Pool A of the 2015 Rugby World Cup is unquestionably the “Group of Death.” This week, as expected, Fiji became the fourth nation to join the group after thrashing the Cook Islands 108-6. Pool A will feature Australia, England, Wales, Fiji and a final qualifier to be confirmed, but it is a great shame that two of these strong teams will be eliminated before the knockout stage.
As Nick Cain, writing in The Rugby Paper notes:
It is hard to believe that any other professional sporting organisation would have contemplated the own goal that the IRB have managed by putting the hosts, England, and their nearest neighbours, Wales, in jeopardy in the first stage of the event.
This only serves to highlight that the seeded draw for the World Cup should take place much nearer to the tournament, rather than nearly three years before it. France, seeded fourth for example, have had a poor few years and have dropped to seventh in the IRB World Rankings.
It was in December 2012 that the draw was made: About two years too early. With the previous World Cup finishing in late October 2011, in December 2012 the teams were at the start of a new cycle and very much in a period of transition. Seeding the teams then cannot be an accurate representation of where they will be in September 2015.
Making the draw a year out from the World Cup, perhaps now that the northern hemisphere teams have finished their tours of the south, would mean the seedings would provide a fair reflection of the team’s form and ability. It would also give the administrators more than enough time to make the necessary plans ahead of the tournament.
With South Africa in line to play the runners-up in Pool A, the implications of not topping the group may be an early exit, especially given that pool matches between Australia, England and Wales will all be high intensity.
If the draw wasn’t kind to England, the scheduling of the fixtures has been. They will play three of their four matches at Twickenham, and they start with Fiji. Within the pool, Fiji are the perfect first opponents for England before they face Wales and Australia. Fiji will provide enough of a test for England to have a good workout, but should not challenge the hosts unduly.
They will then face their toughest two games, against Wales and Australia. Should they come through those matches, they will be able to rest their key players in the final match against the yet-to-be-determined qualifier.
However, even if the advance draw makes a mockery of the seedings, the "Group of Death" in the 2015 World Cup pool stage has thrown up some mouth-watering clashes for all rugby fans to enjoy.