24 Feb 2019

Let's not jump to any World Cup conclusions

7:19 pm on 24 February 2019

Opinion - Apologies to any Wales fans out there. This isn't meant at all to detract from what was a thoroughly deserved and entertaining win over England this morning in Cardiff.

But please, let's not turn this into another round of the musical chairs game that is 'who will be the biggest threat to the All Blacks at the World Cup?'

Wales after 21-13 victory over England at the Six Nations Championship

Wales after 21-13 victory over England at the Six Nations Championship Photo: © INPHO 2018

Wales are, currently, a very good side. They've now won 12 tests in a row, which is a new record for them. However, you wouldn't know it around here because all we've heard about for the last couple of years is how Ireland and England are breathing down our necks.

For a couple of years, England were supposed to be the boogeymen.

Seventeen test wins in a row, then a showdown set up for last November that was supposed to be a precursor to the World Cup final.

Then England bombed out of the Six Nations, apparently were hopeless, and the game was relegated to fizzer status months before it had even been played. That's because Ireland were the new big dogs on the block, having taken won a Grand Slam.

England were cooked, Eddie Jones might lose his job, and the World Cup in Japan was looking like an awfully tall mountain to climb.

That was at the start of roughly the same time period between now and when the World Cup final will be played. As we saw last November at Twickenham, rumours of England's demise were greatly exaggerated, going down 16-15 to the All Blacks in an epic test match. They may well have won, had it not been for a TMO decision that rubbed out the winning try.

The point is, seven months is a very long time in test rugby, especially when you consider that the European teams have an off season to enjoy, recuperate and recalibrate. If Wales do go on and win the Six Nations and maybe even a Grand Slam, expect them to be touted for that entire time as a looming threat to the All Blacks.

However, England are still very much the same team that outsmarted Ireland and torched France in the last few weeks. Ireland are still very much the same team that beat the All Blacks in November.

But also remember, in 2015 Ireland only just pipped England for the Six Nations title, with the English putting 50 on France in their last game. Fast forward six months and England were dumped out of their own World Cup in pool play, with Ireland getting hammered by Argentina in their quarter final.

The key indicator won't be what's happening now in terms of results, it's just how much of those teams they can put out at full strength when they really need to.

Like the All Blacks, the biggest threat to these sides isn't just each other, it's injuries.

If any of them were to lose two or three of their best players in one hit, then you can start talking about how their chances at the World Cup have taken a blow.

If you need any more evidence of that, just have a look at the Chiefs' first two games after they managed to stagger to the 2019 Super Rugby start-line with a casualty ward in double digits.

Just who has the most depth may well win the World Cup, and that's why the All Blacks can feel reasonably confident even if something unthinkable does occur.

The health of the players in about August is what we should be looking at, rather than the results of test matches in February.