The Rugby Blog’s home nations team of Charlie Morgan, Jamie Hosie, David Blair and Alex McLeman share their views on the pool draw for their respective countries. Are you happy with your team’s draw?
There may be an element of blind hope about this, but I feel that the worst is over. As a dejected Sam Warburton conceded in the immediate aftermath of Kurtley Beale’s last-gasp try, a heartbreaking defeat to the Wallabies on Saturday afternoon was just about the lowest Welsh rugby has been for a long while. The only way is up, and Monday’s draw should have provided optimism and enthusiasm to brighten these dark times. For a core of players who will be close to their prime in 2015, England and Australia – at the Millennium Stadium – are eminently beatable.
On paper, seven straight losses on the back of a Grand Slam represent an unprecedented dive in form, but Warren Gatland’s words upon re-joining the squad prior to the New Zealand match were extremely astute. Rather than chastise his charges, he allegedly told them not to be scared of how good they can be. After this trot, the burden of expectation will be gone and, with wounded warriors such as Dan Lydiate back in the fold, they can go about removing the rot that began in Australia this June. Navigate this group of death, and Wales will have got rid of a trophy contender. That is how they must think – this is an opportunity, not a trap.
The cliché ‘pool of death’ is always thrown around at the time of tournament draws, and this time it seems to have been applied to England. The reality is that no pool at a World Cup is easy, but it is understandable why Pool A has been assigned this dreaded label.
The hosts will face off against Wales and Australia, thus taking on their most bitter rival from each hemisphere. The recent match against Australia proved that even with an injury list that would cripple most teams, the Wallabies are still a force to be reckoned with. Chances are, in 3 years time, they will have some or all of their key men back and will be even better than they are now. Young talents like Hooper and Timani will have had time to flourish and, as always, they will bring a huge amount of pride and passion to the competition. So while England fans may have breathed a sigh of relief upon avoiding New Zealand, their task remains a tough one.
And what of Wales? A disastrous autumn series has undoubtedly set them back after a promising couple of years saw them reach the semi-finals in New Zealand and romp to a Six Nations grand slam. Like Australia, though, they have an unenviable injury list and will surely regain at least some of the form that saw them rise to the pinnacle of Northern Hemisphere rugby. Sam Warburton, presently a shadow of the talismanic leader he used to be, is too good a player not to come again, and with him lead a Welsh revival.
The controversial proposal to play the England vs Wales match in Cardiff adds further intrigue to an already spicy pool. The prospect of playing Wales away at their home World Cup could have dangerous psychological ramifications for an England team banking on vociferous home support. One thing is for certain: England will have to be at their very best to get out of this so-called ‘pool of death’ and avoid the ignominy of going out in the pool stages of a home World Cup.
While at first glance they might have been glad to avoid a giant of the southern hemisphere, in Les Bleus, Ireland face an opponent they have never beaten at the Rugby World Cup. Their defeat against France in the 2007 tournament, which was preceded by disappointments in 2003 and 1995, doesn’t bode well for Irish hopes of topping their pool.
In drawing Italy from the third seeds Ireland importantly avoid a treacherous trip to the Millennium Stadium to face Wales in the pool stages. The Italians may pose their own challenge, continuing to improve year on year, but Ireland should possess enough quality in 2015 to secure their passage into the last eight.
At this stage we can only speculate on the make-up of the team, but the injury forced and overdue introduction of youth to the current crop this autumn should benefit the development of the squad towards 2015. In the likes of Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy and Iain Henderson, there is plenty of promise in the next generation coming through.
Beyond the group stages, topping Pool D would mean a probable quarter-final against familiar rivals Argentina. Alternatively the All Blacks, and yet another quarter-final exit, await Ireland should they qualify as runners up.
Scotland managed no wins from their autumns tests resulting in their failure to break into the top 8 of the world and with it a favourable seeding for the grouping. The men from the north fell to lowly 12th in the world which meant that they would be slotted into the third band of seeds and the possibility of playing some of the world’s best teams, making the challenge that bit harder.
Scotland, who currently are without a coach following the resignation of Andy Robinson, have been ‘kindly’ drawn against former two time World Champions, South Africa, and the hard hitting Pacific Islanders, Samoa.
During the autumn internationals the Scots battled hard against a strong South African team, although the scoreline lacks justice (10-21), but Scotland worked tirelessly and valiantly till the end. Victory could have been achieved if tactics and team preparation were appropriate for the challenge at hand.
There was no excuse for the Samoan result, Scotland lacked everything in direction, organisation and desire, and they deserved to lose. Samoa came to win while Scotland came to look good, and the only positive to come from the match was the resignation of Robinson. These two results are a not a refection of what to expect from the World Cup – they are performances that Scotland will work till their bones hurt to avoid happening again.
Despite these poor displays, Scotland are not staring down the barrel of yet another failed World Cup run. They face uncertainty, yes, but they also still stand a chance. Scotland’s attack coach, Scott Johnson, suggested that even though they are in a hard group, it is by no means “impossible to get out of” and that they looked “pretty good” alongside either of the two other teams.
With the correct appointment of a new coach, preferably a Scotsman, and complete about-turn in tactics, Scotland could look like a team ready to face these insurmountable odds and challenge for qualification out of the group. The upcoming RBS Six Nations will lay the foundations for what Scottish fans can expect from their team. It is still a long way to go till the world cup and many a teams can rise and fall from now until then. Scotland have the spine of a team which has talent, and hopefully in time, this group of players can become something no one expects them to become. Winners.