Rugby World Cup Countdown - 222 days to go...
January 28, 2007

Preparations for this year's Rugby World Cup continue to gather pace with some of the leading contenders fine tuning their squads ahead of the forthcoming Six Nations Championship.

All eyes will be on the northern hemisphere's showpiece event with the hope of getting an indicator as to who is on course for a strong showing at RWC'07 in France later this year.

The initial squad announcements have provided plenty of food for thought for fans and media alike.

The reigning World Champions England were far from that kind of form in the autumn and all signs are that new coach Brian Ashton is going to shake things up in the hope of finding the key to a successful defence.

Elsewhere, defending Six Nations champions and World Cup hosts France are currently plagued by injuries that are disrupting their plans while Ireland, many people's favourites, have their own concerns ahead of their opening clash against Les Bleus.

Wales will be hoping to build on the impressive form of some of their regions and Scotland are confidently talking up a strong showing.

Click here for the 2007 Rugby World Cup Match Schedule

Meanwhile in the southern hemisphere the Super 14 is also upon us and while some of New Zealand's leading stars may not be on-show the chance to book a World Cup berth is sure to be a huge incentive for the talent on display.

In the latest World Cup news, Portugal's hopes of qualifying for this year's global showpiece are still alive after they recorded a 16-15 victory over Morocco in Lisbon in their decisive qualification play-off match.

The narrow victory means that Tomaz Morais' side win the two-legged qualifier 26-20 on aggregate and now proceed through to the final Rugby World Cup qualifying Repechage round against Uruguay whith the chance to line up alongside New Zealand, Scotland, Italy and Romania in Pool C. .

The dates for the two-legged Repechage 1 qualifying matches between Uruguay and Portugal will be announced shortly.

The Repechage 2 qualifying match between Tonga and Korea will be played in Auckland, New Zealand on February 10 at a yet to be confirmed venue. The winner of the match will qualify directly for Rugby World Cup 2007 and will join England, South Africa, Samoa and USA in pool A.

The qualifying process for Rugby World Cup 2007 started in September 2004 when Andorra hosted Norway. By the time Uruguay plays Portugal in the final Repechage match 86 teams will have taken part and 192 matches will have been played.

Click here for the latest Rugby World Cup news

Elsewhere, the International Rugby Board (IRB) has announced the 'base camp' locations where participating teams in Rugby World Cup 2007 will be primarily based for the duration of the pool match stages.

For the first time in the Tournament's history each of the 20 teams will be located in a regional base camp town/city during the initial pool stages of the Tournament. Teams will stay and train in the town/city and will play at least one match in their base camp region. Teams will travel to other match cities from the base camp, stay in the match city for a selected period of time then return to the base camp.

For the knockout stages of the Tournament (quarter-finals, semi-finals, Bronze Final and Final), Cardiff, Marseille and Paris have been identified as bases.

Hosts France will be based in Marcoussis, defending champions England in Versailles while New Zealand will launch their assault Marseille and Aix-en-Provence.

Since our last round-up, the IRB has also announced the kick-off times for the 48 matches of Rugby World Cup 2007 to be played in France in September and October.

Host nation France will kick-off the seventh Rugby World Cup Tournament against Argentina at the Stade de France Stadium in Paris at 9pm local time on Friday, September 7, while England will begin its defence of the Webb Ellis Cup against the USA in Lens the following day with the match kicking-off at 6pm local time.

New Zealand's opening Pool C match against Europe 1 qualifier Italy in Marseille on Saturday, September 8 will kick-off at 1.45pm local time, while former double world champion Australia will play its first match against Japan in Lyon on Saturday, September 8 at 3.45pm local time. South Africa's first Pool C match against Samoa at Parc des Princes, Paris, on Sunday, September 9 will kick-off at 4pm local time.

Of the senior European teams Ireland's opening Pool D match against Africa 1 qualifier Namibia in Bordeaux on Sunday, September 9 will kick-off at 8pm local time, while Scotland's first Pool C match on the same day in St. Etienne against the yet to be determined Repechage 1 qualifier will kick-off at 6pm local time. On the same day Wales will kick-off its opening match at 2pm local time against Americas 2 qualifier Canada in Nantes.

The Rugby World Cup Final, which will be played at the 80,000 capacity Stade de France stadium, will kick-off at 9pm local time on Saturday, October 20.

RWC'07 Pools:

Pool A: England, South Africa, Samoa, USA, Repechage 2*
Pool B: Australia, Wales, Fiji, Canada, Japan
Pool C: New Zealand, Scotland, Italy, Romania, Repechage 1*
Pool D: France, Ireland, Argentina, Namibia, Georgia

*Repechage 1 will be the winner of the Uruguay v Portugal
*Repechage 2 will be the winner of Korea v Tonga

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