Cards falling into place for RWC 2015
As the final whistle rang out at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, a new picture of the international landscape began to take shape. Wales paraded the Six Nations trophy in front of a packed house after ending England’s dream of a Grand Slam, while Georgia’s 9-9 draw with Romania in Bucharest handed them the European Nations Cup Division 1A title for 2013 and the inside track in the qualification race to Rugby World Cup 2015.
With the Pool Allocation Draw still fresh in the memory and the tournament drawing ever closer, England Rugby 2015 Ambassador Will Greenwood has run the rule over Europe’s movers and shakers to find out just how the land lies.
England and Australia should beware a confident Wales
Having been drawn alongside England and Australia in Pool A at Rugby World Cup 2015, Wales had a fascinating Six Nations. They came into it after losing seven on the spin, and everyone doubted that Rob Howley, Robin McBryde and the coaching team could do it without Warren Gatland. It seemed that without the ‘voice of Warren’ they couldn’t recreate the intensity and confidence levels that they possessed with him in charge.
They were 30-3 down against Ireland with 43 minutes on the clock in the opening round. They must have been five billion to one to win the tournament at that stage, with three away games to come, but if any team in the northern hemisphere seems to benefit from confidence and suffer from a lack of it, it’s Wales.
If they have a dip, they really have a proper dip. If they hit a high, my goodness they ride it. They drew first blood against England in the final round and will want to build from there.
The British & Irish Lions could change Wales’ southern problem
Right now Wales are in one of those peak periods, and just before a Lions tour. All 15 of the lads who took the field against England will be thinking, ‘I’ve got my boarding pass.’ They’re big, they’re fit, they’re quick, they’re happy to handle the ball and they’ve got a platform to play from.
Their problem, which is a rather large elephant in the room looking ahead to Australia and Rugby World Cup 2015, is that they’ve got to find a way to beat the southern hemisphere teams. They keep winning Grand Slams and proving they can do it under pressure against fellow Celtic teams, England or France, but every time they get close to a southern hemisphere team, the game gets away from them.
The vast majority of them could taste success against the Wallabies with the Lions this summer and that could be a tipping point for them.
England will have one eye on 2015 in Argentina
England must bounce back and continue to build for Rugby World Cup 2015 on their summer tour to Argentina, but the Pumas proved in The Rugby Championship that they can really play. They drew 16-16 against South Africa and turned in some good performances against Australia and New Zealand as well.
It’s a tough tour for England. If you look back to Sir Clive Woodward’s team, they went in 2002 with a very young side, captained by Phil Vickery. Players like Ben Kay – who would start the Rugby World Cup 2003 Final – began to really come through on that tour.
With six or seven away with the Lions, there is a chance for the next lot of England hopefuls to come in and have a crack. Stuart Lancaster may also choose to rest some players who have played a lot of rugby recently, so we have to think of exciting prospects like Christian Wade, Jonny May and Joel Tomkins getting an opportunity.
Italy are on the rise at the right time
Few would have predicted that Italy would emerge from the Six Nations with victories over France and Ireland, their pool mates at Rugby World Cup 2015, but they have shown glimpses of this kind of form since Jacques Brunel took the reins as coach. We certainly saw it against New Zealand in November, when it was tight at half-time.
This isn’t just an Italian side that bends over and pushes, smashing rucks. They play now, they really can play. The front five are handling the ball, rather than running into brick walls. Sergio Parisse has back-up in Alessandro Zanni, who is absolutely top class.
In the backs, Edoardo Gori adds some pace and verve at scrum half, while Alberto Sgarbi and Gonzalo Garcia are defensive rocks. On the wings, Giovanbattista Venditti scuttles around and they have a left footer in Luke McLean. If they are to continue with this new-found philosophy then they must stick with Luciano Orquera at fly half. If they can give him enough ball, he’s the man who can make them play.
France’s Rugby World Cup pedigree is what counts
France are in a strange situation after a rare wooden spoon. The amazing thing about them is that they could lose every game up until Rugby World Cup 2015 and still no-one would want to play them. They have enough power and pace, enough footballers, and their World Cup record is excellent. They made the final in 1999, the semis in 2003 and 2007 and the final again in 2011. That ranks them as highly as any other team in the world.
It must be hugely frustrating to be a French supporter, with your team showing world class form as recently as November and then that disappearing only months later. Whatever happens, no matter how badly they’re playing now, watch out for them come 2015.
Georgia’s new look suits them
Georgia topped the European Nations Cup standings and turned heads with a 61-18 win over Spain in the penultimate round. They have a lot of guys playing in France now – they are big, tough men.
They are in a similar situation to the one Italy found themselves in a few years ago, trying to build an all-round game. They have the natural physical ability to live with most international teams, and now they must understand and get used to the pace of top-class backs play.
We came up against them at Rugby World Cup 2003 and they are big boys. They will get you in a maul and if you start panicking, or if you start playing loose balls, as Ireland found out in 2007 when they were very lucky to escape with victory, you’re in trouble. It won’t be long before Georgia take a big scalp.