Only the best will survive Pool of Death

Interview with former England rugby captain Martin Johnson (centre), Australian scoring ace Joe Roff (left) and Welsh stalwart Tom Shanklin, at The St. Regis Singapore on Sept 4, 2015.
Interview with former England rugby captain Martin Johnson (centre), Australian scoring ace Joe Roff (left) and Welsh stalwart Tom Shanklin, at The St. Regis Singapore on Sept 4, 2015.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The proud records by England and Australia of reaching the knockout rounds of every Rugby World Cup will be put under severe test over the next month.

Both teams find themselves in the 2015 edition's Pool of Death, grouped in Pool A alongside world No. 5 Wales, Pacific Nations Cup winners Fiji and minnows Uruguay (19).

While the South Americans are likely to be the whipping boys, the remaining nations are all gunning for top spot, which leads to an easier draw in the subsequent rounds, avoiding defending champions New Zealand until the final.

Said former Australian international Joe Roff, 39: "It's the most even World Cup I've ever seen and someone who deserves to be in the quarter-final won't be there."

The Welsh may be on a 10-match losing streak to the Wallabies, dating back to 2009, but that has not harmed their confidence, said former outside centre Tom Shanklin, 39, a member of the successful 2005 and 2008 Six Nations sides.

BATTLE READY

Whoever wins our Pool will be battle-hardened and will make the final.''

TOM SHANKLIN former Welsh player

He added during yesterday's press conference at St Regis Singapore: "Whoever wins our Pool will be battle-hardened and will make the final."

Both men, together with former England captain and coach Martin Johnson, were in Singapore as guests of MasterCard's "An Evening In The Locker Room".

Host England face Fiji on opening night on Sept 18 and Johnson was taking nothing for granted against the world No. 9.

"It's going to be dangerous. Everyone's focused on what England, Australia and Wales will do.

"But Fiji are a good side that scores tries. If they get in front, the crowd at Twickenham could get nervous and who knows what will happen."

New Zealand are seeking to become the first back-to-back Cup winners and have lost only three times since their 2011 triumph, but all three men agreed that All Blacks are beatable.

In fact, they stressed that an easy passage for Steve Hansen's side to the elimination round will work against them as they may find it tough to get out of first gear.

Said Roff, a World Cup winner in 1999: "The difference between the All Blacks and the top-six nations is nothing. No one in that top tier will fear playing them. They are favourites of course but other teams will lift themselves when they face New Zealand in the knockout stages."

Wales take on Uruguay in their opener on Sept 20, at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff while Australia get their campaign off three days later against Fiji.

Jonathan Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2015, with the headline 'Only the best will survive Pool of Death'. Print Edition | Subscribe