We’ve had three World Cups on European soil and on all three occasions a southern hemisphere team has walked away with the Webb Ellis trophy. The northern hemisphere teams are in a great position to end that stat this time around, but it doesn’t surprise that the southern hemisphere teams do so well when they come to Europe.
Being away from your local media helps. Home advantage can be a big boost, but people forget that the media are all around and the competition to get the latest scoop or the latest rumour is much more intense than it would normally be. It doesn’t affect your performance on the pitch, but when people are digging, trying to get this and that, it can become frustrating. Being away from their domestic media and not having to see headlines can give the southern hemisphere teams a sense of freedom that they wouldn’t have at home.
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The Kiwi media have a real love/hate thing with the team. I know from talking to some of the lads, when they’re winning, they’re 100% on your side, but when something goes wrong, they absolutely want to nail them. I’d imagine it’s a similar story in Australia and in particular – South Africa. It’s the journalists’ job, but it doesn’t show unity and that we’re all pulling in the one direction. If the press was more positive rather than trying to seek out the latest drama or catch out whichever player, it helps the public get behind the team and it’s better for everyone.
Black to a similar story
The All Blacks are the defending champs and the ones to beat. I’ve played against them three times and I’ve yet to win. What stood out to me is their skill set and their ability to execute skills under immense pressure. They know how to commit defenders, create one on ones and once they do that, they nearly always punish you. The number of world class players they have across the pitch also helps!
There’s no fear factor when it comes to playing them. The Haka gets me going as much as it does them. They just have a Barcelona-type ability to grind it out. It may seem like look, but they only get that luck because they’ve worked hard enough to get themselves in the position to take advantage.
My time in Australia hasn’t given me a huge insight on their squad at this World Cup. They’ve changed coach a couple of times since. Michael Cheika has things down pat already and their back line is outrageous in terms of talent. You see Kurtley Beale on the bench and realise how much talent they’ve got in their team.
Lots of Six appeal
Having seen the Six Nations teams up close and personal, it wouldn’t surprise me to see any of England, Ireland, Wales and France go really far into the tournament. France have been inconsistent, but they’ve got that track record of getting it right at World Cups.
Wales bring the power game and the great coaching set-up. Losing Leigh Halfpenny is a blow, but Liam Williams is a really exciting talent. He’s such an elusive runner and he’s got all the tricks. His footwork is exceptional. He doesn’t have Leigh’s place-kicking, but you’ve got Dan Biggar who can do that and overall it doesn’t weaken them much. You never know, with the injuries they’ve had, it gives another player the chance to make a name for himself on the biggest stage of all – someone who was under the radar bit may be determined to take the chance handed to him and be an unexpected star.
In a strange way, the toughness of Pool A could work in favour of whoever gets out of the group. With such crucial games so early on in the competition, the teams going on to the quarter-finals are going to be much more battle-hardened than other teams. Shaun Edwards used to say that when I was at Wasps – we made a habit of finishing fourth in the Premiership, but he’d remind us that the tougher route to the Grand Final worked in our favour.
If England come out of the pool, they will have already have played two of the top eight teams in the world and they’ll be ready for anyone.
Could the grass be greener for Ireland at this World Cup?
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We haven’t seen all Ireland have to offer. Joe Schmidt strikes me as one of those coaches that always has something up his sleeve. They’ve got the talent all over the field. Johnny Sexton controls things so well, Conor Murray is one of the best nines in the world and then there’s a formidable pack.
When you combine technical ability with clever coaching and add in a bit of flair, you’ve got a team capable of winning a World Cup – 100%. Now they need to get the mentality right and perform when it matters.
The reality is, there are about seven or eight teams who aren’t separated by a huge amount. It will be about who delivers on the day – that’s what makes World Cups so fascinating. Bring it on.