The Rugby World Cup is less than 3 weeks away, and naturally we rugby supporters are all excited and expecting our respective teams to do well. All rugby fans, be they English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish, firmly believe that their teams have got what it takes to win the cup, but are any of us really being realistic? Have any of the Home Nations rugby teams got the talent and the strength in depth to challenge the Southern Hemisphere rugby superpowers of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa? Well, one man who might be able to give you a straight and authoritative answer to that is Geoff Wappett. The former England Under 19 and 21s coach knows a thing or two about rugby at the top level. Here he shares his thoughts on Home Nations rugby and who he’s tipping to lift the trophy in 2 months time.
What are England’s prospects in New Zealand next month?
“I think England really stand a good chance of doing well this time. Their form’s been pretty good by and large, maybe excepting the Wales game, and the squad seems fairly settled. It’s a strange old competition anyway when you think about it: all you need to do is put 6 or 7 games together and get a bit of momentum and you’ve won it or at least made it to the final. Just look at 2007, England never exactly set the world alight, but put a run together and made the final. This time I think England have the potential to go all the way again. They’re a young side with some really exciting players, and I think that they’re capable of doing well. Obviously, the performance against Wales was poor and a little low key, but these things happen particularly when players are striving to show their own capabilities and put their hands up for selection. Obviously they want to play well for the team, but the point of these warm-up matches is to show that you’re good enough to be selected for the final squad. Sometimes this puts a strain on the way a team plays, and it doesn’t perform as well as we all expect it to.”
“They’re lucky in some respects as I think they’ve found themselves in a decent and comfortable group that shouldn’t tax them too much. They should be capable of beating Argentina and Scotland, and come out of those games and the group with few injuries and plenty in reserve. If they plan it well and play some decent rugby they should come into the quarter final stages in pretty good shape. If all goes according to plan, they’ll probably draw France in the quarters and Australia in the semis, and they’ve got the squad to be able to beat both of them.”
What about the other Home Nations prospects?
“As far as the other Home Nations are concerned, I think Ireland are a real outside bet. They’ve got everything that’s needed to win this as they showed against England in the Six Nations earlier this year. If they get their act together, they’ve got the quality of player and all the necessary attributes to go all the way. Besides it would be good to see somebody else up there, other than the 3 southern hemisphere sides and England. If they can overcome Australia they could potentially meet England in the semis. If that happens, then all bets are off. All the plans get turned upside down and it just boils down to 15 men against 15 in a one-off game with all hell let loose. That’s what I meant about the 6-game-scenario: if you get on a run and get into the right frame of mind, then anything’s possible. Look at England last time if you want an example of that. They played pretty awfully really, and had a bit of good fortune in their kicking game against Australia, but they obviously had the right spirit and momentum and ended up in the final.”
“I don’t think Wales or Scotland will do that well. Wales continue to have an inflated opinion of themselves and their capabilities. Obviously they’ve been unlucky with injuries, but I really don’t think they’ve got what it takes to win the competition. The problem seems to be that they’re always likely to loose the games you’d expect them to win against sides like Tonga and Samoa. Last time they lost to Fiji when no-one would have expected it.”
“Scotland are actually pretty ordinary if we’re being honest. There’s no disrespect intended. I think Andy Robinson’s done a good job, but I just can’t see then upsetting England in the group stages. Their World Cup hinges on the Argentina game. If they can beat them and qualify with England into the knock out stages, they’ll have done well.”
Is it pre-destined that the All Blacks will lift the trophy on their own patch?
“Obviously you’d have to be a brave man to bet against New Zealand, particularly as they’ve got home advantage. I’m a big fan of the All Blacks: let’s face it they are very, very impressive. Everything points to them winning the competition, but nothing’s ever guaranteed. They were the favourites for the last 2 or 3 World Cups, but they didn’t deliver. If they have a weakness that’s it: they don’t cope so well with expectations and being the favourites. It’s almost like they’ve got this albatross around their necks, and that obviously seems to pray on their minds.”