The last two weeks have been entirely focused on the announcement of each country’s 31 man Rugby World Cup squad. Hearts were broken and dreams were shattered, but it is all part of the beautiful game. We take a look at how the managers’ selections will affect the top teams; performances at RWC 2015
Warren Gatland has again demonstrated his typical tenacious mind-set by deciding to drop veterans Mike Phillips, James Hook and Richard Hibbard weeks before the selection date for RWC2015. Once again the Kiwi showed he has little sympathy for players, a trait Brian O’Driscoll knows all too well. Similarly, in the Southern Hemisphere, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has decided to include Waisake Naholo in his plans, after he “miraculously” recovered from a broken leg injury that should have ruled him out for another 2 months. There are questions being asked as to how someone could recover from a cracked fibula, weeks after the injury occurring. Naholo claims his uncle applied traditional leaves known as kawakawarau on to leg for four days and when he removed them the injury was gone. It also came as a surprise to most when Stuart Lancaster selected Slammin’ Sam Burgess ahead of Luther Burrell, who had started every RBS 6 Nations game this year.
However, the biggest risk of the tournament surely has to be Michael Cheika and The Wallabies coaching staff for their decision to only choose two scrum halves and two hookers. Although some other coaches have gone down the same route by only choosing two scrum halves, his selection of back up of hooker has been slated. Tatafu Polota-Nau will act as cover to captain Stephen Moore, having played minimal game time due to numerous concussions. We might just see Cheika make an early call home for an alternative option, such as James Hanson.
As far as favourites of the competition go, it’s difficult to look past New Zealand. Although they proved to overcome their ‘curse’ of not turning up to World Cup tournaments, there is still an element to their game that can be broken down when they’re away from home. This was proven by their performance in Sydney when they were beaten 27-19 by The Wallabies. We can’t overlook the hosts of this year’s tournament, England. The only concern for the English is their lack of experience, with James Haskell being their most capped player (60), as opposed to their 2003 winning team that featured stars such as Wilkinson (91), Dallagio (85), Johnson (84) and Dawson (77).
The controversy earlier last week with regard to the Springboks’ squad consisting of ‘too many white players’, could have an affect on their chances. The young fresh ‘Boks’ cannot let the media overpower them and get in their heads leading up to the biggest tournament in rugby history.
The underdogs of the tournament have to be the French. Teams will always be wary of the unpredictability of the French and the danger they pose but few will see them as contenders to lift the Webb Ellis. That said, they put their foot down and held their ground this month with their back to back performances against the English. The score line in Paris didn’t reflect the performance of the French, but they cut open the English defence (which is renowned for being rock solid) on numerous occasions.
If there was ever an opportunity for The Irish to win a World Cup, this is the year. From an Irish perspective, fans were disappointed not to see 2014 player of the year Andrew Trimble involved in the panel, but the Ulster man had been set back with numerous injuries throughout the year which hindered his opportunities.
Although Brian O’Driscoll, the man they refer to as God in Ireland, isn’t gracing us with his presence this time round, Ireland have their tails up with back to back RBS 6 nations trophies and a two time European Cup winning manager, Joe Schmidt behind them. The only concern is the consistency of Johnny Sexton, the leader of the Irish backline which has been slated recently by Warren Gatland for being too narrow and not threatening out wide. Sexton will have to dictate to his backs, and bring some of that flair we saw in 2011/2012 with Leinster, if Ireland are to stand a chance in the latter stages of the tournament.
This year’s World Cup is going to be wide open as there are so many factors playing a part in each team’s chances. The weather, the location, the fans; it is set up to be a cracker.