Ireland rugby squad training in Newport, Wales. Coach Joe Schmidt believes game against France will be decided on tiniest of margins. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Bare knuckle ride in prospect as crunch pool game against French likely to be attritional

Cian Healy tees off at Celtic Manor in Wales as the Irish squad enjoyed a down day ahead of the World Cup game against FRance on Sunday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Payne, Rob Kearney also likely to start as Schmidt expected to retain tried, trusted

France’s prop Uini Atonio: “I was like ‘I would love to play for France’, but it was never in my mind.” Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images.

New Zealand-born prop likely to provide a huge physical challenge off the bench against Ireland

France have vowed to hunt down Johnny Sexton in Sunday’s Rugby World Cup clash at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: Afp

‘It is imperative to go after him, to tire him so that he finds it tough to make the calls’

Jared Payne taking part in Ireland’s squad training session at Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, Wales. Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Kicking coach Richie Murphy confirms both players are fit and ready to face France

Seán O’Brien at the Ireland training camp in Celtic Manor: “It is going to be mentally a different challenge.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

France are ‘a very different team in World Cups’, says Ireland flanker

Mathieu Bastareaud, who looks leaner and fitter, in action against Canada at Stadium MK, Milton Keynes. Photograph: Reuters

Modern side a more practical version of the teams that lit up previous World Cups

Peter O’Mahony’s last-ditch tackle on Italy’s Josh Furno was a crucial moment in Ireland’s one-score victory at the Olympic Stadium in London. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.

Quarter-final place secured but this wasn’t remotely good enough

Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw  passes the ball to his centre partner Keith Earls during their Pool D match against Italy at the Olympic Stadium. Photograph: Getty Images

Keith Earls’ first-half try made him Ireland’s leading ever World Cup try scorer

Michael Cheika still feels strong connection to Leinster, where he spent four years as coach. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Australia coach is proud to be leading a ‘very multicultural team’ at the World Cup

Captain Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony during Ireland squad training at Surrey Sports Park in Guildford, Surrey. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s side eye quarter-final place but expect the Italians to come out swinging

Robbie Henshaw is in line to make his World Cup debut in the Pool D game against Italy on Sunday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Jared Payne and Rob Kearney injuries may force Schmidt to deviate from first-choice XV

 Michael Cheika: “My thoughts weren’t framed by their combination or this game in mind. It was just about what was best for us.” Photo:  Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Coach’s selection against England a repeat of the team that defeated All Blacks in August

Italy fullback Luke McLean: “We realise that we will have to be virtually perfect if we’re to have any chance to come away with a win.” Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty

Italy’s naturalised Aussie believes Sergio Parisse’s return can galvanise team

Italy backrow Sergio Parisse takes part in a team training session at Cobham RFC, London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Captain confident of return from injury for Ireland encounter

Cian Healy being put through his paces at the Ireland squad’s training session at Surrey Sports Park, Guidford, Surrey.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Rob Keaney’s injury setback may well mean start for returning Simon Zebo at fullback

Munster speed merchant has found rich vein of form having regained full fitness

Wales coach Warren Gatland shakes hands with Tomas Francis as he leaves the field following his side’s victory over England at Twickenham. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Wales head coach is a specialist in preparing teams for tournaments and one-off games

Keith Earls scores Ireland’s second try during their 44-10 defeat of Romania in their Pool D match at the Rugby World Cup. Photograph: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Joe Schmidt pays tribute to record crowd at Wembley who are ‘over here helping us’

Wales head coach Warren Gatland: “I think we’ll get a lot of confidence from this win.” Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

Stuart Lancaster ‘disappointed’ with England defeat as Australia loom

Keith Earls went over twice for Ireland during their win over Romania at Wembley. Photograph: Afp

Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls both score twice as Joe Schmidt’s side top Pool D

Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau shows the England defence a clean pair of heels at Twickenham. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP photo

Warren Gatland’s men overcome steep odds after England fail to convert superiority

Wales’ Gareth Davies dives in to score his side’s try in the Rugby World Cup Pool A match against England at Twickenham. Photograph:  Andrew Matthews/PA

Gareth Davies’s late try and Dan Biggar’s monster kick complete amazing comeback

 Jamie Roberts: Wales will be depending on him to get them across the gain line.    Photo:  Clive Mason/Getty Images

Victory at Twickenham will prove beyond abilities of Warren Gatland’s patchwork side

Cian Healy and Paul O’Connell taking part in   Ireland’s squad training session at  St George’s Park, Burton-upon-Trent. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Henshaw the notable absentee as much-changed XV set for run-out at packed Wembley

Irish fans celebrate after World Cup Pool D victory over Canada at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Photograph: Reuters.

