Rugby World Cup
Opening day dawns on biggest Rugby World Cup in history
Tom Hamilton
September 18, 2015
Cricket legends give their thoughts on who they think will win the Rugby World Cup

This will be the Rugby World Cup of numbers.

The organisation in charge of the tournament -- ER 2015 -- will be on their third CEO by the time the competition starts. Across the 11 host cities and 13 different grounds, 2.3 million tickets have been sold and the estimated added value pumped into the British economy will be £1 billion. A predicted £32m is expected to be spent on food and liquid refreshments -- and that's just inside the grounds during the 48 matches.

It is rugby on a grand, as yet unsurpassed, scale. Then there is the legacy of the tournament. The RFU aiming to introduce rugby to 750 new non-playing schools by 2019 while they have made a promise to generate £80m of the £330m pledged by World Rugby to go towards the global development of the game from 2009 through to 2016.

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Throughout the pool stages, 20 differently branded coaches will be transporting the teams around the country. The players -- spread across 41 different team bases -- will be the greatest ambassadors this game has over the course of the pool stages; no amount of branding and activations can touch the impact a player has when they sign a wide-eyed youngster's shirt. From Newcastle to Exeter, Milton Keynes to Cardiff, those buses will surpass their red London cousins as the iconic people shifters in England.

It will be the final time modern greats Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Victor Matfield grace the tournament in what will be the fourth World Cup for all three. Titanic France prop Uini Atonio weighs in as the heaviest player at the tournament at 152kg, while 18-year-old Georgia scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze will become the youngest in World Cup history on Saturday.

If England are to win the eighth incarnation of this tournament, they will have to defy the numbers. They fall well short of the golden number of 600 caps worth of experience typically required to get a ticket to the final.

Just seven players remain from their 2011 Rugby World Cup Squad, the tournament which signalled a sea change in England's approach with Stuart Lancaster heralded as the nation's rugby saviour. Such was Lancaster's disgruntlement at England's infamous collapse at the tournament, he went straight to a library in Leeds and dotted down 159 different points over where he felt England went wrong. When England were knocked out at the quarterfinal stage back in 2011, now captain Chris Robshaw and coach Lancaster had just one international cap between them.

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Much has changed since then but 12 players who were present at Lancaster's first England meeting in West Park, Leeds, remain in the 31-man squad for this World Cup.

Lancaster has put much of his efforts into changing England's culture but that will mean little if they crash out of the World Cup in what is the toughest pool in the tournament's history, with heavyweight contenders Australia and Wales lurking beyond the opening test of Fiji.

It all starts on Friday evening. Some numbers will be against England -- Fijian wing Nemani Nadolo is 12cm taller and 37kg heavier than his opposite number Anthony Watson -- but Lancaster will be hoping the work he has done over the last four years will pay dividends over the next six weeks.

"I think we are in a good place," Lancaster said this week. "We had to invest caps in players back in 2012 because the players who had the experience were getting to the end of their careers.

"We could have continued to put caps into them but it would have put us in a worse position. I don't think we are in a bad position. We have an experienced team who are good enough and old enough to go well in this tournament, no doubt."

Let battle commence.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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