Springboks lie in wait for England's defence of World Cup

Click to follow
The Independent Online

England, the world champions in name if not in current performance, will begin their defence of the Webb Ellis Trophy in Lens - hardly the most electrifying of rugby venues - when the sixth global tournament unfolds in France in the early autumn of 2007. They will take on the third and least fancied of the American qualifiers, probably Canada or the United States, which should add some spice to the forthcoming Churchill Cup competitions, which take place on the far side of the Atlantic each summer.

England, the world champions in name if not in current performance, will begin their defence of the Webb Ellis Trophy in Lens - hardly the most electrifying of rugby venues - when the sixth global tournament unfolds in France in the early autumn of 2007. They will take on the third and least fancied of the American qualifiers, probably Canada or the United States, which should add some spice to the forthcoming Churchill Cup competitions, which take place on the far side of the Atlantic each summer.

As in 2003, the pivotal match in England's group will be the second, against the Springboks - a fixture earmarked for the bigger of the two Parisian stadiums, Stade de France, six days after the Americas 3 game. The holders then have a break of eight days before travelling to Nantes to play the leading qualifiers from Oceania - the smart money is on Fiji - before returning to the capital to conclude the pool phase against one of the repêchage qualifiers, who could turn out to be just about anybody.

Assuming England make it to the last eight - and they will have to try mighty hard to mess it up - they will play their quarter-final in Marseilles, a wonderfully atmospheric venue. Their opponents will be emerge from Pool B, where Australia and Wales are the top-of-the-bill acts. That night on the Mediterranean will be quite something.

The organisers have come up with a compact 44-day schedule - pretty much as tight as can be with a 20-team format - and compressed the pool stage into three weeks and four weekends. There are the usual issues with programming. Argentina, who will probably launch the competition with a game against France in Paris, must play again four days later, while the hosts have a 24-day pool regime, including two nine-day breaks. As for the poor old repêchage teams, four games in 16 days gives them the sporting equivalent of a snowball's chance in hell.

However, the schedule is fairer than the 2003 version in Australia, which effectively crippled the likes of Italy. The most jarring aspects of the draw are the three games in Cardiff - purely by coincidence, Wales will play the Wallabies there, - and the two in Edinburgh. Rugby politics has a lot to answer for.

Comments