England coach Stuart Lancaster is undaunted by the prospect of having to negotiate the traditional ‘pool of death’ to taste potential success at the 2015 World Cup.
Any hopes that the host nation might get a favourable draw were quickly dispelled yesterday as they were placed in the same group as twice winners Australia and reigning Six Nations champions Wales.
That is arduous enough but England know if they progress out of there they are also likely to face both South Africa and world champions New Zealand to fulfil any dreams of even reaching the final.
However, Lancaster is relishing the prospect of taking on such notable names and said: “If you want to win the World Cup you’ve got to win big games.
“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for what Wales have done and we know their squad pretty well already.
“They’ve a young side with plenty of players still in their early 20s while Australia have just beaten us and are incredibly competitive. It’s a few years away but it’s unbelievably exciting to be leading England towards this.”
Lancaster experienced the All Blacks winning the World Cup on home turf last year and hopes to see his England side become only the third side to achieve such a feat in what will, then, be its 28th anniversary.
“Twelve months ago I went out to New Zealand to sample things, walking the streets around the city and seeing the impact it had on that place,” added the ex-Leeds Carnegie coach.
“We’ve seen from our own point of view what the Olympics has done to our country and the next big sporting event here is the World Cup in 2015.
“By that time, everyone will be absolutely revved up and ready for it.”
The Welsh Rugby Union have already ‘revved’ things up, however, by last night launching an audacious bid to stage their matches against England and Australia at the Millennium Stadium.
The Cardiff venue was included in England’s original bid document and debate has raged as to whether Wales should be afforded home advantage for any of their major pool fixtures.
While England may not play all their pool matches at Twickenham, it seems inconceivable that Lancaster’s men would be ordered to play against Wales in Cardiff.
But tournament organisers England Rugby 2015 last night refused to rule out the possibility.
WRU chief executive Roger Lewis said: “It is very important to remember that Wales was included in England’s bid for matches in the Millennium Stadium.
“What was pencilled in (for the Millennium Stadium) was eight games and the Welsh government and Cardiff city council would provide financial support to the tune of £1.4m.
“The UK treasury supported the under-writing of the competition and, of course, Wales is still part of the United Kingdom.
“We would be very welcoming hosts. The discussions will now begin.
“I think they (England) would embrace the opportunity to play in the finest rugby stadium in the world. I think everything must be up for discussion because it is the finest rugby stadium in the world.”
ER2015 will spend the next three months piecing together the fixtures and the venues before announcing the final schedule in March. The Millennium Stadium is one of 17 venues on the list, including Leeds United’s Elland Road ground.
Wales, World Cup semi-finalists last year, were already resigned to a demanding pool after carelessly dropping outside the top eight-ranked teams following successive autumn defeats against Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
They and England are expected to be joined by Fiji as Oceania qualifiers and perhaps Uruguay as play-off winners while New Zealand have secured the simplest draw with Argentina and Tonga in their group so far.
There is a Six Nations feel to Pool D where Ireland, France and Italy do battle while struggling Scotland face a tricky prospect of qualifying given South Africa and Samoa are alongside them in Pool B.
If the 2015 tournament follows its current seeding path, then the quarter-finals would see South Africa face England, New Zealand tackle Ireland, Australia meet Samoa and France take on Argentina.
But it is perhaps futile talking about sides’ chances now given what can happen in the intervening period.
England, crowned 2003 world champions after they beat Australia in a gripping final, have never previously been drawn in the same World Cup group as Wales.
Their last World Cup meeting was during the 2003 tournament in Brisbane, when England trailed at half-time before securing a tense quarter-final triumph.
And the last time England and Australia found themselves in the same pool was at the inaugural World Cup 25 years ago.
England captain Chris Robshaw: “It’s going to be tough, but all the pools are pretty tough, aren’t they?
“It’s about going out there and making sure we hit the ground running and it’ll be great for the fans.
“We’ll cross paths with Australia next autumn and we’ve got a couple of Six Nations (tournaments) with Wales and a couple of warm-up games with them too.
“We will get to know each other pretty well.”
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