Must-see matches in the group stages

It’s nearly upon us, and when it is we’ll wish it could stay forever. It won’t, of course – and that’s why we have to savour every moment as though it will be the last. That’s why we’ve compiled the top matches to watch in the group stages. The hardest tackles, the toughest competitors, the nail-biting, leave-it-all-on-the-pitch finales. Don’t miss these beauties. We won’t.

France vs. Italy

Saturday, September 19, 20:00, Twickenham, London

After Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy victories (the trophy awarded to the winner of Italy-France games in the 6 Nations) in 2011 and 2013 an Azzurri victory is not out of the question. The neutral turf could make all the difference against Les Bleus especially as this World Cup will be the talismanic Sergio Parisse’s swansong on the big stage. If Italy win – and it’s a big if – escape from the potentially tricky Pool D could be on.

New Zealand vs. Namibia

Thursday, September 24, 20:00, Olympic Stadium, London

This may seem like a harsh choice but hear us out. The Africans are the lowest ranked team in the tournament and have lost all 15 of their previous World Cup matches so inform favourites New Zealand will expect to set the best ever win recorded in a pro match. There’s no upset on the cards (even if Namibia’s Saracens flanker Jacques Burger turns heads) but watching the All Blacks is always a treat and this will be an exhibition of rugby excellence.

England vs. Wales

Saturday, September 26, 20:00, Twickenham, London

Typical England. We would have to go and land ourselves in the infamous Group of Death. A loss against the Welsh wouldn’t just dent national pride it would put a massive prang in the host’s World Cup hopes and leave a lot to do against fellow Pool A competitors Australia, Fiji and Uruguay. We can take solace in the fact we beat the boyos in their own back garden earlier this year.

England vs. Australia

Saturday, October 3, 20:00, Twickenham, London

With three of the top-six ranked teams in the world in Pool A one is certainly facing the early axe. On paper England – seeded above Australia – should win and with the 16th man playing a part (and with Scotland probably waiting in the quarters, a team which hasn’t beaten England at Twickenham for 32 years) England expects.

Scotland vs. Samoa

Saturday, October 10, 14:30, St James Park, Newcastle

Samoa are the pick of the Pacific Island sides with Northampton players Kahn Fotuali’i and the Pisi brothers setting their sights on victory over Scotland and second place in Pool B. Scottish club Glasgow have had a good year on the European stage and Scotland’s Kiwi coach Vern Cotter has injected a spikiness akin to their national thistle. Come crunch time expect a thriller.

Wales vs. Australia

Saturday, October 10, 16:45, Twickenham, London

Who could forget the Welsh beating the Ozzies 26-17 in November 2013? Their first victory over the team from Down Under in fifteen meetings. It was an astounding performance and an outstanding match. Will history repeat itself this time around? Or will old habits refuse to die? A pretty dismal six Test wins out of fourteen for the Wallabies in 2014 could spell doom.

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