Wembley and the Olympic Stadium more unfamiliar to Irish players than Cardiff

Ireland’s Jared Payne, Luke Fitzgerald, Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney, Paul O’Connell, Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe enjoying their rest day at Alton Towers, Staffordshire. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

By Sunday, Ireland’s coach expects all 31 players to have seen competitive action

Heyneke Meyer has made eight changes as South Africa look to bounce back from shocking defeat to Japan. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP Photo/ Getty Images

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer calls on nation to unite as he plots survival route

“Everybody goes through injuries, and it does test your mettle but I was fortunate enough to have fantastic people around me,” says Ireland’s Donnacha Ryan. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster secondrow no longer looks too far ahead or lets stress get the better of him

Johnny Sexton is available for Ireland’s second Rugby World Cup game against Romania at Wembley despite sitting out training on Wednesday. Photograph: Inpho

Henderson and O’Mahony also available while Henshaw a doubt for Wembley clash

Ireland’s wing Dave Kearney grits his teeth as he looks to break the tackle of Canada fullback Matt Evans. Photograph: Damien Meyer/AFP Photo/Getty Images

Ireland winger pulled out all stops, including sparring in ring with brother Rob

Ireland props Nathan White and Tadgh  Furlong during a training session at   St George’s Park in Staffordshire. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

‘I’m very proud representative of New Ross, my local village Campile, and then Wexford as well’

A TMO interlude is announced during the Ireland v Canada clash at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.  Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters/Livepic

The last thing that anyone wants is games dragging on and on for up to 120 minutes

Paul O’Connell and the Ireland Rugby World Cup squad at St George’s Park in Burton-upon-Trent. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The Ireland squad are training in St George’s Park, the FA’s £156m sports complex

Ireland defensive coach Les Kiss at a press conference in Staffordshire, England on Monday: he said  Romania have experience in the front-row, which gives an “opportunity to expose a few blokes to that”. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Coach wants all 31 squad members to get game time before playing France and Italy

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will be glad to have got first win under belt. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Japan’s win over South Africa recalled scare against Georgia at 2007 World Cup

Luke Fitzgerald challenges for a high ball with Matt Evans during Ireland’s opening World Cup match against Canada. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Ireland coach keen to maintain continuity and cohesion while maximising squad

Keith Earls hold on to possession for Ireland against Canada during the opening World Cup Pool D match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, on Saturday afternoon. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA.

Ireland’s leading try scorer at last World Cup returns to make his mark on opening sortie of current tournament

Johnny Sexton scores his try and Ireland’s third against Canada. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Few signs of nerves for Joe Schmidt’s side as curtain comes up on Ireland’s World Cup campaign

t’s in Johnny Sexton’s nature to relish responsibility, going back to his school-playing days. “I don’t feel an extra burden if people say I’m an important part of the team. I don’t feel ‘oh my God, I’ve got to perform here’,” he says. Photograph:  Paul Harding/PA Wire

Ireland outhalf a more mature and confident player than he was four years ago

Ireland’s Paul O’Connell in the tunnel before beginning the captain’s run in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s men look to lay down marker and erase those pre-tournament problems

Canada captain Jamie Cudmore: “What we lack in those areas we definitely make up for with a lot of passion and a lot of aggression.” Photograph: Getty Images

‘No-one wants to be seen as a goon. I’ve done some stupid things on the field, but a lot of people have too’

 Paul O’Connell and Jack McGrath during squad training at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Canada worry Irish head coach with their ability to quickly turn defence into attack

Simon Easterby: ‘The defence has to be watertight. That has been a real focus.’ Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Unlike 2007, Ireland must start with a quality performance, says forwards coach

Eddie O’Sullivan: Foreign coaches tend not to flourish in French club rugby.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Former Ireland coach victim of a French club rugby coup from within

Rory Best: “Eight years ago we thought it would be okay when we got our best XV out. Ultimately it wasn’t.” Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

After defeats against Wales and England, Ireland needs to generate momentum

Ireland’s rugby squad poses with Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. Photograph: Instagram

World’s fastest man Usain Bolt paid quick visit to Irish squad on eve of England game

Peter O’Mahony is tackled by George Ford of England during Ireland’s warm-up game at Twickenham. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Known as a player with no fear, and the backrower is ready to give it his all

