majority of their squad is European based, with a lot of new names included. They could spring an upset if their opposition underestimate them, but considering the tense nature of Pool A, that seems unlikely.
Pool Prediction: 4th
Key Players: Nemani Nadolo, Leone Nakarawa, Josh Matavesi
The Welsh would have been confident going into the World Cup after only missing out on the Six Nations title due to points difference, and with their warm up matches yielding a highly impressive away win against dark horses Ireland. They were however dealt a massive blow in their last encounter against Italy, where Fullback and their main goal-kicker Leigh Halfpenny was ruled out with a knee injury, while first choice scrum-half Rhys Webb also ended his participation due to a foot injury.
Wales still boast one of the most experienced selection of forwards in world rugby, with a highly established pack lead by captain Warburton and star lock Alun Wyn Jones. In the backline Mike Phillips is a replacement for the injured Webb, while Dan Biggar will be given the kicking duties from the fly-half position. British Lion Jonathan Davies will also miss out due to injury, although veteran centre Jamie Roberts will lead the attack alongside current leading try scorer George North.
Wales will start off against South American minnows Uruguay, with arch rivals and host England less than a week later. After that they will face Fiji, a team that has caused them problems in the past followed by their final group game against Australia, which is likely to be a knockout game for a quarter final spot.
Pool Prediction: 3rd
Key Players: Allun Wyn-Jones, Dan Biggar, George North
Australia will head into the toughest World Cup group with some confidence after winning their maiden Rugby Championship title, with their pack showing a marked improvement under Coach Michael Cheika over the past two seasons.
Hooker Stephen Moore will captain the side with plenty of weight in the pack and a backline that can be devastating on the counter, although question marks remain over who will wear the fly-half jersey, with Quade Cooper putting in a shocker of a performance in their Bledisloe Cup loss against New Zealand.
Their scrums have shown the ability to at least match their opponents in recent matches, while the combination of Hooper and Pocock in the back-row was key to their success so far this season. Matt Giteua has slotted in seamlessly at inside centre after Australia relaxed their rules on foreign based players. Adam Ashley-Cooper always adds value at outside centre or wing, while Israel Folau is still one of the most exciting players in World Rugby.
Australia start with relatively easy encounters against Fiji and Uruguay, before facing England at Twickenham and lastly Wales a week later. The conditions and fans would favour their opponents, but if Australia can get consistency from their fly-half they should be able to control the game through the break-downs.
Pool Prediction: 2nd
Key Players: Micheal Hooper, Matt Giteau, Israel Folau
Hosts for the second time, England will certainly feel the nerves after a less than ideal preparation leading up to the World Cup. Veterans Manu Tuilagi and Dylan Hartley will miss out due to violent conduct (On and off the field of play), while their warm-up fixtures have shown that discipline remains a concern, especially in tight, knock-out encounters.
The set pieces remain their biggest strength, while their outside backs are some of the most well rounded players on the international scene at the moment. George Ford looks set to star as the premier fly-half ahead of Owen Farrel, while Chris Robshaw will lead England at his first World Cup.
Stuart Lancaster took some big gambles with his centre choices, leaving out the more experienced Luther Burrel and Kyle Eastmond for Rugby League convert Sam Burgess and newcomer Henry Slade, with only two caps between them. It’s a daring call, and one that could backfire badly for England.
Their campaign starts with the relatively easy Uruguayans, followed by Wales and Australia, where a loss against either could unhinge their campaign significantly. The runner up of Pool A will face the unpredictable South Africans in the Quarter Finals.
Pool Prediction: 1st
Key Players: Tom Wood, George Ford, Jonny May