International hub: Sexton returns to Ireland team after long layoff

by AFP

The countdown to the World Cup is truly on with the final round of international friendlies being played this weekend.

Japan and South Africa play off in Japan to kick the weekend's action off, before Scotland and Georgia and England and Italy go head-to-head.

A little closer to home, the All Blacks take on Tonga on Saturday afternoon and the Wallabies face Samoa on Saturday night, with David Pocock returning from injury to captain Australia.

Ireland-Wales and Canada-USA round things off on Sunday morning.

All the kick-off times and teams right here.


All times AEST.

Friday September 6

8:15pm - Japan vs South Africa, Kumagaya Stadium, Kumagaya

Saturday September 7

4:30am - Scotland vs Georgia, Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh

4:45am - England vs Italy, St James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne

12:35pm - New Zealand vs Tonga FMG stadium, Hamilton

7:30pm - Australia vs Samoa, Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta, LIVE on Network Ten, Foxtel, Kayo Sports and via RADIO.

11pm - Ireland vs Wales, Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Sunday September 8

12pm - Canada vs USA, BC Place, Vancouver


Coach Jamie Joseph insisted that World Cup hosts Japan will have no fear going into their final warm-up against revenge-seeking South Africa after naming a strong team Wednesday.

The last time the teams met, hitherto tournament no-hopers Japan stunned the Springboks 34-32 on the English south coast in their opening game of the 2015 World Cup -- an upset of such seismic proportions a movie about it has just been released.

Adamant there will be no sequel, Joseph's opposite number, South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus, named a full-strength side for Friday's encounter in Kumagaya, north of Tokyo.

The return to the starting line-up of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi after injury is the only change to the team that drew 16-16 with the All Blacks in Wellington six weeks ago on the way to capturing their first Rugby Championship since 2009.

"We're elated that coach Erasmus has picked what I think is their strongest line-up," Joseph said after countering with a starting fifteen led by talismanic captain Michael Leitch, now recovered from a lengthy groin problem.

"It shows respect and it gives our players something to look forward to.

I've faced a lot of questions this last week about if I think it's a risky game before the World Cup but unless we play the best teams, we'll never get a true measure of where we are."

Joseph, who took over from Eddie Jones after the last World Cup, has set a target of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time and the Brave Blossoms limbered up by winning the Pacific Nations Cup over the summer.

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus Wednesday named a full-strength side to play Japan, as the two-time champions bid to put down a World Cup marker and avenge the biggest upset in the game's history.

Captain Siya Kolisi comes back into the side after fully recovering from a knee injury -- the only change from the 23 selected for the 16-16 in New Zealand in July that set South Africa on their way to winning their first Rugby Championship.

Western Stormers flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit wins his 50th cap and there is also a starting berth for lock Eben Etzebeth, who has been forced to deny allegations he pointed a gun at a homeless person last month.

"I hope this selection will send a strong message that we have the utmost respect for Japan," Erasmus said.

"Perhaps we made the mistake of complacency against them in the past but we've been hammering the message all week that we should never do that again against Japan," added the coach.

"This Test is as big a challenge as any we've had this season," stressed Erasmus.


Japan to face South Africa

Keita Inagaki, Atsushi Sakate, Koo Ji-won, Luke Thompson, Uwe Helu, Michael Leitch, Peter Labuschagne, Amanaki Mafi, Kaito Shigeno, Yu Tamura, Kenki Fukuoka, Ryoto Nakamura, Timothy Lafaele, Kotaro Matsushima, Will Tupou. Reserves: Takuya Kitade, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Ai Valu, James Moore, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Yutaka Nagare, Rikiya Matsuda, Ataata Moeakiola

South Africa to face Japan

Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermuelen, Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Makazole Mapimpi, Damian de Allende, Lukhanyo Am, Cheslin Kolbe, Willie le Roux. Reserves: Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, RG Snyman, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Francois Steyn, Jesse Kriel



Scotland to face Georgia

Gordon Reid, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Ryan Wilson, Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson, Ali Price, Adam Hastings, Darcy Graham, Sam Johnson, Duncan Taylor, Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn. Reserves: Grant Stewart, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Magnus Bradbury, George Horne, Pete Horne, Chris Harris

Georgia to face Scotland

Beka Gorgadze, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, Shalva Sutiashvili, Giorgi Nemsadze, Kote Mikautadze, Beka Gigashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Mikheil Nariashvili, Vasil Lobzhanidze, Tedo Abzhandadze, Mirian Modebadze, Lesha Malaghuradze, Davit Katcharava, Zurab Dzneladze, Soso Matiashvili. Reserves: Vano Karkasze, Guram Gogichashvili, Giorgi Melikidze, Lasha Lomidze, Beka Saghinadze, Gela Aprasidze, Tamaz Mtchedlidze, Giorgi Kveladze


England have selected from outside their World Cup squad for Friday's final warm-up match against Italy by naming Joe Marchant at outside centre in a "mix-and-match selection".

Marchant is not in the 31-man squad bound for Japan on September 8 but slots into the midfield alongside Piers Francis, with captain Owen Farrell starting the final warm-up fixture at flyhalf.

Two further players not picked for Japan 2019 are present on the bench in lock Charlie Ewels and flanker Matt Kvesic.

Ruaridh McConnochie finally makes his debut on the right wing after two aborted attempts in the double header against Wales due to hip and hamstring injuries.

The Bath sevens specialist forms a rapid back three alongside Anthony Watson and Leicester flyer Jonny May.

Henry Slade has lost his battle with a knee injury and misses the last opportunity to get some game time before the World Cup and Ben Youngs is given another run at scrum-half.

