The countdown is over, the 2023 Rugby World Cup has finally arrived with hosts France to launch the tournament with one of the biggest and most anticipated opening matches against the All Blacks in Paris.
The blockbuster opening weekend continues with Australia, Italy and Ireland all taking to the pitch for their opening matches, while three headline clashes will also take place, with England facing Argentina, Scotland taking on South Africa, and Wales against Fiji to close out the weekend. Read ahead for team lists and previews.
Jump ahead to a particular game.
Friday, September 8
France vs. New Zealand, Stade de France, Paris (9:15p.m. local / 5:15am AEST / 8:15pm GMT)
France: Thomas Ramos, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Gabin Villiere, Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont, Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon, Francois Cros, Thibaud Flament, Cameron Woki, Uini Atonio, Julien Marchand, Reda Wardi.
Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Dorian Aldegheri, Romain Taofifenua, Paul Boudehent, Maxime Lucu, Arthur Vincent, Melvyn Jaminet.
New Zealand: Beauden Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Mark Telea, Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (captain), Dalton Papali'i, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Ethan de Groot.
Replacements: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Fletcher Newell, Tupou Vaa'i, Luke Jacobson, Finlay Christie, David Havili, Leicester Fainga'anuku
Verdict: What a tournament opener this is. The hosts, at last delivering on their playing resources, against an All Blacks team that had also found some form, before it was brought to a crushing end by the Springboks at Twickenham. The big question is here how much the occasion gets to France, or whether they are able to ride the overwhelming support of their people and make produce something special.
Certainly the set-piece looms as a vital contest, with both sides being shown up at the scrum in their final warm-up matches. France were brilliant when they snapped a run of 14 straight defeats in 2021, but they are without star fly-half Romain Ntamack now. That means more of the responsibility will fall to superstar skipper Antoine Dupont, who has the ability to dictate the flow and tempo of the match through his running, passing and kicking games.
Still, the All Blacks represent a huge first-up test for the hosts and while they are down some star quality themselves, they still possess an array of attacking threats and dynamic second- and back-rows that will really test the mobility of their French opposites in the warm conditions.
Tip: France by 3.
Saturday, September 9
Italy vs. Namibia, Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint Etienne (1p.m. local / 9p.m. AEST / 12p.m. GMT)
Italy: Tommaso Allan, Ange Capuozzo, Juan Ignacio Brex, Luca Morisi, Montanna Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney, Lorenzo Cannone, Michele Lamaro (c), Sebastian Negri, Federico Ruzza, Dino Lamb, Simone Ferrari, Giacomo Nicotera, Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: Hame Faiva, Ivan Nemer, Marco Riccioni, David Sisi, Manuel Zuliani, Martin Page-Relo, Paolo Odogwu, Pierre Bruno
Namibia: Divan Rossouw, Gerswin Mouton, Johan Deysel (captain), Danco Burger, JC Greyling, Tiaan Swanepoel; Damian Stevens, Richard Hardwick, Johan Retief, Wian Conradie, Tjiuee Uanivi, Adriaan Ludick, Aranos Coetzee, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Desiderius Sethie.
Replacements: Louis van der Westhuizen, Jason Benade, Casper Viviers, Tiaan de Klerk, Prince Gaoseb, Jacques Theron, Andre van der Berg, Le Roux Malan
Verdict: This should be a fairly straightforward assignment for Italy, who warmed up for the World Cup with comfortable wins over Romania and Japan. If the Europeans are to be any chance of getting out of Pool A, they simply must defeat each of Namibia and Uruguay, with the game against the South Americans set to be step up from this one.
Italy have improved their attack in recent years and now have genuine strike weapons in Ange Capuozzo and Montanna Ioane, who spent this season with Melbourne Rebels. Look for Ioane's Rebels teammate Damian Hardwick to create havoc at the breakdown for Namibia, which will put a lot of responsibility on Italy captain Michele Lamaro to make sure his team gets clean ball.
Tip: Italy by 28
Ireland vs. Romania, Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux (3:30p.m. local/ 9:30p.m. AEST / 2:30p.m. GMT)
Ireland: Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, James Lowe, Johnny Sexton, Jamison Gibson-Park; Caelan Doris, Peter O'Mahony, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Joe McCarthy, Tadhg Furlong, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter.
Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Jeremy Loughman, Tom O'Toole, Iain Henderson, Josh van der Flier, Conor Murray, Jack Crowley, Robbie Henshaw.
Romania: Marius Simionescu, Nicolas Onutu, Fonovai Tangimana, Jason Tomane, Tevita Manumua, Hinckley Vaovasa, Gabriel Rupanu, Cristian Chirica, Vlad Neculau, Florian Rosu, Stefan Iancu, Adrian Motoc, Alexandru Gordas, Ovidiu Cojocaru, Iulian Hartig.
Replacements: Florin Bardasu, Alexandru Savin, Gheorghe Gajion, Marius Iftimiciuc, Dragos Ser, Alin Conache, Tudor Boldor, Taylor Gontineac.
Verdict: This is the only genuine miss-match of the opening weekend, with Ireland to run up a cricket score against a Romanian outfit that were hammered by both Italy and Georgia in the warmup games.
But it will be a vital hitout for Jonny Sexton after the Irishman missed each of his side's warmup games due to his suspension for abusing match officials after the European Champions Cup final. Sexton was a spectator that day, and has barely laced a boot since Ireland's Six Nations Grand Slam, which means he is in dire need of some match time.
Sexton could easily put in a solid 40 minutes and then be pulled by coach Andy Farrell, with Ireland's next game against Tonga sure to be a step up on what the Romanians can muster.
While World Rugby's reigning Player of the Year Josh van der Flier will come off the bench, Ireland have otherwise named a formidable lineup that will look to set the tone for their tournament with a crushing victory.
- Sam Bruce
Tip: Ireland by 65
Australia vs. Georgia, Stade de France, Paris (6p.m. local / 2a.m. AEST / 5p.m. GMT)
Australia: Ben Donaldson, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Jordan Petaia, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Carter Gordon, Tate McDermott; Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight, Tom Hooper, Will Skelton, Richie Arnold, Taniela Tupou, Dave Porecki, Angus Bell.
Replacements: Matt Faessler, Blake Schoupp, Zane Nonggorr, Rob Leota, Langi Gleeson, Nic White, Lalakai Foketi, Suliasi Vunivalu.
Georgia: Davit Niniashvili, Akaki Tabutsadze, Demur Tapladze, Merab Sharikadze (captain), Mirian Modebadze, Luka Matkava, Vaso Lobzhanidze, Beka Gorgadze, Luka Ivanishvili, Tornike Jalaghonia, Kote Mikautadze, Nodar Cheishvili, Guram Papidze, Shalva Mamukashvili, Nika Abuladze.
Replacements: Tengizi Zamtaradze, Guram Gogichashvili, Beka Gigashvili, Lasha Jaiani, Giorgi Tsutskiridze, Gela Aprasidze, Tedo Abzhandadze, Giorgi Kveseladze
Verdict: Australia and Georgia meet for the second straight World Cup, but first time since the two sides played each other four years ago. It was a comfortable but not overwhelming Wallabies win on that occasion in Shizuoka, but an encounter that feels like a whole other lifetime ago given what has transpired in Australian rugby since.
Certainly the expectation is that the Wallabies should have too much class for Georgia despite Australia's 0-5 build-up under Eddie Jones, particularly if they are able to replicate their first-half effort from Bledisloe II in Dunedin.
Jones' decision to shore up his goal kicking stocks with the selection at fullback however is telling, however, and at least gives young fly-half Carter Gordon some cover if his woes in front of goal should continue. It may be that Donaldson kicks from the outset, too, which would be one less thing Gordon then has to worry about.
Georgia, meanwhile, will look to use their set-piece and earn points off the back of it, as they did in the first half against Scotland in Edinburgh a fortnight ago. But they will also need to show more in attack if they are to record an upset win over Australia, and the conditions certainly won't be in their favour.
Look for Georgia to hang in the contest potentially to the 50-minute mark, before the class of the Wallabies outside backs sees them pull away to a comfortable victory.
- Sam Bruce
Tip: Australia by 23.
