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With Ireland having failed to progress beyond the World Cup quarterfinals in six attempts, coach Declan Kidney wanted to use an intensive series of four warm-up tests to build confidence and continuity to take to New Zealand.
Marc Lievremont's contested reign as France coach will come to an end after the World Cup, giving him one last chance to prove he can turn the famously flamboyant but inconsistent French into champions.
The World Cup has a habit of throwing up new stars of the game on each occasion it is held. We take a look at some of the likely lads this time around.
One of world rugby's most respected forwards and the player who has led Wales in eight of their last international outings, Matthew Rees, has been handed the captaincy of the Scarlets for the second consecutive season.
For a supposedly predictable team, England is awfully unpredictable heading into this World Cup.
Cheetahs centre Corné Uys has emerged as a target for English Premiership side Newcastle Falcons, who are looking for a replacement for Gcobani Bobo.
Wales head to the World Cup more confident than ever of finally making an impression at the game's greatest showpiece.
At Bellville at 15.00 a team from the Western Province Institute will play against the touring Italian team from the Federation's Accademia.
While his coach, critics and former Springbok legends highlight the point that good goal-kicking is central to a team's World Cup success, it remains a small miracle that Morne Steyn manages to stay calm.
Failure so far to export the fiery Italian spirit so evident at Rome's Stadio Flaminio has often proved Azzurri's undoing at the World Cup.
Griquas have named a 24-man squad, while they wait on the fitness of two key players, for their Currie Cup game against Western Province in Kimberley on Saturday.
More than any of the 600 players at the World Cup, Daniel Carter may hold the tournament's outcome in his hands ... and feet.
Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar took no time to recall fit again Springbok loose forward Dewald Potgieter to his side to take on the Sharks in an Currie Cup clash at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
If there's one thing Will Genia has already proven this season it's that he's not a George Gregan clone. The Wallabies scrumhalf has been making his own mark on the game.
John Smit and Victor Matfield have done more than play together on the international stage. They've grown up together.
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Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
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