The 2015 Rugby World Cup may be just under two years away, but fans across the globe can now begin making their preparations for the sporting showcase as the full schedule, venues and pool details have been made public.
Hosts England are set to kick off the eighth Rugby World Cup at 8 p.m. BST on Sept. 18, 2015.
The rundown was revealed on the tournament's official website and via Conor Pope of The Irish Times on Twitter (click to make the image large):
Details of Rugby World Cup fixtures announced. pic.twitter.com/xWwdYNj7bn— Conor Pope (@conor_pope) November 27, 2013
With plenty of preparation time left to go, organisers have tried to deploy an easy-to-follow schedule that will make viewing more accessible for fans across the globe, as noted in an official report on the competition's site:
The kick-off times are part of a collaborative process between England 2015, RWCL, host broadcaster ITV and the tournament's key stakeholders to ensure the best-possible platform for the 20 participating teams, fans attending the matches and sports fans watching the broadcast in more than 200 territories worldwide.
The result is a uniform spread of four kick-off times for the pool stages: 12:00, 14:30, 17:00 and 20:00. This compares favourably to a range of 11 times for France 2007 and nine at New Zealand 2011.
Pool of Death
A glance at the fixture list reveals an immensely difficult task for England. The host nation will face an unconfirmed Oceanic force in their opening match before taking on Wales, Australia and a playoff winner.
While the original draw was made in December 2012, reported by Simon Rice of The Independent, reality will set in now that the schedule has gone live.
Only two nations can qualify from each pool, so England, Wales and Australia will need to hit the ground running in order to escape Pool A. England will certainly want to improve upon their quarterfinal loss to France in 2011, but they are by no means guaranteed to even reach that stage of the competition.
The order of matches could aid Stuart Lancaster's side. Their first game should prove among their easiest, allowing them to blow out any early-tournament nerves or cobwebs before the serious business begins.
Fiji are most likely to be England's first opponents, a match the home side can expect to win. Then comes back-to-back meetings with 2011's Bronze playoff contenders, Warren Gatland's Wales followed by Australia.
Wales are undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with, having formed a large part of the successful British and Irish Lions side. Australia, meanwhile, improved throughout the autumn internationals and will relish the chance to exact some revenge on the side who captured World Cup glory at their expense in 2003.
From Pool A, England and Wales have to be favourites to progress by virtue of the fact they will be roared on by their home support. The power of the Twickenham and Millennium Stadium roars cannot be overestimated.
Can England win the 2015 Rugby World Cup?
In Pool B, South Africa will surely advance as winners, with Samoa and Scotland fighting for second spot. Scotland were beaten 27-17 the last time they faced Samoa back in June.
The reigning champions, New Zealand, are in Pool C and should progress alongside Argentina. The All Blacks have just completed an unbeaten year in international rugby.
And in Pool D, there should be little to concern either France or Ireland, with Italy arguably the greatest threat. However, Italy did beat Ireland back in March, so the upset is certainly on the cards when the World Cup arrives.