England vs. Argentina, Stade de Marseille, Marseille (9p.m. local / 5a.m. AEST, 8p.m. GMT)
England: Freddie Steward, Jonny May, Joe Marchant, Manu Tuilagi, Elliot Daly, George Ford, Alex Mitchell, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Dan Cole , Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum, Courtney Lawe, Tom Curry, Ben Earl.
Replacements: Theo Dan, Joe Marler, Will Stuart, George Martin, Lewis Ludlam, Danny Care, Marcus Smith, Ollie Lawrence.
Argentina: Juan Cruz Mallia, Emiliano Boffelli, Lucio Cinti, Santiago Chocobares, Mateo Carreras, Santiago Carreras, Gonzalo Bertranou, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Marcos Kremer, Pablo Matera, Tomas Lavanini, Matias Alemanno, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Julian Montoya, Thomas Gallo.
Replacements: Augustin Creevy, Joel Sclavi, Eduardo Bello, Guido Petti, Pedro Rubiolo, Rodrigo Bruni, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Matias Moroni.
Verdict: Back on August 7 when Steve Borthwick named his 33-player World Cup squad, Jonny May and Alex Mitchell would've been heartbroken having missed out. But rugby moves in strange ways and fast-forward to the tournament opener and both are starting, following injuries to Anthony Watson and Jack van Poortvliet.
It paints a picture of an England team still finding their feet, with just three wins from nine matches under Borthwick. Their pre-tournament warm-ups finished with England falling to Fiji, but despite their shaky build up, Borthwick feels England have been harshly, prematurely written off.
Mitchell and May start for England in Marseille, as does Dan Cole at tight-head - the Leicester man playing in his fourth World Cup. Elsewhere Courtney Lawes captains the team, while Tom Curry returns from injury to play at openside.
"We have to be defensively sound; we have to match them up front and then we have a game plan that suits our strengths that gives us an opportunity to score," Lawes said. "It'll be a hell of a spectacle, so enjoy it. We're going out all guns blazing."
Argentina will be a familiar foe - 13 of the 15 players that started in their win over England back in November get the nod in the XV again, with Michael Chieka switching out both centres with Lucio Cinti and Santiago Chocobares starting. Agustin Creevy starts and joins Cole in playing in his fourth World Cup.
- Tom Hamilton
Tip: England by 1
Sunday, September 10
Japan vs. Chile, Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse (1p.m. local / 9p.m. AEST / 12p.m. GMT)
Japan: Semisi Masirewa, Kotaro Matsushima, Dylan Riley, Ryoto Nakamura, Jone Naikabula, Rikiya Matsuda, Yutaka Nagare; Kazuki Himeno (captain), Kanji Shimokawa, Michael Leitch, Amato Fakatava, Jack Cornelsen, Koo Ji-won, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki
Replacements: Shota Horie, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Warner Dearns, Shota Fukui, Naoto Saito, Tomoki Osada, Lomano Lava Lemeki.
Chile: Inaki Ayarza, Santiago Videla, Domingo Saavedra, Matias Garafulic, Franco Velarde, Rodrigo Fernandez, Marcelo Torrealba, Alfonso Escobar, Raimundo Martínez, Martín Sigren (c), Javier Eissmann, Clemente Saavedra, Matias Dittus, Diego Escobar, Javier Carrasco.
Replacements: Augusto Bohme, Salvador Lues, Inaki Gurruchaga, Pablo Huete, Santiago Pedrero, Ignacio Silva, Lukas Carvallo, José Ignacio Larenas.
Verdict: What an occasion this is for Chile, who will become the 26th nation to feature at a Rugby World Cup when they run out in Toulouse on Sunday. It is also a special day for South American rugby on the whole, with three countries competing from the continent for the first time.
Japan do not represent the sternest of first-up oppositions, but the Brave Blossoms are still overwhelming favourites for this one. Jamie Joseph's side have struggled since the last World Cup, winning only a handful of matches, while showing glimpses of their promise against the Wallabies and All Blacks. Their recent warm-up form, however, has not been good.
The warm conditions should suit their free-flowing, quick ruck, style, and they will look to move the Chileans around the paddock through the speedy service of halfback Yutaka Nagare, with outside backs Kotaro Matsushima and Rikiya Matsuda to provide the finish out wide. This should be a bonus-point win for Japan in reality.