Seán O’Brien wants to make the most of his second Rugby World Cup campaign. Photograph: Inpho

Second time around, no-frills flanker wants to make the most of the World Cup

Rugby Correspondent Gerry Thornley sets the scene for Rugby World Cup 2015

Joe Marler of England hands off Conor Murray of Ireland during the World Cup warm-up game  at Twickenham. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Despite patchiness of warm-up performances Schmidt’s squad will be better for them

Ireland’s Dave Kearney is tackled by England’s George Ford as Paul O’Connell and Devin Toner close in during Saturday’s international at Twickenham. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Hope is Ireland are keeping their powder dry for World Cup after sub-par showing

Joe Schmidt talks with captain Paul O’Connell ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup warm-up match against England in  Twickenham on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

No danger of Ireland going into tournament thinking world is rosy, says coach

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell gets over for a try during the second half of the World Cup warm-up game at Twickenham. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Concern over a number of walking wounded after loss to England at Twickenham

Paul O’Connell  in Twickenham: “For me when you play England, you always think of the size of the players.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

A match against England is never a friendly, but winning is not the biggest concern

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell during  the  Captain’s Run at  Twickenham on Friday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Captain admits players got reality check after defeat to Wales in Dublin

Simon Zebo is the one surprise in an otherwise anticipated selection with Dave Kearney on the wing. Photograph: Inpho

Game at Twickenham will be a hot-bed from the start, says boss Joe Schmidt

Coach Joe Schmidt will confirm team selection at lunchtime on Thursday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Final warm-up game against England to provide game time for Six Nations starters

Ireland secondrow Devin Toner will hope to fend off the challenge of Iain Henderson and Donnacha Ryan and partner Paul O’Connell in the scrum. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Devin Toner says competition for places leading to very intense training sessions

Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby, head coach Joe Schmidt and assistant coach Les Kiss at the Ireland World Cup squad announcement. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Joe Schmidt likes blend of youth and experience but admits to gambling at scrumhalf

Paul O’Connell tries to hold up a Welsh maul at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Wales getting over gain line will worry Joe Schmidt, with France also opting for power

Darren Cave is set to provide midfield cover for Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payneat the World Cup. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland will have a total of 17 tournament debutantes when they travel to England

Ireland fullback Rob Kearney rises high to claim the ball ahead of Wales outhalf Dan Biggar at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s men know they’ll have to improve as they fail to penetrate red wall

Ireland’s Keith Earls tackles George North resulting in him being taken off injured during the World Cup warm-up match against Wales at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt expecting another huge physical clash against England

Conor Murray is confident going into his second World Cup. “We are in a very good place and I don’t think we should be shying away from that,” he says. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster scrumhalf is in prime of career four years after making dramatic breakthrough

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt faces a number of difficult decisions when it comes to selecting his squad for the World Cup.

Rugby World Cup is around the corner and players will be twitchy this weekend

Ireland’s Paul O’Connell makes his way out for his final captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Players last chance to impress Joe Schmidt as Paul O’Connell plays his final home Test

 Luke Fitzgerald: set to be given a run at outside centre against Wales.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho.

Leinster man to appear at 13 with O’Connell to make home farewell v Wales on Saturday

Irish defence coach Les Kiss says there are areas where Ireland can improve. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Backroom team will be ‘burning midnight oil’ when making final decisions

Robbie Henshaw: “We’re going to attack a lot more and it’s going to be more exciting play.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Gerry Thornley talks to the Connacht player about his preparation for the World Cup

 George Ford in action for  England against France at Stade de France. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

World Cup-winning teams almost always have outhalf who knows way around block

New Leinster head coach Leo Cullen won three Heineken Cups with the province as captain. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Johnny Sexton says former team-mate has qualities to succeed with province

Ireland outhalf Jonathan Sexton says France have been very focused on the World Cup and will present a huge challenge. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland outhalf is ‘itching’ for action following first proper pre-season in two years

Louis Picamoles  makes a break during the  match between England and France at Twickenham on Saturday. The big-carrying Toulouse number eight was France’s standout player. Photograph:  Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Despite failing to defeat Ireland in four years, winning the group is not beyond Les Bleus

Ireland fullback Simon Zebo breaks free to score a try in the 61st-minute against Scotland in the Rugby World Cup warm-up game at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Three leaked tries, 23 missed tackles, as Ireland come from behind three times to win

