Rugby World Cup draw: the fans’ view

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?

Wales

Webb Ellis CupThere 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.

England

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.

Ireland

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

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.

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26 comments on “Rugby World Cup draw: the fans’ view

  1. What with the apparent decision not to give debenture holders preference for the world cup and the prospect of England not playing all their games at Twickers should I renew debenture in 2014??? Additionally why should the hosts be so accommodating as to play Wales away – they must have learnt from the Olympics -we should be a bit more Australian!!

    • We wont be – see my comments below. This is just Lewis mischeif making and starting the horse trading early no doubt in the hope that they get a home draw for the Aussie match. Commercial realities will I’m afraid trumpt any sentiment.

    • It’s all about pieces of silver. In order to get the votes of England’s Celtic colonies, they were promised X number of games each. Why Wales would want to risk their players on the surface of the indoor cow paddock beggars belief.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Without some assurances that we can have access to tickets for at least the England matches one of the main reasons for renewing our debentures will be missing.In the past we have had a right to tickets when Wembley was used.
      That together with the recent diminution of “The Twickenham Experience” by the constant flow of so called supporters in and out of their seats during play.
      So far efforts to get these points across to the Twickenham Powers That Be have gone unacknowledged.

  2. “I feel that the worst is over” – Opening fixture against Ireland in the 6n will be key. Ireland have a good record at the MS and will be extra bitter after the circumstances of the last 2 6n defeats by Wales. As a neutral I cannot wait – but it could get a lot worse for Wales.

    As an England fan, Austrailia is the tier 1 team I wanted. England were in such a drab group last time, we never got up for it and were undercooked for the quarters. I feel if we had drawn France, there would less of an occcasion about it, it would seem like the 6N, and I feel playing NZ/ SA at the group stage would be very draining. Plus out of the big 3 our recent record against Aus is the better.

    As for Wales being in the group, well, I guess we probably would have played them in the quarters anyway if they were swapped with Samoa, so we just have to get in knock out mode early, no bad thing IMO.

    Finally Wales will NOT be playing England at the MS – this is just pure fantasy from Lewis. The RFU have to generate an £80m profit thanks to the IRB’s NZ indulgance in 2011. Twickers has a higher capacity, and closer proximity to London (for the corporates) – so the MS loses out. In fact I wouldnt be surprised if this was the opener to the tournament which would also put this argument to bed.

    • Benjit, I understand that circumstance of one of the matches you mention (the illegal lineout throw, though given how Ireland are supposedly so much better than Wales it still amuses me how we were able to beat them by just 1 lineout) but what was dodgy about the 2nd win? We played some blinding attacking rugby that day. Not as complete a win as we managed in the WC but pretty decent.

      • Brighty both wins were fine by me! However if I recall the winning last minute penalty was 50/50, that passes the Irish conspiracy test ;-)

  3. Current form, particularly regarding the Welsh, isn’t too relevant for games to be played in 3 years time. Wales are the team that has the best chance of sending a tier 1 or 2 seed out early so they were the team to avoid.

    3 of the 4 RWC ’11 semi finalists finished runners up in their group, so I think SCW was spouting what some may consider to be “arrogant English bull**** ” when he was talking about England being the team to avoid. Coming top of the group matters less because all 8 quarter finalists will be very good teams, what is important is getting out of the group!

    History has the head to heads at Eng 56 wins to Wales 55. Wales’ record against all the other tier 2 seeds is better than against England, but not by so much that it makes this draw a pool of doom. Although I would love to see both England and Wales progress, the bottom line is the biggest threat to England not making it out of the group is Wales. If the organisers have any sense they will hand Wales the kind of unfavourable schedule that Samoa had to contend with and have them taking on England at Twickenham on a 4 or 5 day turnaround from a bruising encounter with Fiji.

    Really pleased to see Samoa make the top 8. I think only the schedule prevented them from getting out of their pool at RWC ’11, probably at the expense of Wales.

