Rugby World Cup discussion is very premature

Stuart Lancaster

In the aftermath of the Rugby World Cup draw in London on Monday, I couldn’t help feeling that talk of fixtures and form was all a little premature, a bit like crowning the royal embryo as the future King or Queen, as some papers are doing today.

I understand the need to conduct the draw so far in advance of the tournament – the draw determines the fixtures, around which much of the logistics are based – but the discussion around the makeup of each pool is almost meaningless with nearly three years to go.

After the draw was made, the coach and captain from each of the main countries was subjected to repetitive media questions about the quality of the opposition in their respective pools. Their response was almost unanimous and the questions were easier than ever to fend off with a straight bat.

“It’s pretty hard 3 years out to predict where you’re going to be at, but having the host nation in your pool is exciting and there will be a lot of buzz about that game” said Robbie Deans, the Australia coach.

Fellow Kiwi Steve Hansen followed suit. “Everyone is going to test you at a World Cup. Tonga has already shown that they can beat France, and if you don’t respect a team, you’ll get your rear end spanked. Nobody has a god-given right to get through to the quarter-finals.”

And South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer, a man notorious for giving nothing away to the press, replied, “If you want to win the World Cup, you have to win all seven games, and that’s the approach we’ll take.” He also noted that, “three years is a long time in a South African coach’s path, so firstly we’ll have to get to the World Cup.”

England coach Stuart Lancaster was no different, noting that “every pool has tough sides to beat, and they are all tough pools…but I guess it was fate that Wales and England would be drawn together.”

But Lancaster also declared that his plan is for England to be a different team in 2015. “I want England to be a top 2 side by the time the World Cup comes around, and if we get there, it makes it all seem different.”

This is the most pertinent point amongst all the ‘no easy game’ cliches, because if you are one of the best sides in the competition, nearly every route through the tournament looks more benign. The coaches and players know this, but there were no questions about development plans over the next three years, defining an approach to unlock any defence or blooding young players to give them experience.

England were drawn with South Africa in their pool in 2003, but it didn’t seem to be a huge concern, because England were the best side in the world. They had beaten every team, had huge experience and knew how to win matches. New Zealand go into nearly every tournament in that position, and they don’t really care who they have in their group.

Both Wales and England could feasibly be ranked above Australia by the time 2015 comes around, Ireland may be ahead of France, whilst Samoa could be in the top four. The point is that you just don’t know, and the focus must be on becoming one of the best sides in the world rather than worrying about who is or isn’t in your pool.

Performances and progress over the next couple of years will be significantly more indicative as to who will do well in the Rugby World Cup, and there are reasons for optimism for all of the home nations.

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7 comments on “Rugby World Cup discussion is very premature

  1. Hutch – I entirely agree. If England go into the WC matches with Wales and Australia with only a 50/50 or 60/40 chance of winning – the set up will have failed. We need to be one of the top 2 sides in the world going into our home world cup. To do that we’ll need to win 2 out of the next 3 6n, at least one GS, the summer tour to Argentina and (gulps) at least a draw or not get whitewashed in NZ.

  2. What Stu Lac’s has said there hits the nail on the head. Back in 2003 England were one of the favorites for the RWC, therefore it didn’t really matter who we played because we went into the game expecting to win. Even when England went in trailing at the break to Wales in the RWC Quarters, It didn’t feel that tense because you knew the team could tun it around.

    I’m very pleased with the direction this side is heading in and I believe we will be ready come 2015

  3. How about Wales, England and Australia all in the top 4 (obviously with NZ) by 2015. How would that look!

    • I think it all depends on how secure those rankings are. Only NZ are good value for their ranking at the moment – there’s not much between 2 & 3 and 4-5 as the fluctuations showed during the AIs. so being 1 or 2 in the world will matter less if we’re one loss away from being 3 or 4 – we must be comfortably in the top 2 IMO.

      • The ranking is accurate enough. It reflects performance and somehow always also seems to reflect pedigree. Perhaps some Welsh and English people disagree with me but considering that Australia are a young side and were missing many key players against France, England and Wales. Also, playing France in Paris is completely different to playing them in a WC where Australia have the historical edge. Rugby union is declining somewhat in Australia but there is an endless supply of rugby large players there (Aus are the best rugby league side in the world most times), and I expect them to have the forwards too. They have the best mentality I’ve seen in any team and can always come back, almost always.

        The rankings are accurate imo. It’s important to note that great teams still win even with injury. The only team that is in the wrong place is Wales. They should be fighting it out for 6th with Ireland. They are not a top 4 team. Nether are Ireland. England could potentially be but 3 years….

        anything can happen – look at the sides that are in transition..most of them..if not all.

  4. SL was talking about not just planning for 2015 but beyond. No one knows how young players will integrate into the squad. Wade,Ford, Kitchener, Jonny May, Simpson, Billy Vunipola and Burns may turn out to be outstanding international rugby players or found to be lacking at that level.
    What is important, as so aptly demonstrated by Wales recently, is the importance of the head coach. Wales are a different team without Gatland. Everytime I listen to SL air his thoughts I am so glad he was chosen as our head coach, he has vision and is very grounded.
    At the moment the RWC draw is far less important than our next match against Scotland.
    I’m still over the moon about the way we played on Saturday, I want the 6N to start now.

    • Yeah, I’m quite eager to see JJ Hanrahan get a start for Ireland. He’s a real playmaker and a natural kicker. To me he seems even better than Sexton and was instrumental in Ireland’s toppling of SA in the under 20′s. He was nominated as IRB young player of the year with 2 others. He was one of the players of the tournament and the #10 of the tournament by a long way. I would like O’Gara to retire so he can take over for Munster if he’s good enough. I think he might very well be.