Rugby World Cup 2015: Looking ahead to the ‘Group of Death’

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    The British and Irish Lions tour has brought into sharper focus the so-called “group of death” at the 2015 World Cup, where Wales, England and Australia have been drawn together.

    So what have we learned on the back of the Lions visit?

    Wales

    Surely the favourites from the Northern Hemisphere to challenge for the trophy, and in my book second favourites behind the defending champion All Blacks.

    With Warren Gatland back at the helm after taking time off to focus on the Lions tour, they seem set to pick up from their successful Six Nations campaign, and provided the core of the winning Lions team.

    We should also not forget that Shaun Edwards, Gatland’s defence coach with Wales, was overlooked for the Lions coaching team in favour of Andy Farrell – as a proud man he will be desperate to prove that he should have been the man to orchestrate the Lions defence.

    Strengths

    • Back Row: With Dan Lydiate, Toby Faletau and Sam Warburton the trio is as well balanced as the northern hemisphere has seen since the days of Hill/Back/Dallaglio for England in the early noughties. Add to this Justin Tipuric on the bench and you have a formidable unit.

    • Centres and Back Three: Wow! Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies were fantastic and play very well together, and with George North, Leigh Halfpenny – who some are calling the best player in world rugby – and Alex Cuthbert behind them, any time they have the ball the opposition need to be on their mettle.

    Opposing teams will also need to be on their best behaviour as Halfpenny will punish you from all angles with the boot.

    • Leadership: Warburton is a fantastic leader, when he talks people listen and he sets the perfect example on the field. He has great lieutenants too such as Alun Wyn-Jones who skippered the Lions in the third Test.

    Weaknesses

    • Loose head: They are very well set at hooker and tight head, but loose head is a different story. Perhaps Paul James or Rhys Gill will step up, but this could be an area opposition sides look to exploit.

    • No. 10: With all the talent around him in the back division and back row, perhaps all they need is a game manager? But you feel the likes of Dan Biggar and/or Rhys Priestland need to step up if Wales want to fulfil their potential.

    Prediction

    Whether the Lions victory will convince them that they can beat the Wallabies as Wales remains to be seen, but on paper they are group winners.

    England

    The host nation has never failed to make it out of the group stage of the World Cup, could this be the year it happens. England versus the Wallabies on October 3 at Twickenham will be a huge game. Having beaten a weary New Zealand side in November, started strongly in the 6N and completing a convincing 2-0 win in Argentina are all great signs, but the hammering at the hands of Wales in the 6N decider is still a concern.

    Strengths

    • Front Row: with four of the six front rowers picked for the third Lions Test, and a full complement who destroyed the usually rock solid Puma scrum to add to the mix, this is a real area of strength. Tom Youngs is a phenomenal story, and what he lacks in scrummaging power he makes up for in his work rate in the loose.

    A couple of years more playing in the position and he could be the best hooker going around. With Dan Cole and Alex Corbisiero likely to be the starting props backed up by the likes of Mako Vunipola, Joe Marler and Dave Wilson, this is a real powerhouse department.

    • Back Row: With the exception of an out and out seven England are blessed with some seriously good, young, players in the back row. The most difficult decision the coach will have is how to squeeze Wood, Robshaw, Morgan, Croft, Kvesic, Billy Vunipola etc into the 22.

    Weaknesses

    • Wingers: England have got through the past season or so playing Mike Brown out of position on the Wing. This may work for a time, but in the long run you need specialists. The likes of Wade and Yarde give hope for the future but they have serious deficiencies in their games at the moment that will need to be addressed

    • Experience: Although this will have changed by the time 2015 comes around, the England Management almost have to pick their 2015 squad now and stick with it to provide enough experience to really challenge for the trophy.

    That said they have a fine selection of young players all round the park to choose from, so the quality is there. One other issue is that of captaincy…Robshaw and Wood, both good leaders – but do they get into the first XV?

    Prediction

    They strength of their forwards and the verve in a young back line will carry them through to second in the group.

    Australia

    The appointment of Ewen McKenzie to take charge of the Wallabies is absolutely the right thing to do. I was and still am a big fan of Robbie Deans, but he clearly has issues with his man management and once he has picked his favourites he won’t change his mind. With any luck this will change, as the Wallabies have the talent, especially behind the scrum to trouble anyone.