  4. Regarding Scotland …. France have shown you can lose to Tonga and make a RWC final …. so there is hope!

  5. I’m happy with the pool. Aus are, despite recent matches, still the SH team we have the best record against. The Eng matchup has me licking my lips – we have the chance of giving England a bloody nose in their own world cup, which Welshman wouldn’t want that? (That isn’t arrogance assuming we will win, that’s looking forward to the matchup).

    The WC isn’t about hanging on in there for as long as you can, it’s about playing to your best and beating the other teams. This group gives us the chance to do that. Form 3 years out is impossible to predict – even 3 months given that nobody expected Wales to put on the showing at WC 2011 that they did manage.

    The match won’t be in the Millenium Stadium, that’s chief tool Roger Lewis just getting his gurning mug in the media again. I wouldn’t want it anyway – English World Cup, play this awesome match in the English Stadium. I am going to bust myself to get tickets for that.

    • Are the WRU deposing the RFU as top comedy union at the moment? Whilst all may have been looking fine and dandy 12 months ago and still coining in huge revenue from all the fixtures played at the millennium stadium they appear to have done nothing constructive to stop player exodus and support viable regional rugby. I think it’s imperative they act now, if attendances fall through poor performances they will lose revenue and therefore the capacity to act. “Do Nothing” looks like a fall of the cliff option to me. We need to grow the global game, not have established strongholds implode so hope they take some sensible decisions and act. What’s your view?

      • The WRU have always been the top comedy union in my mind – remember Glanmor? Despite considerable issues with the WRU our national team has continued to display decent rugby in between heart crushing defeats (those of us who remember Fiji in 2007 are less hysterical about the current run of form). We also have, in Roger Lewis, one of the most soul destroying men I have ever seen give interviews. Pompous, gushing, illiterate and ignorant.

        As for player exodus – what could they do? They cannot get into a bidding war with the French, nobody could afford that. They have tried what England do by trying to avoid picking French based players but we do not have the depth to enable that. England’s best players are looking more and more across the pond, only those in the EPS stay in England and some of those will eventually be swayed. Jamie Roberts has been offered somewhere over £400K to play for Racing Metro and the tax situation for sport over there means that is mostly net. Wales are the first country to really suffer from the French effect, but other countries will feel a stronger pull from it soon. Ireland, with the financial might of Leinster, have the best chance of contending with it.

        Dual contracts – the regions do not want this. They basically want to still own the players, just get more money from the WRU. Why would the WRU do this? Why give more money but the same level of control? Dual contracts is stalled on both sides – the WRU and the regions. It is not just the regions fault.

        Also, and this is a fact not really understood outside Wales … our clubs/regions are there for one thing and one thing only – for Wales to win. As we said at the time of the last Slam and Leinster’s victory in the HC – you keep winning the HCs, we’re happy with the Slams and aiming towards WCs thanks. They need to be viable, they need to provide entertaining rugby for those of us with season tickets. I’d love Cardiff to win the HC. But none of it can remove focus from the Wales team. Other countries are fond of constantly telling us where we are going wrong but why would we listen to them when we’re the ones with 3 slams in 7 years?

        Don’t get me wrong – it is not all rosy, we need to beef up player support to keep more players at home; but players leaving is not the root of our problem. Simply funding the regional game better won’t fix everything, despite being a decent start.

        • Completely agree with you this is the tip of the iceberg regarding French driven wage inflation. Would like to see some rules for the next iteration of the Heineken on either a salary cap for HC squads/min number of academy players/min number of home country eligible players to avoid things getting too distorted.

          I expect most All Blacks could pull in much more money in France than they do in NZ, but very few move whilst they are still first choice ABs. If they changed their rule their super 15 sides would become the world’s nurseries. A strict rule with no exceptions is their only deterrent.

