Who's playing who in the build-up to the World Cup in Japan?

Eight busy weeks lie ahead before the action gets underway at the World Cup.

WITH MOST SIDES through the opening weeks of their pre-seasons and many nations already involved in competitive games, the build-up to this year’s World Cup is well underway.

The tournament in Japan begins on 20 September as the hosts meet Russia in Tokyo, but there are many international fixtures taking place before then.

Below, we take a look at how each nation in the World Cup is warming-up.


Joe Schmidt’s side kick-off their warm-up schedule by hosting Italy at the Aviva Stadium on 10 August, before putting their feet up the following weekend.

A view of training Ireland are currently on a rest week after training in Limerick last week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

They then have a run of three friendly fixtures, visiting England at Twickenham after a training camp in Portugal, travelling to Cardiff to take on Warren Gatland’s Wales and then welcoming the Welsh to Dublin in their final warm-up tie two weeks before their World Cup starts against Scotland.

  • Ireland v Italy, Aviva Stadium, Saturday 10 August, 2pm
  • England v Ireland, Twickenham, Saturday 24 August, 3pm
  • Wales v Ireland, Principality Stadium, Saturday 31 August 2.30pm
  • Ireland v Wales, Aviva Stadium, Saturday 7 September 2pm


Gregor Townsend’s men are Ireland’s first opponents in Pool A of the World Cup, meaning their warm-up clashes will be of particular interest to Schmidt.

The Scots start a week later than Ireland when they visit France on 17 August, before playing a reverse fixture with the French the following weekend at Murrayfield. Scotland then play similar away-and-home ties against Georgia in Tbilisi and back at home in Edinburgh the following Friday night.

  • France v Scotland, Nice, Saturday 17 August, 7pm [all times in Irish time]
  • Scotland v France, Murrayfield, Saturday 24 August, 1.10pm
  • Georgia v Scotland, Tbilisi, Saturday 31 August, 2pm
  • Scotland v Georgia, Murrayfield, Friday 6 August, 7.30pm


The hosts are another threat to Ireland in Pool A, with Jamie Joseph’s men having stated their goal of reaching the quarter-finals.

England v Japan - Quilter International - Twickenham Stadium Japan will be a difficult proposition on home soil. Source: Andrew Matthews

Japan have yet to play a game in 2019 but will get their year going on Saturday with their opening clash of this year’s Pacific Nations Cup as they meet Fiji in Kamaishi – which has recovered from a tsunami in 2011 to be one of the World Cup host cities.

Round two of the PNC sees Japan face Tonga in the Osaka Prefecture, before they travel to Fiji to take on the US. Japan then have a break from games until 6 September, when they clash with South Africa on home soil in Kumagaya.

  • Japan v Fiji, Kamaishi, Saturday 27 July, 6.50am 
  • Japan v Tonga, Higashiosaka, Saturday 3 August, 11.10am
  • USA v Japan, Suva, Saturday 10 August, 5.35am 
  • Japan v South Africa, Kumagaya, Friday 6 September, 11.15am 


Ranked 16th in the world, Samoa will hope to cause an upset or two in Pool A and begin their preparations with a Pacific Nations Cup meeting with Tonga this weekend, before ties against the US and Fiji.

Steve Jackson’s men take on a New Zealand Heartland XV in Auckland as part of the ‘Pasifika Challenge II’ at the end of August, before concluding their warm-ups with a meeting against Michael Cheika’s Wallabies two weeks out from the World Cup.

  • Samoa v Tonga, Apia, Saturday 27 July, 3am
  • Samoa v USA, Suva, Saturday 3 August, 3.30am 
  • Fiji v Samoa, Suva, Saturday 10 August, 8.15am 
  • NZ Heartland v Samoa, Eden Park, Saturday 31 August, 3am 
  • Australia v Samoa, Western Sydney Stadium, Saturday 7 September


The final team in pool A, 20th-ranked Russia were in international action last month in the World Rugby Nations Cup, losing to Uruguay but beating Argentina XV and Namibia.

Imago 20190302 Russia in action against Germany during this year's Rugby Europe Championship. Source: Imago/PA Images

Their World Cup prep continues with a meeting against Italy on 17 August, although a scheduled clash with Georgia in Tbilisi was cancelled last week due to safety concerns and it remains to be seen how the Russians replace it.

  • Italy v Russia, San Benedetto del Tronto, Saturday 17 August, 5.25pm
  • Russia v TBC, TBC, 31 August

New Zealand

The favourites to top Pool B and go on to trophy glory, New Zealand kicked-off their build-up with a 20-16 win over Argentina in the Rugby Championship last weekend.

This Saturday sees the All Blacks clash with South Africa – who they will face in Pool B on 21 September – before they conclude the Championship with a meeting against the Wallabies. They take on Australia in a Bledisloe Cup meeting, then face Tonga two weeks before the start of the World Cup.

