JONATHAN DAVIES: D-day for home nations

First published in Sport

It is World Cup crunch time for England and Ireland during the next 48 hours.

Both countries know that in respect of their quarter-final ambitions, they really have to win in Paris, where Ireland face France tomorrow night, and Nantes on Saturday when England meet Samoa.

England know that victory is paramount, and while head coach Brian Ashton has changed things around a bit in terms of selection, I am surprised he has found no room for Leicester centre Dan Hipkiss.

England are not going to bash Samoa, but they will need to carry the ball a bit, which is a job I believe Hipkiss could have done for them.

For me, if England keep their shape, they will win, even though it is going to be a very tough game.

Confidence is a massive factor, and they just need to get some sort of pattern going. With the pack they've got, they will have a chance against probable quarter-final opponents Australia, but it is about getting quick ball.

They haven't done that yet, but with Jonny Wilkinson coming back into the number 10 shirt - and you know he will kick his goals - then it all adds up to being a huge day for England in this tournament.

Ireland have arrived at deadline time. Realistically, they have got to beat France.

Yes, their final Pool D game against Argentina on Sunday week would still give them a chance of going through, but there are so many questions surrounding Ireland at the moment that they have yet to answer.

France made a bad mistake the way they performed in losing to Argentina first time out, but Ireland have not been a dynamic side for some time.

It has been about a ponderous wearing down the opposition type of game, followed by a bit of brilliance from centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.

Playing against Ireland, if you can close the centres down, then other players in their team have got to do other things, and it doesn't seem to be happening for them.

Ireland have got to ask more questions of opposition defences. They are not clicking, and those questions are not being asked.

They don't seem seem to be playing with any range of ideas, and it will be a huge call for them to go out and beat France.

France showed against Namibia they have come out of the blocks now. They know they can't freeze again - if that happens, they are effectively out, simple as that.

Scotland face New Zealand at Murrayfield on Sunday - a game the All Blacks should win at a canter - but it will be interesting to see what team coach Frank Hadden picks.

Does he look to try to keep the momentum going that was generated by a big win against Romania, or does he rest players ahead of a likely pool stage knockout game against Italy on Saturday week?

The priority for Scotland has to be to beat Italy, and people should respect Hadden's call.

It seems quite good for Scotland at the moment. They scored a few tries against Romania, which will give them confidence, and the Italians are not looking that strong.

What Hadden has done is go back to basics. When his predecessor Matt Williams was in charge, he wanted Scotland to play a game the players weren't comfortable with and couldn't really play.

Sometimes the back-to-basics approach might be a bit boring to watch, but Scotland have also found some try-scoring form and I think they will be reasonably pleased.

They won't stop the All Blacks though, and even if New Zealand end up playing France in the quarter-finals, they would certainly rather play the French in Cardiff, where the game would take place, as opposed to Paris.

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