ONE of Wales, England and Australia won’t appear in the World Cup quarter-finals, which begs the question why three potential winners were thrown together in the same pool? The answer is money… and the fact that the seeding was completed almost three years ago, at the end of 2012.
The WRU added a fourth autumn international against Australia outside the World Rugby window, just before the World Cup seedings were set in stone in December of 2012, and Wales blew it.
Kurtley Beale scored a try in the final minute of the match to consign Wales to their seventh consecutive loss, which resulted in them slipping from seventh to ninth in the world rankings.
That meant they were in the third group of teams to be drawn – along with Scotland – while Australia were in the top group ranked third and England were in the second group of nations drawn, ranked fifth. Love of money is the root of all evil and don’t the Welsh fans know it.
Obviously all the focus is on the big three but Fiji are well able to bloody a nose or two, although they may lack the strength in depth to put a run of victories together needed to qualify. Give them time together, and first dibs on their own players, and they would be challenging for the William Webb Ellis Trophy.
England should make home advantage count after seven wins on the bounce at HQ.
While their team undoubtedly lacks the sheer star quality of the class of 2003, they have a big, powerful set of forwards allied to two clever stand-offs, boyhood friends and now Test rivals, George Ford and Owen Farrell.
Jonathan Joseph, Johnny May and Anthony Watson add some stardust to the back division and full-back Mike Brown is one of the best in the business.
Wales have injury woes before the tournament has even started, Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb joining Jon Davies on the sidelines, which is a kick in the teeth.
Even with a full complement you have to wonder about Wales’ belief in their ability to overcome England at Twickenham and better the Aussies anywhere on God’s green earth since the Wallabies have won the last ten Tests between the two nations.
The Wallabies are the Rugby Championship champions and their front row is no longer the butt of European humour after getting the better of the All Blacks in Sydney.
They have a tough coach in Michael Cheika and they have backs that can score against even the meanest minded defence. In Michael Hooper and David Pocock, the Aussies boast two of the best openside flankers in world rugby and it says something about the improvement in the front five that the dynamic duo will probably play in tandem in the big games.
The worry is that Australia, England and Wales will each win one match against each other in which case this pool may well be decided by points difference so spare a thought for the poor Uruguayans who are going to be the whipping boys of the entire World Cup.
Not only are Los Teros (the Lapwings) amateur by and large but they are missing their star player, Castres’ second-row forward Rodrigo Capo Ortega who is absent to attend the birth of his son back home, or because his French club employers reached for the thumb screws, depending upon who you believe.
Uruguay recently lost by 40 points to Japan, without troubling the scoreboard themselves. Japan!
After the Wallabies, England, Wales and Fiji have all lined up to pummel them, the poor relations of world rugby are going to have to be scraped off the field with a spatula.
It will be like shooting a goldfish with a 12 bore and the collateral damage to Uruguay’s morale and to the integrity of the entire World Cup doesn’t bear thinking about.