England will have to do it the hard way
England will need to do it the hard way in their quest to join one of Rugby World Cup’s most exclusive clubs.
Only two countries – New Zealand and South Africa – have backed up host nation status by winning the tournament during its 25-year history.
But if England are to achieve such a feat on home soil in 2015, then not only must they qualify from a pool that also sees Wales and Australia challenging for two quarter-final places, but then probably get past the Springboks and All Blacks at a later date.
Just 48 hours after Stuart Lancaster’s team rocked planet rugby to its core with a breathtaking record victory over New Zealand, a cold wind of reality blew across their path on London’s South Bank.
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While London’s Tate Modern art gallery and Mayor of London Boris Johnson provided a somewhat surreal feel to the 2015 Rugby World Cup festivities, the draw will have hit England straight between the eyes.
It was 2015 England Rugby World Cup chief executive Debbie Jevans who drew England in the same group as Wales, before International Rugby Board chairman Bernard Lapasset pulled out Australia for good measure.
The degree of difficulty facing all three countries was apparent before anyone could say “Pool of Death”.
Wales, World Cup semi-finalists last year, were already resigned to a demanding pool after carelessly dropping outside the top eight-ranked teams following successive autumn defeats against Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
But England could realistically have expected a kinder group, given that Scotland, Italy or Tonga were possible alternatives to Wales.
Even though there are three Six Nations Championships and a British and Irish Lions tour of Australia to unfold before World Cup 2015 can take centre-stage, fierce rugby rivalries either side of the Severn Bridge have already been stirred.
England’s group – Pool A – will be completed by two qualifiers, Oceania 1 (probably Fiji) and the play-off winner, possibly Uruguay.
Ireland, meanwhile, have landed France, Italy, Americas 1 and Europe 2 in Pool D, with struggling Scotland in Pool B alongside South Africa, Samoa, Asia 1 and Americas 2.
But the All Blacks look to have secured the easiest group, being bracketed alongside Argentina, Tonga, Europe 1 and Africa 1.
And if the the 2015 tournament follows its current seeding path, then the quarter-finals would see South Africa face England, New Zealand tackle Ireland, Australia meet Samoa and France take on Argentina.
One leading bookmaker took the plunge within an hour of the drawing being completed, boldly installing England as Pool A favourites ahead of Australia, while also tipping Wales and Scotland to miss out on quarter-final spots. The problem is, though, getting a handle now on a tournament that is still 33 months away is both incredibly difficult and largely pointless, which has been mirrored by some of the hysterical odds flying around.
Just in case anyone is wondering why the draw has been conducted almost three years before the event, then ticketing, venues, team travel, accommodation and identification of training camps are among the reasons offered by organisers.
England showed in the space of 80 mesmeric minutes on Saturday how quickly rugby’s landscape can change, so quite where we will be in approximately 1,100 days is anyone’s guess.
“It’s unfortunate that at a home World Cup England have had such a shocking draw, and it is very possible that they will go out at the group stages,” said Rupert Adams, spokesman for William Hill bookmakers, in offering one clear viewpoint.
Alternatively, though, England could win the tournament.