World Cup veteran Simon Easterby believes the 2015 competition will be more open than any before with as many as nine countries capable of success.
The British Lion, who played in two World Cups with Ireland, will be an avid spectator when the tournament arrives on these shores in three years.
The scene is already set after the pool draw was hosted in London yesterday and the 12 nations already qualified discovered who they must overcome.
Inevitably, a ‘pool of death’ emerged with England, Wales and Australia all pitted together.
Someone will miss out on the quarter-finals from that trio but ex-Harrogate and Leeds Tykes flanker Easterby foresees some other potential upsets given the improved competitiveness of the world game.
“You don’t ever want to go in to a World Cup knowing who’s going to make the semis,” he told the Yorkshire Post.
“With the next one, that shouldn’t really be the case.
“It’s going to be less predictable than previous World Cups and that’s really important for the tournament and the game as a whole.
“It’s a bit of a shame one of those teams (England, Wales and Australia) is going to miss out on the quarter-finals but that’s the nature of the draw and it certainly makes it interesting.
“Looking at it, any one of eight or nine sides could go on and win this next World Cup.”
Improving Samoa, who defeated Wales this autumn, are ranked seventh in the world and are seen by the Yorkshireman as one of those who could stir things up.
They are grouped with South Africa and Scotland with Easterby reflecting: “That’s another tough pool. If Samoa can continue progressing as a force they are as good a side as anyone on their day.
“You can see what they can do. They obviously need to keep that squad together, but they did well in the last World Cup and nearly got to the quarter-final.
“Argentina are in the Championship now, too, with the big southern hemisphere sides so they can start to develop some consistency.
“Coming into this 2015 tournament there will be more teams being more competitive, but Samoa are certainly worth watching out for.
“They don’t always get it right and maybe don‘t get their preparation time either, but as an out-and-out rugby team, their players are as good as you’ll see anywhere.
“When you look at New Zealand and see how many Samoans have played for the All Blacks over the years it shows.
“Whichever sides comes through that group will definitely deserve it. It’s not a group Scotland would have hoped for.
“What you are going to get with both South Africa and Samoa is physicality and maybe that’s something Scotland are light on at the minute.”
Easterby, now head coach at Llanelli after bringing a close to his illustrious playing career two years ago, undoubtedly knows what it takes to progress through such a testing pool.
“In my first World Cup in 2003 we had a tough group with Australia and Argentina,” he recalled.
“It was similar to England with Wales and Australia now.
“It put three of the best nine teams in the world in one group and we just scraped through to get to the quarter-final.
“We then met a French side that clicked on the day, like the French sometimes can, but it was a great World Cup for me. I felt I’d been involved in something special.
“Four years later in 2007 was the other end of the scale; we didn’t function as a team and didn’t really enjoy the tournament.
“We didn’t play particularly well and it was a bit of a disaster really but – aside from playing for the Lions – featuring in a World Cup was a real highlight for me.”
Easterby believes England’s shock win over world champions New Zealand on Saturday has renewed belief that 2015 could spring some surprises.
“You can never go too far away from picking New Zealand and it’d be no surprise if they won it again,” he said.
“But England have showed they’re not unbeatable and it’s a good thing for world rugby that they did. Although the All Blacks had gone 20 games unbeaten, England have now shown other teams that they aren’t invincible.”
Many of the current New Zealand side, including captain Richie McCaw, centres Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith plus prop Tony Woodcock, will be nearing their mid-30s when the tournament comes around, so they could be caught in a transition period.
However, Easterby warned: “The amazing thing about New Zealand is they probably have players playing in the NPC now that we haven’t even heard of who will just come in and take over if any of their players do pack in or head to Japan or France.
“But it’s so difficult to predict what will happen at the next World Cup as it is still so far away.
“England will fancy themselves on the back of that New Zealand win but, if they’d not beaten the All Blacks, this autumn series would have been considered a big disappointment with just one win against Fiji.”
Easterby, 37, is a former Leeds team-mate of England coach Stuart Lancaster and he praised him for the manner in which he held his nerve when the Red Rose came under fire for poor decision-making.
“I know Stuart has praised the players for that All Blacks win, but a lot of credit has got to go to him for the fact he did not react too much,” he said.
“England got some stick for what happened against South Africa and Australia, but then didn’t go too far away from what they were doing in training.
“It paid off. They came out and played the best rugby against the best side in the world.”
Easterby, obviously, has his finger on the pulse when it comes to the Welsh game considering his current role and a long playing career with Llanelli.
Wales may be on a seven-match losing run but he believes they, too, could prove a real force in 2015.
“Wales have probably had the toughest autumn fixtures with Samoa, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand,” he said.
“That’s a difficult list and there’s been some small margins.
“They just missed out on beating Australia at the weekend losing in the last minute and, let’s not forget, they are Six Nations grand slam champions and reached the World Cup semis last year.
“So much can happen between now and 2015. But it should be a very competitive World Cup.”
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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Temperature: 6 C to 12 C
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