Tip: Japan by 22.
- Sam Bruce
South Africa vs. Scotland, Stade de Marseille, Marseille (5:45p.m. local / 1:45a.m. / 4:45p.m. GMT)
South Africa: Damian Willemse, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe, Manie Libbok, Faf de Klerk; Jasper Wiese, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, RG Snyman, Marco van Staden, Duane Vermeulen, Grant Williams, Willie le Roux.
Scotland: Blair Kinghorn, Darcy Graham, Sione Tuipulotu, Huw Jones, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ben White; Jack Dempsey, Rory Darge, Jamie Ritchie (capt.), Grant Gilchrist, Richie Gray, Zander Fagerson, George Turner, Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: Dave Cherry, Jamie Bhatti, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson, Ali Price, Cameron Redpath, Ollie Smith.
Verdict: The first game of a cracking double-header that rounds out the opening weekend of action, this clash will have huge ramifications in Pool B. Certainly the Springboks go in as short-price favourites. But there has been enough in Scotland's recent development and climb to No. 5 in the world to suggest that they can at least run them close.
The key for Scotland will be matching the Springboks physicality, and then shifting their big forwards around the paddock through the crafty play of fly-half Finn Russell. The Scots like to play an up-tempo brand of rugby, with multiple ball-runners available to Russell and then big Duhan van der Merwe offering a devastating option out wide.
Still, the Boks have dominated Scotland in recent years, winning the last seven matches between the two teams. And they again looked primed for a run to the final couple of weeks of this tournament. If they put the squeeze on Scotland at set-piece time, that will really draw the energy out of Gregor Townsend's side, opening up opportunities for their own array of backline threats in Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse.
Tip: South Africa by 12
- Sam Bruce
Wales vs. Fiji, Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux (9p.m. local / 5a.m. AEST / 8p.m. GMT)
Wales: Liam Williams, Louis Rees Zammit, George North, Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies, Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Aaron Wainwright, Jac Morgan, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Corey Domachowski, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Tomos Williams, Sam Costelow, Rio Dyer.
Fiji: Ilaisa Droasese, Selestino Ravutaumada, Waisea Nayacalevu, Semi Radradra, Vinaya Habosi, Teti Tela, Frank Lomani, Viliame Mata, Lekima Tagitagivalu, Albert Tuisue, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Isoa Nasilasila, Luke Tagi, Sam Matavesi, Eroni Mawi,
Replacements: Tevita Ikanivere, Peni Ravai, Mesaki Doge, Temo Mayanavanua, Levani Botia, Simione Kuruvoli, Josua Tuisova, Sireli Maqala.
Verdict: There's no time for a standing start for Wales in this World Cup.
They need a win over Fiji on Sunday in Bordeaux and received a timely boost with Taulupe Faletau fit to start. The No.8 missed their warm-up programme because of a calf muscle issue, but his return will be huge for Warren Gatland's side as they face a Fiji side fired up by their win over England last month, but also the untimely loss of their mesmeric fly-half Caleb Muntz. He was ruled out earlier this week after suffering a knee injury in training and his loss is a massive setback for the Flying Fijians. They'll still have a huge amount of class though, with a multi-faceted attack and firm spine to the team, so Wales will have to be at their best if they are to get the pool stage off to a winning start.
Gatland's Wales are without co-captain Dewi Lake as he continues his comeback from injury so it's Jac Morgan who captains the team. One of the other major selection calls saw Gareth Davies start ahead of Tomos Williams at scrum-half.
"Fiji are a good side with some great individual athletes and they play with a lot more structure now than maybe they have done traditionally," Gatland said. "We've had some good clarity about what we want to achieve and the way we want to play on the weekend. It's going to be an exciting contest on Sunday and one that we are relishing."
The injury to Muntz has opened up the opportunity for Teti Tela for Fiji at No. 10, meaning the Pacific Islanders should lose little in terms of cohesion given Tela also plays for the Fijian Drua. Elsewhere, coach Simon Rawalui has named an impressive starting side, headlined by European-based stars Albert Tuisue, Viliame Mata, Vinaya Habosi and Semi Radradra.
- Tom Hamilton
Tip: Wales by 6.