Star number eight Billy Vunipola will make his fourth start of the campaign. Mark Wilson makes his first start of the summer at openside flanker and Tom Curry is given another run at six.

"We have gone with a mix-and-match selection policy to develop our adaptability and the team's ability to cope with any situation," said England coach Eddie Jones.

England have enjoyed a promising World Cup warm-up series, with a win against Wales at Twickenham and crushing victory over Ireland only slightly offset by a narrow defeat in Cardiff.

Italy complete the four fixtures in the nation's first outing at St James's Park, two days before the squad set off for a pre-tournament training camp in Miyazaki.

"We have had a solid training week in Treviso with hot conditions so we are looking forward to testing ourselves against Italy on Friday night," said Jones.

"Then we hop on the plane and are ready to go to Japan."


England to face Italy

Joe Marler, Jamie George, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Mark Wilson, Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, Piers Francis, Joe Marchant, Ruaridh McConnochie, Anthony Watson. Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler, Charlie Ewels, Matt Kvesic, Willi Heinz, George Ford, Joe Cokanasiga

Italy to face England

Nicola Quaglio, Oliviero Fabiani, Simone Ferrari, David Sisi, Dean Budd, Sebastian Negri, Abraham Steyn, Jimmy Tuivaiti, Callum Braley, Carlo Canna, Edoardo Padovani, Tommaso Benvenuti, Giulio Bisegni, Mattia Bellini, Jayden Hayward. Reserves: Federico Zani, Andrea Lovotti, Marco Riccioni, Federico Ruzza, Alessandro Zanni, Maxime Mbanda, Guglielmo Palazzani, Tommaso Allan.



New Zealand to face Tonga

Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Ardie Savea, Matt Todd, Kieran Read, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, George Bridge, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sevu Reece, Ben Smith. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, Aaron Smith, Josh Ioane, Jordie Barrett.

Tonga to face New Zealand

Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Siua Maile, Siua Halanukonuka, Sam Lousi, Leva Fifita, Sione Kalamafoni, Fotu Lokotui, Ma'ama Vaipulu, Tane Takulua, Kurt Morath, Villiami Lolohea, Siale Piutau, Mali Hingano, Cooper Vuna, David Halaifonua. Reserves: Sione Anga'aelangi, Vunipola Fifita, Ma'afu Fia, Dan Faleafa, Zane Kapeli, Leon Fukofuka, James Faiva, Afa Pakalani.



Wallabies to face Samoa

James Slipper, Jordan Uelese, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Adam Coleman, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, David Pocock (c), Jack Dempsey, Will Genia (vc), Bernard Foley, Marika Koroibete, Matt To’omua, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tom Banks. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio, Taniela Tupou, Luke Jones, Liam Wright, Rob Valetini*, Nick Phipps, James O’Connor. *denotes uncapped

Samoa to face Wallabies

Jordan Lay, Ray Niuia, Michael Alaalatoa, Teofilo Paulo, Kane Leaupepe, TJ Ioane, Jack Lam Captain, Afaesetiti Amosa, Scott Malolua, Tusi Pisi, Ed Fidow, Reynold Lee-Lo, Alapati Leiua, Belgium Tuatagaloa, Tim Nanai-Williams. Reserves: Motu Matuu, Paul Alo-Emile, Logovii Mulipola, Josh Tyrell, Seilala Lam, Dwayne Polataivao, , AJ Alatimu, Ah See Tuala.


World player of the year Jonathan Sexton will play his first competitive match since the end of May in Ireland's final Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Wales on Saturday.

The match offers both a final chance for some players to make an impression and break into the starting XV for the opening game in Japan and also an emotional final home Test for both head coach Joe Schmidt and captain Rory Best.

"It is not something I have given a lot of thought about it was only when I came off the training pitch this morning and some woman was in tears saying this is the last time you walk off here," said Best on Thursday.

"It is going to be a really big occasion when I look back on it but ultimately it is that the team performs and takes a massive step forward," added 37-year-old Best, who will win his 120th cap.

For the ultra-competitive Sexton, who has not played since Leinster's victory in the Pro14 final, it will be a much-needed run out.

The 34-year-old flyhalf sat out the three previous warm-up Tests with a thumb injury. Ireland beat Italy and Wales either side of a humiliating 57-15 loss to England at Twickenham.

Schmidt was able to audition Ross Byrne and Jack Carty for the role of understudy to Sexton and second choice playmaker Joey Carbery, injured in the victory over the Italians but expected to be fit for the World Cup.

Carty edged Byrne and will be on the replacements bench on Saturday.

Rhys Patchell's impressive second-half performance in the 22-17 defeat to Ireland last Saturday has earned the fly-half the starting spot for Wales's final World Cup Test against the same opponents on Saturday.

The 26-year-old transformed the Welsh when he came on for the second period as they came back from 22-3 down to pull to within five points, Patchell scoring a try to boot.

That gave him the edge over Jarrod Evans as backup to fly-half Dan Biggar -- who himself was second pick behind Gareth Anscombe until the latter suffered a knee injury last month.

Patchell teams up again with scrumhalf Tomos Williams, who also came on for the second-half against the Irish.


Ireland to face Wales

Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Jean Kleyn, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton, Keith Earls, Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, Jordan Larmour, Rob Kearney. Reserves: Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Jack Carty, Garry Ringrose

Wales to face Ireland

Wyn Jones, Elliot Dee, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones, Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Josh Adams, Hadleigh Parkes, Jonathan Davies, George North, Leigh Halfpenny. Reserves: Ken Owen,  Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Josh Navidi, Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar, Liam Williams