  • New Zealand v South Africa, Wellington, Saturday 27 July, 8.35am
  • Australia v New Zealand, Perth, Saturday 10 August, 10.45am
  • New Zealand v Australia, Eden Park, Saturday 17 August, 8.35am
  • New Zealand v Tonga, Hamilton, Saturday 7 September, 3.35am

South Africa

Rassie Erasmus’ Boks started their 2019 with a win over Australia last weekend – despite resting many key players – and will look for a confidence-boosting win in Wellington this weekend.

Rassie Erasmus Former Munster coach Rassie Erasmus is in charge of the Boks. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

They conclude their Championship away to Argentina, meet the Pumas again a week later on home soil, then get to Japan early to take on the hosts in a warm-up fixture on 6 September.

  • New Zealand v South Africa, Wellington, Saturday 27 July, 8.35am
  • Argentina v South Africa, Salta, Saturday 10 August, 8.40pm
  • South Africa v Argentina, Pretoria, Saturday 17 August, 4.05pm
  • Japan v South Africa, Kumagaya, Friday 6 September, 11.15am


Conor O’Shea’s side have a daunting task ahead of them in Pool B as they take on two of the game’s heavyweights.

They will prepare by playing Ireland in Dublin, welcoming Russia to the Adriatic coastal city of San Benedetto del Tronto, then travelling to face France and England.

  • Ireland v Italy, Aviva Stadium, Saturday 10 August, 2pm
  • Italy v Russia, San Benedetto del Tronto, Saturday 17 August, 5.25pm
  • France v Italy, Paris, Friday 30 August, 8.10pm
  • England v Italy, Newcastle, Friday 6 September, 7.45pm


Currently ranked 21st in the world and with a new Ireland-born player in their squad in the shape of Peter Nelson, Canada are involved in the Pacific Nations Cup from this weekend onwards.

Peter Nelson Former Ulster back is a new face in the Canada squad. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They also take on Leo Cullen’s Leinster in Ontario as part of their build-up to the World Cup, as well as facing a ‘BC All-Stars’ team and the US.

  • USA v Canada, Colorado, Saturday 27 July, 1am
  • Fiji v Canada, Suva, Saturday 3 August, 6.15am
  • Tonga v Canada, Lautoka, Friday 9 August, 4am
  • Canada v Leinster, Ontario, Saturday 24 August, 8pm
  • Canada V BC All-Stars, Langford, Friday 30 August
  • Canada v USA, Vancouver, Sunday 8 September, 3am


One of the genuine minnows of the World Cup, having lost all 19 of their previous games in the tournament and currently the lowest-ranked nation involved [23rd], Namibia will strive to cause difficulties for the bigger teams in Pool B.

Phil Davies’ side played in the Nations Cup last month, losing to Russia and Argentina XV but notching a 30-28 victory against Uruguay, who are ranked four places above them by World Rugby.

Namibia are due to play warm-up games next month but their opposition hasn’t been officially confirmed.


Eddie Jones’ men are the top seeds in what looks like being a tricky Pool C, meaning they will be looking for form in their warm-up games.

Owen Farrell Owen Farrell and England will face Ireland in a friendly. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

England begin with the visit of Wales to London on Sunday 11 August, before a return tie away to Warren Gatland’s charges the following weekend. They welcome Ireland to Twickenham, have one weekend off, then face Italy at St James’ Park in Newcastle.

  • England v Wales, Twickenham, Sunday 11 August, 2pm
  • Wales v England, Principality Stadium, Saturday 17 August, 2.15pm
  • England v Ireland, Twickenham, Saturday 24 August, 3pm
  • England v Italy, St James’ Park, Friday 6 September, 7.45pm


With Jacques Brunel’s beefed-up coaching staff now including Fabien Galthié, who will succeed him as head coach, les Bleus will hope the World Cup brings out the best in them.

They prepare for Pool C by playing Scotland in Nice, visiting the Scots at Murrayfield, and hosting Italy in Paris.

  • France v Scotland, Nice, Saturday 17 August, 7pm 
  • Scotland v France, Murrayfield, Saturday 24 August, 1.10pm
  • France v Italy, ParisFriday 30 August, 8.10pm


Buoyed by the Jaguares reaching the Super Rugby final this year, Argentina will be licking their lips at the prospect of upsetting England and France in Pool C.

Jordie Barrett on the attack The Pumas lost to the All Blacks last weekend. Source: Photosport/Pablo Gasparini/INPHO

They started their year with a narrow loss to the All Blacks in Buenos Aires last weekend but will be targeting a win away to Australia on Saturday before two clashes with South Africa and a fixture against Shute Shield side Randwick two weeks before the World Cup.

  • Australia v Argentina, Brisbane, Saturday 27 July, 10.45am
  • Argentina v South Africa, Salta, Saturday 10 August, 8.40pm
  • South Africa v Argentina, Pretoria, Saturday 17 August, 4.05pm
  • Randwick v Argentina, Sydney, TBC


After enjoying a superb 2018, USA’s year started disappointingly as they relinquished their Americas Rugby Championship title to Argentina XV but they will hope to have a strong Pacific Nations Cup in the coming weeks.

