Hosts face tough early games at RWC

England's chances of leaving Pool A have taken another hit
England's chances of leaving Pool A have taken another hit

As if England's Pool A wasn't tough enough, the 'group of death' just had its' status well and truly reinforced.

Anyone who has been watching commercial TV recently will have seen that the evergreen Tom Cruise has released another Mission Impossible. The latest in the franchise will no doubt feature seemingly impossible missions (hence the title) but will, inevitably, end well.

This, however, is increasingly looking not to be the case for English and Welsh rugby fans. Pool A was tough from the outset, but is quickly becoming a mission impossible of it’s own.

England face Wales, Australia, Fiji and Uruguay. Whilst England and Wales will be confident of a comfortable win over the South Americans, that is the only fixture that can be viewed as such.

Fiji always produce at World Cups, one of the smaller nations that are always crowd favourites with their exciting brand of rugby and David v Goliath connotations.

However, bad news broke for English, Welsh and Australian rugby supporters this week, as Fiji claimed the Pacific Nations Cup with a 39 – 29 win over Samoa in the Final, scoring five tries. Last year they lost out to Japan in the Final. This year the Pacific Islanders went one better and at the perfect time, it seem they are timing their run in to the World Cup with perfection and could leave the hosts embarrassed on the opening night on  Friday 18 September just like the Pumas did to France in 2007 (and again in the third place play-off).

Australia have also continued their revival, under Michael Cheika, showing steel in this year’s Rugby Championship. A late winner versus the Springboks showed a determination and hard edge to the Wallabies that had been missing in past years. And backing it up with a comfortable win over Argentina has left them with an opportunity to win the competition should they beat New Zealand in the final round.

Australia, like Fiji, are peaking at the perfect moment and should carry a lot of momentum and confidence into a World Cup group that always looked close, but now seems impossible to call.

For Wales and England, who before the latest rounds of international fixtures would have been reasonably confident of making it through the group, these are nervy times.

News from the camps seem positive, apart from a worry over North’s fitness for the Welsh, but of course it was always going to be. The cloak and dagger of World Cup PR campaigns was always going to leave us in the dark, only those in the inner sanctums of the camps really knowing what is going on.

It is easy to see how the Wallabies and Fiji are progressing, but for the other two, currently locked up behind the closed doors of training camps, it is hard for anyone on the outside to tell how they are progressing.

And despite media reports saying training is going well; no one, including the coaches, will really have an idea until the World Cup warm up matches. Training, no matter how hard, is never the same as a the fireworks of a match.

England face off against France and Ireland. Ireland, the Six Nations Champions, will always be a tough test. The French, quite frankly who knows. They are always feared and rightly so. Les Blues can, on their day, beat anyone. But, confusingly, can also be dreadful.

Wales have warm ups versus Ireland and Italy, both of whom will pose tough challenges, the passion and fire power up front of the Azzurri always a threat. All they need now is a ten to hold it together.

Pool A is getting increasingly hard to call. After Uruguay Fiji are, on paper, the weakest in the group, but having just claimed the Pacific Nations Cup they are no walk over. Australia are within toughing distance of the Rugby Championship and a clean sweep over their Southern Hemisphere rivals and until England and Wales take to the field no one really knows how they are shaping up. As I said, tough to call.

There are now less than 50 days to go until the start of the World Cup, and that means less than 50 days for the teams to get ready. For Lancaster’s charges the expectations of a nation rest heavily on their shoulders, and with losing experienced players for disciplinary reasons and their group rivals on the up, mission impossible keeps getting harder.


2015 Rugby World Cup - Points Table