Vern Cotter: extended his contract and will now guide Scotland’s fortunes until June, 2017. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Two coaches, who together delivered glory for Clermont, set to renew acquaintances

Sean O’Brien captains Ireland in today’s Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph:  Mark Runnacles/PA Wire

Schmidt looking for solid set-piece as platform to examine player combinations

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek with Nathan White, Michael Bent and David Kilcoyne at the squad session at Carton House. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Opportunity knocks for likes of Zebo, Madigan, Tuohy and Kilcoyne to seal squad place

Andrew Trimble has been ruled out of Ireland’s World Cup warm-up game against Scotland on Saturday. Photograph: Inpho

Winger’s right foot ‘a source of concern’ as Madigan set to start at outhalf on Saturday

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell has been named the Rugby Writers of Ireland player of the year for a second time. Photograph: Inpho

Ireland captain enjoying preparation for his fourth World Cup campaign with Ireland

Irish centre Darren Cave is tackled during last Saturday’s 2015 Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Wales at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ulsterman lays down marker with strong try-scoring performance against Wales

Tommy O’Donnell has been ruled out of the World Cup after dislocating his hip in Ireland’s warm-up win over Wales. Photograph: Inpho

Munster openside ruled out of tournament after injury sustained in Wales warm-up win

Ireland’s Tommy O’Donnell had his World Cup dreams shattered against Wales. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland muddied its selection waters whereas disjointed Welsh clarified theirs

Ireland’s Felix Jones scores a try against Wales in the World Cup warm-up match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

Tommy O’Donnell injury a poignant reminder of how best laid plans can go wrong

Keith Earls breaks with the ball to score an Ireland try during the international match against Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images.

Impressive display bore hallmarks of a squad well-coached by Joe Schmidt

Simon Zebo is congratulated by three other Ireland try scorers, Jamie Heaslip, Felix Jones and Keith Earls after his score against Wales at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: PA

O’Donnell and Trimble injuries mar dominant showing from Schmidt’s men in Cardiff

Keith Earls turns towards the camera during Ireland squad training at Carton House. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland coach admits waters still unclear with backroom staff meeting every day

Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip in relaxed mood with head coach Joe Schmidt during the captain’s run at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

World Cup hopefuls get opportunity to seize moment in front of capacity crowd

Training routine: Ireland Rugby Squad gets down to business at  Carton House, Kildare. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Strong performance against Wales outfit will be impossible for Joe Schmidt to overlook

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will be seeking to fine-tune Ireland’s game plan in the weeks ahead. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland’s warm-up matches don’t always offer clear indicator of performance

Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby: “This isn’t about development, it’s about going to a World Cup.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland discuss policy to avoid mistakes of World Cup 2007

Wales coach Warren Gatland  and captain Scott Williams: Gatland discussed selection policy for Saturday’s game with Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Wales are training hard and building team spirit as final preparations are being made

 Kurt McQuilkin won five caps for Ireland in the 1995-96 season and played 40 times for Leinster.  Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Former Ireland centre will join province for two months as defence coach

 Robbie  Henshaw scored the season-defining try with a high take and adroit touchdown off Conor Murray’s box kick against England. And, with that, a new Irish midfield star was born. Photo:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Ireland are less gifted than the class of 2007, but they may enjoy a better World Cup

Stuart Hogg beats the tackles of Munster’s Felix Jones and Dave Kilcoyne to set up Glasgow’s third try. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/INPHO.

Munster played into Glasgow’s hands with an aimless kicking game

Outstanding: South African CJ Stander, who will be eligible to play for Ireland after the World Cup, shows off one of the seven man-of-the-match awards he has won this season. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

South African says he wants to win today’s match for the Munster fans and ‘for Paul’

 Face off: Munster captain  Denis Hurley and Glasgow Warriors’ captain Josh Strauss   ahead of today’s Guinness Pro12 final in  Kingspan Stadium, Belfast. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster, with departing O’Connell on board, may have edge on Scottish opponents

Joe Schmidt says the experience of Less Kiss will be invaluable when selecting Ireland’s squad for this year’s World Cup. Photograph: Inpho

Ireland boss admits even selecting a 46-man party for mid-June is proving a headache

Australian centre Andrew Smith will move on from Munster after playing an important part in their run to the Guinness Pro 12 final. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Australian centre has been in fine form after returning from two months out with a knee injury

Paul O’Connell will join Toulon until 2017 when the World Cup finishes after 14 years playing with Munster. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho.

Ireland captain to confirm next week that he will join European champions after the World Cup

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