    Strengths

    • Back Three: O’Connor (he should be on the wing), Beale, Mogg, Folau, Ioane, Tomane, Mitchell, Morahan, Barnes(?) all competing for three positions….talk about an embarrassment of riches.

    • Back Row: Mowen was the standout wallaby across all three Lions Tests, his work in the first Test to shut down Mike Phillips and therefore blunt the Lions attacking option was fantastic. Add to that Pocock (backed up by Hooper and Gill) as well as Higginbotham (I fear Palu may be past his sell by date come 2015) you have a well rounded, aggressive unit.

    Weaknesses

    • Discipline: This has to be the first focus for McKenzie. In the professional era when your opposition will be 100% focussed on the job at hand, you cannot afford to have people who are not adhering to team rules. Missing the bus to training is inexcusable. I am also of the opinion that rugby players should focus on rugby and not boxing (Quade) – especially in a time as crucial as this.

    • Front Row: Are the wallabies as bad as they seemed in the third Test – probably not. But in a World Cup where one defeat can mean the end, they cannot afford to be perceived as weak in this area. There appear to be some good young props around the circuit, they need to develop into world class operators in the next two years, which historically has not been easy.

    Prediction

    Unfortunately for the likes of Will Genia (another in the conversation for best player in the world), the Wallabies come up against a the finest Welsh side for three decades at its peak, and a hungry home nation with a blend of strong forwards and fearless backs, and will finish third in the group.

    It is a real shame that one of the top six sides at the tournament (NZ, SA, Wallabies, England, Wales and France) will be knocked out this early, but to be the best you have to beat the best, and the winner of this group will be battle hardened come the knock-out phases and in great shape to have a real crack at the trophy.

    A lot can happen in two years mind, so who knows…

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    The Crowd Says (58)

    • August 27th 2013 @ 3:25am
      Eszkal said | August 27th 2013 @ 3:25am | ! Report

      Nowadays Wales is traditionally weak against the Wallabies, so they should overturn their luck to be able to win them.

    • August 27th 2013 @ 4:51am
      Bazza Allblack Supporter said | August 27th 2013 @ 4:51am | ! Report

      Boy, if Oz get bundled out at Pool stage, they will never hear the end of it….

      Looking forward to this world cup – ALL Blacks have crushing weight on expectation lifted and should be able to be the better for it…

      • August 27th 2013 @ 10:43am
        abc said | August 27th 2013 @ 10:43am | ! Report

        I’m predicting All Blacks to choke to France in the 1/4s….and then everything being blamed on a forward pass that never happened.

        • August 27th 2013 @ 11:45am
          expatmatt said | August 27th 2013 @ 11:45am | ! Report

          no way les blues will get that lucky twice. The darkness does not choke if any teams does its les blues- 3 RWC finals apperances for 3 losses – nuff said.
          BTW that pass was way forward only the knockers and dribblers perist in peddling the drivel that it was not so they can get a reaction- so well done ABXC reaction got.

          • August 27th 2013 @ 12:58pm
            richard said | August 27th 2013 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

            …and that the ABs weren’t affected by a bout of food poisoning in ’95.Would love something like this happening to the WBs or the Poms in the knockout stages of a WC.

            Then you would hear some whinging.

            • August 27th 2013 @ 2:53pm
              Seb Vettel said | August 27th 2013 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

              lol the majority don’t believe in this… even with the clear footage… Shows you just how much people are influenced by what they want to believe in. The world wants the 95 world cup to be a miracle. Food poisoning destroys that illusion. No matter how much evidence comes out, even if government papers came out, it would still be denied by the masses.

              • August 28th 2013 @ 6:15am
                richard said | August 28th 2013 @ 6:15am | ! Report

                It taught me the level of hate that exists for the ABs from other countries.

              • August 28th 2013 @ 9:39am
                Garth said | August 28th 2013 @ 9:39am | ! Report

                I still don’t understand how they can ignore that footage of players throwing up on the sideline. Still, even sick as dogs they took the ‘Boks deep into extra time.

            • August 28th 2013 @ 4:11pm
              richard said | August 28th 2013 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

              Garth,it was a WC Final.And it was the ABs,they may get it wrong from time to time.But,as you know, they don’t lie down for anyone.