Gary Gold’s side – featuring several Irish-born players and an Irish attack coach in Greg McWilliams – will complete their build-up with a clash against Canada in Vancouver before travelling to Japan.

  • USA v Canada, Colorado, Saturday 27 July, 1am
  • Samoa v USA, Suva, Saturday 3 August, 3.30am
  • USA v Japan, Suva, Saturday 10 August, 5.35am
  • Canada v USA, Vancouver, Sunday 8 September, 3am

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The Pacific Islanders will be up against it in a tough Pool C, but will strive to match their best-ever World Cup performances of two pool wins in 2007 and 2011.

The Tonga players preform the Haka Tonga before a clash with the Barbarians at Thomond Park in 2017. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Tonga will also compete in the upcoming Pacific Nations Cup before heading to New Zealand for warm-up friendlies against Fiji in Auckland – part of the Pasifika Challenge II – and the All Blacks in Hamilton.

  • Samoa v Tonga, Apia, Saturday 27 July, 3am
  • Japan v Tonga, Higashiosaka, Saturday 3 August, 11.10am
  • Tonga v Canada, Lautoka, Friday 9 August, 4am
  • Fiji v Tonga, Eden Park, Saturday 31 August, 5.30am 
  • New Zealand v Tonga, Hamilton, Saturday 7 September, 3.35am


The top-ranked side in Pool D and the reigning Grand Slam champions, Warren Gatland’s men will have their sights set on World Cup glory.

Their warm-up games consist of away-and-home clashes against England and then home-and-away fixtures versus Six Nations rivals Ireland.

  • England v Wales, Twickenham, Sunday 11 August, 2pm
  • Wales v England, Principality Stadium, Saturday 17 August, 2.15pm
  • Wales v Ireland, Principality Stadium, Saturday 31 August 2.30pm
  • Ireland v Wales, Aviva Stadium, Saturday 7 September 2pm


With a proud history at the World Cup, pressure will be on Michael Cheika’s outfit to improve their form in the coming weeks in order to compete in Japan.

Owen Farrell and Henry Slade with Samu Kerevi Samu Kerevi will be a key man for the Wallabies. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Wallabies opened their Rugby Championship campaign with a poor performance away to South Africa last weekend and will hope for better versus Argentina on Saturday. Thereafter, they play the All Blacks twice and then finish with a friendly against Samoa.

  • Australia v Argentina, Brisbane, Saturday 27 July, 10.45am
  • Australia v New Zealand, Perth, Saturday 10 August, 10.45am
  • New Zealand v Australia, Eden Park, Saturday 17 August, 8.35am
  • Australia v Samoa, Western Sydney Stadium, Saturday 7 September


Benefitting from perhaps their best-ever World Cup prep, John McKee’s side played the Maori All Blacks twice last month, notching an impressive 27-10 win at home and losing 26-17 away after making many changes.

As a team many are predicting to cause trouble for Wales and Australia, ninth-ranked Fiji’s form in the Pacific Nations Cup is going to be fascinating.

They face Tonga in the Pasifika Challenge II at the end of August and had been hopeful of playing Argentina two weeks before the World Cup, before the Pumas arranged their Randwick fixture. It remains to be seen if Fiji can find one final warm-up game.

  • Japan v Fiji, Kamaishi, Saturday 27 July, 6.50am 
  • Fiji v Canada, Suva, Saturday 3 August, 6.15am
  • Fiji v Samoa, Suva, Saturday 10 August, 8.15am
  • Fiji v Tonga, Eden Park, Saturday 31 August, 5.30am 


Competing in their fifth consecutive World Cup, Georgia will be keen to show their quality on the global stage after winning twice in the 2015 tournament, when they beat Tonga and Namibia.

(SP)GEORGIA-TBILISI-2018 RUGBY EUROPE INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP Georgia celebrate a win over Spain last year. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Georgia, who won all five of their games in the Rugby Europe Championship earlier this year, were due to play Russia in Tbilisi in their first World Cup warm-up game but the Russian federation pulled out of that fixture with safety concerns.

Georgia will instead face the Southern Kings of South Africa on 27 August, before home-and-away fixtures against Scotland.

  • Georgia v Southern Kings, Tbilisi, 27 August
  • Georgia v Scotland, Tbilisi, Saturday 31 August, 2pm
  • Scotland v Georgia, Murrayfield, Friday 6 September, 7.30pm


Ranked 19th in the world, Uruguay played in last month’s World Rugby Nations Cup on home soil, which they won by beating Russia, losing narrowly to Namibia and recovering to overcome Argentina XV.

Los Teros also played Spain last month in Montevideo and lost 41-21, before reconvening for World Cup camp earlier this month. They are set to play warm-up games against Argentina XV, a South American XV, and Brazil.

  • Uruguay v Brazil, TBC, 7 September

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Murray Kinsella

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