Rugby World Cup 2015: England enter 'Group of Death'

Will Lancaster put faith in Farrell?

Following the euphoria around England's demolition of the All Blacks on Saturday, a tough draw at the next Rugby World Cup has given Stuart Lancaster and his team a stark reminder of the big task facing them... 

England are now installed as 3.3512/5 favourites for the 2013 Six Nations, so that will be good experience of playing under the sort of pressure that will come with a home World Cup.

A World Cup wouldn't be a World Cup without a Group of Death, would it?  It appears it actually began as a Spanish phrase - grupo de la muerte - created by Mexican journalists in 1970 when England, Brazil, Czechoslovakia and Romania were together in the first stage of the tournament.

Since then no major football tournament seems to have come and gone without one qualifying pool or another being given the tag. The ultimate was the second phase of the 1982 tournament in Spain that put Argentina, Italy and Brazil together with only one to go through.

But it's not only in football. This year's Twenty20 cricket world cup had a deliciously evil group with Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh scrapping it out. And here we are, a day after the draw for the 2015 rugby world cup, with Stuart Lancaster contemplating how to get through the challenge of Pool A against Australia and Wales.

There literally could not have been a tougher draw. Even the two spaces reserved for a couple of the game's developing nations present a potential hazard, whether it be the flair of Fiji as the most likely winners of the Oceania group or the physical power of Georgia or Russia as the probable European play-off side.

Wales have already made moves to get their game with England scheduled for the Millenium Stadium. And if you read that and thought "no chance", if you reckoned England as hosts would be guaranteed their two biggest games would be at Twickenham, well think again. England Rugby 2015 chief executive Debbie Jevans is warning that Lancaster's side will get no special favours as the home country.
So getting in the top two will be tough, and all the tougher if one of the games turns out to be an away fixture. But even then it might not be good enough. Finishing runners-up will most likely put South Africa and New Zealand in the path to the final which would make it a whole tournament of death, never mind just a group.

England under Lancaster remain very much a work in progress. Saturday's win over the All Blacks was a marvellous performance, and exciting to see the faith I had put in last week's column in Owen Farrell's potential was justified. But whether they yet deserve their current status as 6.411/2 second favourites to win the 2015 World Cup is a different matter.

The euphoria that followed a win at Twickenham made it all too easy to forget a very average performance against the Aussies a week earlier. The big change that brought in Farrell at fly-half was forced on Lancaster through injury, and at times it seems he can be over cautious about how quickly he will bring through new talent.

Having seen what the young fly-half can do, though, his best option must be to be brave and waste no more time to blood the players he sees as the potential stars in two years. England are now installed as 3.3512/5 favourites for the 2013 Six Nations, so that will be good experience of playing under the sort of pressure that will come with a home World Cup.

The good news is that at least the draw has left nobody in any doubt about the size of the challenge ahead. The sooner England start getting their heads around their Group of Death, the better.

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