        • August 27th 2013 @ 11:59am
          Jerry said | August 27th 2013 @ 11:59am | ! Report

          6 seconds in, Magoo.

        • August 27th 2013 @ 4:15pm
          Bazza Allblack Supporter said | August 27th 2013 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

          least we will get out of the pool…..

        • August 27th 2013 @ 5:57pm
          Paul from Melbourne said | August 27th 2013 @ 5:57pm | ! Report

          Is the next best thing of WB winning is AB losing for abc ?

    • August 27th 2013 @ 7:38am
      flying hori said | August 27th 2013 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      ABs first Country to back to back

      • August 27th 2013 @ 11:46am
        expatmatt said | August 27th 2013 @ 11:46am | ! Report

        and first to win 3- llike your thinking FH

        • August 27th 2013 @ 12:30pm
          Dsat24 said | August 27th 2013 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

          oh dear here we go again with ‘the ABs to win the RWC’
          pity you skipped some of those history classes in school

          • August 27th 2013 @ 2:36pm
            Jerry said | August 27th 2013 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

            “the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today”

            • August 27th 2013 @ 2:36pm
              Jerry said | August 27th 2013 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

              Though to be fair, that quote makes my BA in History look a bit of a waste of time.

              • Roar Guru

                August 27th 2013 @ 2:42pm
                Jiggles said | August 27th 2013 @ 2:42pm | ! Report

                at least you probably got good looking girls in your lectures* 😉

                *conditional on the assumption that you didnt undertake your tertiary studies in New Zealand…

              • August 27th 2013 @ 2:54pm
                Seb Vettel said | August 27th 2013 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

                hahaha Jingles… you got that right. NZ chicks are… well I have never seen a knockout.

          • August 28th 2013 @ 9:45am
            Garth said | August 28th 2013 @ 9:45am | ! Report

            And the WB’s last won when, exactly?

            • August 28th 2013 @ 10:26am
              Jerry said | August 28th 2013 @ 10:26am | ! Report

              Sometime in the previous millennium.

            • August 28th 2013 @ 11:51am
              expatmatt said | August 28th 2013 @ 11:51am | ! Report

              way back when…

    • August 27th 2013 @ 7:49am
      Rob9 said | August 27th 2013 @ 7:49am | ! Report

      A bit premature looking at this now considering we’re still 2 years out from the showpiece. A long time and a lot can happen between now and then. That said, it’s exciting to look ahead and I appreciate what you’re doing here.

      As I see it in these early days, there are 4 clear favourites. It’s unprecedented that 3 serious contenders to take out bill are all in the same group, so group A looks to be group of death to  end all others. It’s a very good point that Aus, Eng and Wales will all be battle hardened and the cob webs will be truly blown away by the time the QF’s roll around, just one of them won’t feature in them. It’s may be the one edge these teams have in an attempt to match an AB side that will obviously be hotly favoured to be the first team to go back to back.

      • August 27th 2013 @ 1:45pm
        ScrumJunkie said | August 27th 2013 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

        Key AB’s will be too old. OZ, Wales and England are the teams at the right stage of development, it’s a pity they’re all in one group. Wish I could put a bet on one from that pool to win it.

        • August 27th 2013 @ 2:59pm
          Seb Vettel said | August 27th 2013 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

          AB’s will be too old? You clearly don’t know a thing about the All Blacks. The only position where they are too old at the moment is hooker. Mealamu and Hore will most likely not be there. But they are get Coles game time. And a young guy by the name of Rhys Marshall is just cracking into the Chiefs side and is seen as the next World Class hooker. Every other position has depth that will be young and in peak in the next world cup. Show me one position in NZ besides what I have mentioned where they will be too old. And btw Even if McCaw and Carter and CSmith are still there next world cup, they won’t be done in by youngsters, too much class.

