We’re closing in on the 2019 Rugby World Cup which takes place in Japan between 20 September and 2 November. This replaces the usual autumn test series for many nations, meaning preparation begins in summer.

Followers of the sport will see all competitors take part in a summer series designed to help the nations sharpen their tools ahead of travelling to the World Cup and it also gives managers the chance to get a good look at their squad before making their final selections.

The results of the matches played in August will have no influence on who wins the World Cup outright, but it is important preparation and gives supporters and sports betting punters a valuable insight into how the major teams are sizing up before things get serious.

Neighbours do Battle

Armchair fans have some matches of note to look forward to this weekend, with fixtures taking place on Saturday and Sunday. Ireland host Italy at the Aviva Stadium and are expected to rack up a confidence boosting win over a side they beat without too much fuss at the Six Nations earlier this year. We also have fixtures from the Rugby Championship as Australia take on New Zealand from 10.45am GMT before Argentina and South Africa take to the field later that day.

On Sunday game of the weekend takes place as England and Wales do battle at Twickenham from 2.00pm live on Sky Sports. The stadium will be packed by dedicated fans and there will be plenty more watching at home and in sports bars across the country cheering on their side. This promises to be a competitive contest and although there’s nothing at stake apart from pride, that’s more than enough to ensure these two rivals give it their all. England won’t want to lose to a neighbour on their own patch and Wales will believe they have what it takes to pull off an upset.

Bookmakers allow us the opportunity to spice up our viewing further with a bet on the outcome. You can back the winner of this match or have your say on one of the many specials markets, including first try scorer, winning margins, half time/full time, draw no bet, race to 10 points and plenty more besides. There’s something to suit everyone in the betting with many of the most popular pre-match markets remaining live throughout the course of the game thanks to in play betting. Get your cash down at any stage of the match.

Jones Forced to Make Early Cuts

This England team have already made headlines before the start of their match with Wales and that was due to selection issues. Head coach Eddie Jones has a big pool of players to choose from for the World Cup and is already beginning to cut down the numbers. It’s a cruel business but it has to be done and it one of the less enjoyable jobs of an England manager. He can’t pick them all, so there must be a few casualties.

The first two major names to roll were centre Ben Te’o and full-back Mike Brown, both men missing out on what would’ve surely been their final chance to impress and win a seat on the plane to Japan. They were left out of the squad to face Wales and that means it’s highly unlikely they will get anywhere near the final World Cup team. That came as a bit of a shock to followers of English rugby but supporters must be patient and place their complete trust in manager Eddie Jones.

The 33-player strong field is also missing scrum-half Ben Spencer and promising forward Alex Dombrandt but that came as less of a shock to those in the know. The numbers must be cut again to a final field of 31 and reports suggest that will be done following Sunday’s match. We’re sure the gaffer already knows who will make the cut, but it places more pressure on the players to perform. Put on a show and they could change the manager’s mind, play a stinker at Twickenham and it’s possible they could lose a peg in the dressing room, forced to watch the World Cup at home, contemplating what could have been.

Speaking to the press following the announcement of his squad to face Wales, Eddie Jones understood there would be bitter disappointment amongst those who didn’t get the nod but said they may get another opportunity and must be ready to grab it with both hands if that surprise chance does come around. The gaffer wants to send a team he believes is capable of winning the World Cup and he assured fans he will do his utmost to ensure the best players are given a chance to shine in Japan. Jones will use the upcoming four games to get his men to that position.

It wasn’t just the players who failed to make the list that got people talking, a few chosen to face Wales also got tongues wagging, with fans, pundits and former players quick to have their say. Former scrum-half Matt Dawson told the sporting press he was utterly baffled by Jones’ decision to pick Ben Youngs and Willi Heinz. Dawson admitted he didn’t quite know how to read the situation but believed those in the running for the major positions lacked the necessary experience. He may have a point and, on paper, there’s reason to support that argument, but only time will tell if Jones has picked wisely. If England performs well in Japan the coach will be labelled a legend, but if the team come up short Jones will surely fall on his sword and be forced to take full responsibility.

Wales Have Problems of their Own

Across the divide and Wales also have selection problems of their own but it’s for very different reasons as their squad has been hampered by injury. Warren Gartland’s side had their preparation knocked by a few high-profile call-offs through injury and that has made a tough job all the more difficult. The team will be desperate to show up well in the summer series, but they will also be mindful that they are already running low on numbers and any damage suffered between now and the World Cup could prove costly. The coaches would be forgiven for using the summer to bring fitness up to scratch, ignoring results and even wrapping some players in cotton wool, fearful of what might happen between now and September.

Taulupe Faletau was ruled out of the World Cup due to a collarbone injury and that means number eight Ross Moriarty will be given a chance, if he can stay fit. Injury to the former means the team can’t afford to do without the latter and fans will be watching through the gaps in their fingers every time Moriarty goes flying into a tackle. It promises to be a tense couple of weeks and it could be more than most Wales supporters can handle. This is worth noting as we’re sure the team would accept a few warm-up defeats if it means getting to Japan in one piece, without losing any more star names. If they can get over the line there’s no reason why Wales can’t make an impression in Japan and move into the latter stages of the competition, although winning it may be a bridge too far for their current squad.

The pre-match betting for England v Wales comes down in support of the home side. There’s no real surprise there but it is worth noting there’s a bit more value in the prices than we expected to find. England to get the desired result in front of their own fans is 4/9 and that’s market best price with bet365. That’s sure to appear in a fair share of accumulators this weekend. Fancy the upset? Wales have been scratched up at 2/1 with William Hill while the draw has been written off as a 24/1 shot at Unibet. The latter is possible, of course, but it’s highly unlikely.

If you do intend to back England, you may prefer to have a go at one of the specials where there’s more value to be had. The handicap betting offers England -6 at 10/11 with bet365 and that looks a decent investment. If the hosts can hit the front early we imagine Wales playing it safe, avoiding any further knocks and simply going through the motions again, targeting match sharpness. If that does prove to be the case the home team favourites are more than capable of winning this match by, at least, one converted try. Wales +6 on the handicap will grant you a shot at 10/11 when having your cash down at William Hill, the handicap draw a decent 22/1 – market best price with Unibet.

Looking ahead to the World Cup and England are 11/2 second favourites to prevail, placing them behind market leaders New Zealand at 5/4, both quotes taken from the Betfair site. Wales are fifth in the betting with those loyal to Wales are able to get their hands on an eye-catching 15/2 when taking advantage of the generosity shown by Betfair. That’s better than the 7/1 you’ll get with most other betting firms.