World Cup: Gatland has sympathy for rival Lancaster after sorry England’s exit

Wales boss Warren Gatland has condemned the “ridiculous” decision to draw the 2015 World Cup pools almost three years ago.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland.

England became the biggest group stage casualties in World Cup history, on the back of successive Twickenham defeats against Wales and Australia.

And Gatland, whose squad arrived in Weybridge on Sunday ahead of next weekend’s Pool A decider against Australia, did not hold back.

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“We knew how tough this group was going to be right from the start, and not just with England, Australia and ourselves, because Fiji are a tough proposition as well,” he said.

“I think if Fiji had been in a couple of other groups, they would have qualified for the quarter-finals as well. It has been not just the group of death, but the group of hell, basically, for all of us.

“Everyone is making a thing about the first home country to hold a World Cup to miss out on the quarter-finals, but the stupid thing, as we all know, is why was the World Cup draw done three years ago?

“That’s just ridiculous as far as I am concerned. If they had followed the football model, then we wouldn’t be in this position.

“There are other people outside this who need to have a look at themselves and why those decisions were made, and you have got to feel sorry for the people involved and who this has affected.”

England’s 33-13 loss to Australia means it is their worst World Cup performance.

Gatland said: “Australia have done us a massive favour, but I felt with 15-20 minutes to go, it was like sitting in the (coaches’) box myself because you are going through the emotions of what the coaches are doing.

“I turned around and said to my wife that what happens in the next 20 minutes changes people’s lives, whether it is ours or people involved with England.

“You have got to put things into perspective.

“It’s great that we have qualified, but you have got to feel for other people involved in other teams because there is a huge amount at stake. It’s families and livelihoods and all that sort of stuff.”

Asked if he had sympathy for under-fire England head coach Stuart Lancaster, Gatland said: “Absolutely.

“For what he has done when he took over the job, in terms of the discipline he has instilled in that side and how his players conduct themselves, I have a huge amount of respect for what he has done.

“If Stuart does get an opportunity to continue, this is potentially a massive moment for him as a coach and he will look back on the experiences of the World Cup and the Six Nations, where he has been so close.

“Those experiences will make him a better coach and you learn from defeats and failures, rather than the successes.

“There were a couple of moments of brilliance from Australia. They are always capable of doing that.

“The sin-binning (of England fly-half Owen Farrell) was a huge point in the game. When England came back and started to move the ball, they put Australia under some pressure. At 20-13, the game was in the balance.”

Asked if he felt Lancaster should continue as England head coach, Gatland said: “That’s not my decision.”

Wales will now go flat out for victory over Australia - they have lost 10 Tests in a row against the Wallabies - knowing that winning the group is set to mean a quarter-final against Scotland or Japan, while progressing as runners-up probably means a last-eight appointment with South Africa.

“There was always that belief in the squad that we were good enough to qualify. Not that anyone believed us, but we kept telling people how hard we worked,” Gatland added.

“We kept saying we have been through some pain, and we have coped brilliantly with the injuries that we have been dealt with. As a squad, we have shown a unity and self-belief and real character. That has been there for us from day one.

“A lot of people have written us off, and we have demonstrated that character when we are under pressure.”