          • August 28th 2013 @ 7:54pm
            Ben.S said | August 28th 2013 @ 7:54pm | ! Report

            In 2015 Woodcock will be 34; Ben Franks will be 31; (ignoring the hookers); Messam will be 31; Kaino will be 32; McCaw will be 34; Dan Carter will be 33; Nonu will be 33; Conrad Smith will be 33; Cory Jane will be 32…

            These are the players that have driven the ABs over recent years – the core and spine of the team. Simply stating that there’s potentially young and world class players out there is a) pure speculation, and b) largely irrelevant, because history has proven that the most experienced side wins the WC, so on the basis that any of the key players suddenly fall from grace or retire, Hansen has increasingly fewer games to find an alternative – look how Muliaina dropped off prior to the 2011 WC, when the season before he’d played some exceptional rugby. There won’t always be a Dagg as a replacement. Also, the statement that ‘every other position has depth that will be young and peak’ is ridiculous and contradictory too. Based on what? Super Rugby? One thing that is certain is that the ABs won’t be anywhere near the most experienced side at the next WC, nor will it resemble the current side.

            • August 29th 2013 @ 3:34pm
              richard said | August 29th 2013 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

              Ben S – agreed the AB team could potentially be reaching geriatric levels by 2015,but couldn’t the same be said about the 2003 England team.

              For me,it will be about having the right blend of youth and experience.A very difficiult balancing exercise for any coach.

              • August 29th 2013 @ 6:58pm
                Ben.S said | August 29th 2013 @ 6:58pm | ! Report

                By 2003 players like Trevor Woodman, Steve Thompson, Ben Kay, Joe Worsley, Lewis Moody, Jason Robinson and Josh Lewsey had all pushed out more senior players, or had forced their way on to the bench, and that had happened 2 seasons before the WC around 2001/02. There was still an ageing core of Johnson, Hill, Back, Dallaglio (who had already been dropped by Woodward), Dawson, Bracken and Catt, but they quite literally fell over the finish line. It’s a huge risk to chance it all on a core of players.

                I agree about balance, but at the same time young players need extensive game time to win finals football, and this season is Hansen’s last chance to start that process.

        • August 28th 2013 @ 9:47am
          Garth said | August 28th 2013 @ 9:47am | ! Report

          The average age of the current AB squad is less than the RWC2011 squad.

        • August 28th 2013 @ 8:09pm
          DilzfromHtown said | August 28th 2013 @ 8:09pm | ! Report

          So the ABs completely destroyed OZ with a young team and you think OZ is well prepared for RWC you’re a dreamer. SBW will be back so nonu won’t even be on, wallabies won’t make it to the quarters, and try not to lose to Samoa either

    • August 27th 2013 @ 8:58am
      katzilla said | August 27th 2013 @ 8:58am | ! Report

      Good read pal. Your statement RE:Deans is probably the fairest comment made about him from either side of the coin.
      It was well known in certain parts of NZ that he had his favorites and his bad book.

      Wales might be equal favourites by the time the cup rolls around, they have the talent.
      Amazingly I wouldnt bet my house on them making it out of this pool though. Rough times for any of these teams not make it out of the pool stages.

    • August 27th 2013 @ 9:38am
      JeffRo said | August 27th 2013 @ 9:38am | ! Report

      I know the pools are decided by ranking at a given time, but it feels like an error to have 2 semi finalists and a quarter finalist in the same group.
      The other groups are weak compared to pool A.

      • August 27th 2013 @ 9:48am
        Jerry said | August 27th 2013 @ 9:48am | ! Report

        The 2011 tournament had the same thing with France, Argentina and NZ and just to add to the imbalance the 1/4 finalist was the #1 ranked team in the world.

        • August 27th 2013 @ 9:55am
          nickoldschool said | August 27th 2013 @ 9:55am | ! Report

          2011?

          • August 27th 2013 @ 10:00am
            Jerry said | August 27th 2013 @ 10:00am | ! Report

            Never mind, brain fart on my part. For some reason I’d conflated the ABs 1/4 final against the Argies into a pool game. Probably cause Arg & France were in the same pool in 07.

      • August 27th 2013 @ 9:52am
        nickoldschool said | August 27th 2013 @ 9:52am | ! Report

        Agree jeff. The tag ‘pool of death’ is often excessively used, for media circus purposes, but in this case, I think it’s justified. IMO, England and Wales are the 2 strongest NH nation, the rwc will be on home turf, they are building nicely and have plenty of young guys who will be at their peak in 2 years time.

        Australia will, hopefully, be competitive, so it should be a thrilling round robin. If it was held in November this year, I would put my money on the welsh and English to boot the wallabies out. In two years time who knows.

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