          A few things I can think of that may help without a central or dual contract:
          - 2 tiers – only players over a certain age to be picked from overseas (e.g. say 28-30) so just the established stars getting towards the end of career.
          - Greatly reduced payments to overseas based players (especially as they aren’t paying UK tax!) and shift the money to increased payments for home based players.
          - More development bonuses when a regions academy player gets capped, e.g. more financial incentive to keep the conveyor belt going.

          If the likes of Jamie Roberts (only 25 I think?) can move, earn a stack load of cash and still represent Wales then there is no disincentive for the Cutherbert’s and North’s of the team to do the same.

          Just think it’s better to act whilst the WRU has the financial capacity to act, there may be no silver bullet but that doesn’t mean do nothing is the way forward either. Agree with you that 3 slams in 7 years shows something has been working, but I can’t see you getting another 3 in the next 7 without some change.

          • I think that you will find that some of your suggestions are against European restriction of trade rules. Bosman ruling anyone. I appreciate not the same circumstances but you get my drift.

          • Get your drift, and you may be right, not exactly a field of expertise of mine but I don’t think it’s as clear cut. France now has rules on numbers of eligible players in Top 14 squads, RFU pay incentives for clubs with who exceed a certain average nuumber of English eligible players and Ireland has Draconian rules on numbers of foreign players in each position. So I’m sure something can be done within the current legal parameters.

            Hopefully we won’t get the “Armitage ruling” for players penalised for playing their rugby outside of their home country!

            Key point really is there isn’t any easily detectable evidence of the WRU doing anything constructive on the matter. The model works for the WRU only if they have a national team that puts on performances that bring the crowds into the millennium stadium. No form leads to poor crowds in the none 6N fixtures leads to less revenue leads to the inability to take any financially based action to support regions and players. Better to take some action whilst you have the capacity to act rather than wait to a point until you no longer have the capacity.

            Although there are plenty of good examples of teams who have performed well with almost entirely overseas players (Samoa) I didn’t see any evidence is the Autumn that the Welsh players were improving from being French based. It will be a loss to the global game if this rot continues.

        • Groups Shmoups
          We have to beat France to have any chance of avoiding the AB’s. We’ve never beaten France in a WC. So, we may have to play the AB’s. We’ve never beaten the AB’s EVER.

          So, it gets back to France. They have to be beaten. Can Italy do anything against the AB’s? IMO, they can’t. They just don’t have the players – it’s even more unrealistic. France can beat New Zealand and I predict they will beat them if they play them in another WC. It’s early to say that but I think France will go all the way and win it, ..after they slip up against us in the group stages!

          They were brilliant against Aus a few weeks back. Samoa have also impressed me and I believe they will still be top 8 quality in a few years and will progress from their group. We have to beat France. It’s that simple. If we don’t, I still think we’ll have a fun showdown with the AB’s and provide a good preparation test for them as they march onwards to their rematch with France. I think we will be under some pressure against Italy but we rose to it handily last time out. Italy just don’t have the players afaik, and I don’t project them to have them. Their best will be too old by then and there isn’t anything near the calibre or Parise and Bergamasco coming through the ranks. They will be better by 2019 though I think, when their youth starts to come of age. In reality, Italy will fight it out with Canada/USA for third. Even if Ireland win the group, we would still face Argentina in all probability and that match is nearly always a toss up in WC’s. I can’t wait in any event. I always love the event, especially when Australia win – my favourite team after Ireland. But I’d like France to win one next time out.

  6. Right now Eng Aus and Wal all feel they can beat the other which makes for an exciting prospect. In 3 yrs time I want Eng to be clear favourites and have the same confidence I had when Eng played in 03 (well until now Aussie based Andre Watson showed up). Long way off at the mo.

    • Sorry, I must be the only one on the site to have noticed that Scotland were actually playing Tonga. ”
      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.”
      Yeah, sorry, I must be wrong…

  7. if you could call things 50-50 then i do now. Australia can be beaten buts its highly unlikely, England and wales in the same group, thats messy and i couldnt call it.