Wales the demon seeds to avoid in third pot
RUGBY: The perceived wisdom is Wales will be the team to avoid in today’s draw for the 2015 World Cup after Saturday’s agonising defeat to Australia at the Millennium Stadium condemned last year’s semi-finalists and the Six Nations Grand Slam champions to the third band of seeds. But after England’s stunning 38-21 win over New Zealand, nobody will be relishing taking on the hosts either.
The draw takes place from 3pm today in the Tate Modern in London and by dint of finishing the year ranked sixth and thereby in the second band of seeds, Ireland will avoid England again in the pool stages as well as Argentina and Samoa.
Ireland and England have never met in the previous seven World Cups, whereas Ireland have bumped into Australia in the pool stages three times and twice in the knock-out stages.
Of the top four, the Wallabies might possibly be the preferred pool opponents, or at any rate New Zealand would be the ones to avoid.
For sure Wales would be the third seeds the others would least like to be drawn against, with Tonga perhaps preferred to either Italy or Scotland, although Tonga did beat France in the last World Cup.
Lurking amongst the fourth seeds, eventually, will be Fiji, so a nightmare scenario would be a pool draw alongside New Zealand, Wales and the Fijians.
Captains and coaches from the 12 directly qualified teams will be in attendance, including Declan Kidney and Brian O’Driscoll, along with representatives from teams hoping to join the party at England 2015 by securing one of the eight places available via the global qualification process, which kicked off this year and will feature 80 nations.
As well as drawing the four pools of five countries, today’s draw will also map out the knock-out stages, thereby giving all the participants a possible idea of who they might meet pending their qualification in first or second place in their respective groups.
On the domestic front, Leinster coach Joe Schmidt re-iterated that the departure of Seán O’Brien and Jonathan Sexton at half-time in the 37-3 win over Zebre on Saturday was pre-planned on a night when all “did go to plan” before next Sunday’s first of the back-to-back Heineken Cup meetings with last season’s semi-final victims Clermont.
“We wanted to ensure we got four points, reintegrated a few guys and, at the same time, not get injuries,” said Schmidt. “Seán [O’Brien] was only ever going to play 40 minutes anyway, he and Jonny. It was just a case of Seán needing a bit of game time, Jonny needing to be reintegrated and I thought they both acquitted themselves really well.”
Ulster opened up a nine-point gap in recording a 10th successive win in the Rabo Pro 12 and also completed a clean sweep on Welsh soil thanks to a 19-12 win away to second-placed Scarlets yesterday, courtesy of 14 points from the boot of Paddy Jackson and an Andrew Trimble intercept try.
Their opponents at Franklins Gardens next Friday, Northampton, have an extra two days to recover from their 27-16 win away to Sale on Friday night, which kept them third in the Premiership, while Munster’s opponents, Saracens beat Gloucester 28-23 and remain second.
Clermont will be defending a 50-game unbeaten run at their Stade Marcel Michelin fortress next Sunday.
Vern Cotter rested Brock James, Wesley Fofana and others in Saturday’s 30-22 defeat away to Toulouse – only their third loss of the season. Trailing 27-12 early in the second-half, Clermont rallied to within five points but were denied a bonus point by Luke McAlister’s late penalty.
Biarritz, who travel to Galway to meet Connacht on Friday night, were slightly fortuitous 25-22 winners at home to Bordeaux Begles (who missed 14 points from the kicking tee after trailing 18-3 at one point). Imanol Harinordoquy scored a try to mark his first game of the season after injury but Dimitri Yachvili again dictated a very slow pace off the base, which displeased club president Serge Blanco: “I’m not happy at all with what I saw,” he said. “I was cold, I didn’t see any rugby and I didn’t feel anything from this team.”