Dallaglio & Bayfield: ‘Australia could win the World Cup’

At the ITV launch for the Rugby World Cup 2011 last week, two England legends Lawrence Dallaglio and Martin Bayfield made clear their thoughts of what they expected to happen in the tournament this September, from discussing England’s prospects to the potential champions.

Speaking firstly about their favourites to bring home the William Webb Ellis Cup, both picked out New Zealand as being the obvious favourites, but that it would not go as easily as some people might expect, picking out flaws in the side. Bayfield stated that “The smart money is on the All Blacks, but there’s enough about Australia to suggest they’re going to push hard. They’re an intelligent, youthful side with plenty of talent. New Zealand feel the pressure of the World Cup, and they will feel it here in their own backyard more than any other time.”

Dallaglio was keen to emphasise the pressure on the All Blacks squad, saying that “New Zealand with their best players in the team are without doubt the best team on the planet, and by some way. But when we won the World Cup back in 2003 we had a great selection of players in key positions. Once you start taking some of New Zealand’s key players out of the side, the whole situation changes. If they don’t win it, it will be regarded as a massive failure.”

In the eyes of both former players however, if one team was going to be earmarked as a real challenger to the All Blacks’ chances of winning the World Cup for the second time, it will be their old enemies across the Tasman. Dallaglio highlights the recent conclusion of the Super Rugby season as an example, “The final between the Reds and Crusaders would indicate that Australia can beat New Zealand in the big finals, especially if the likes of Quade Cooper and Will Genia are playing for Australia. Players like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw do not like losing, and losing that final will have got them even more fired up for the World Cup. The Wallabies have the likes of Kurtley Beale, Cooper, James O’Connor, and there you have some outstanding players who can trouble you if you’re not on your game on the day.”

Bayfield was keen to focus on a different angle, pointing out a potential advantage that the Wallabies had over the host nation; “The Wallabies think things through well, they’re a very intelligent team, and my question with the All Blacks is are they smart enough to get themselves out of a difficult situation. They can boss a team around no problem on their day, but they haven’t been tested with their backs up against the wall for some time, and there is no evidence that they could get out of that kind of tough situation. Have they got the brains to be able to dig themselves out?”

When queried whether perhaps this young Australian side’s time had come too soon given their lack of experience at World Cups, Bayfield was quick to stress that attending their first World Cup would not be a problem for the young Wallabies. “They are a young side but if anyone can put in youngsters and get them to perform then it is Australia. They did it with Tim Horan and Jason Little and they’re doing it now.”

Turning their attention to England, both felt that the side were in with an opportunity due to their previous record in the tournament. According to Dallaglio, “England shouldn’t be ruled out. Their World Cup record is one of the better ones, it’s better than New Zealand’s, and they perform well in knock-out rugby. They’ve been in three finals, which is as good a record as any. They will relish the environment and opposition, potentially coming up against France and Australia in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, two old foes who they’ve got good records against in previous tournaments.”

Dallaglio also responded when asked about the development of England’s game plan ahead of the tournament that “The nucleus of the Six Nations squad will be there for the World Cup, with the warm up games there to fill in the extra places. There are always big players who get left behind and there are close calls to be made, but I expect Martin Johnson to know already where his main 22 or 23 is going to come from.”

Bayfield was quick to emphasise the atmosphere the players could expect when arriving in New Zealand to play in the tournament, some for the first time. “It’s intense. It will be diluted slightly due to the World Cup but if you’re England or the Lions all eyes are on you, and it is a goldfish bowl. If they come to face New Zealand, then they will really feel it.”

Given the excellent performance of Argentina in 2007, when asked about which team they expected to cause some surprises during the tournament, both indicated that they expected big things from Samoa. For Dallaglio, “they are the team most likely to cause a shock, and they’re in a very competitive pool alongside Fiji, Wales and South Africa. A lot of their players are based in France and the UK and are used to big knockout rugby matches in the Heineken Cup, and we saw what they could do against Australia, so I’d back them to cause a surprise.”

Bayfield highlighted the performances of Fiji in the last World Cup as a sign of how the odds can be turned upside down when it comes to the World Cup. “Fiji were superb in the last World Cup with the way they knocked out Wales and ran South Africa close in the quarter-final, and I’d expect Samoa to replicate that this time round. Teams will see how Argentina have benefited from their performance in the last World Cup by being included into the Four Nations from next year, and know that performing to a similar level may open some doors in terms of international rugby. That fact that Fiji have only played New Zealand five times in history is insane, so this is their chance to show they deserve to play the best teams in the world.”

Lastly, both former internationals spoke of their rather differing World Cup memories. For Dallaglio, where else but the scene of victory in Stadium Australia; “Nothing really comes close to that moment back in 2003. Lots of emotions, guys laughing, crying; but an overall sense of relief that we’d
pulled it off and satisfaction that we’d accomplished what we’d set out to do with one another.”

Bayfield’s overriding memory was down the other end of the scale; “Beating Australia in 1995 was very special as they’d been chirpy during the build-up, but then it was followed up by the nightmare against New Zealand with Zinzan Brooke’s humiliating drop goal.”

Over 15 years on from that tournament, Bayfield noted how the importance of the tournament has increased remarkably around the world. “For us at the time the tournament was still in its infancy, and I don’t think we quite appreciated how important it was. We had a good side, but we just lacked the intensity to go all the way in the tournament.

“Now, that intensity is even more essential for any team to win the World Cup.”

by Ben Coles

2 thoughts on “Dallaglio & Bayfield: ‘Australia could win the World Cup’

  1. Well with the perfomrance of the springboks lately ill put my money on New Zealand winning the world cup and im South African. With the New Zealand teams doing bloody well in the Super rugby tournament as Dallaglio said.

    Though I’m going actually this year hoping for a northern hepisphere team to win the RWC.

    Thanks.

    Peter

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