'They've all got a chance': Northern Hemisphere backed for World Cup glory
SPOTLIGHT: Lawrence Dallaglio believes the gap with the Southern Hemisphere has never been narrower to offer European nations hope a year out from the Rugby World Cup.
A tournament that begins with a monumental clash between hosts France and New Zealand in Paris on September 8 has never been more open with as many as six teams capable of winning.
Dallaglio’s England vintage of 2003 are the only side from north of the equator to have lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in nine editions of the global event, but recent results have sent shockwaves through the established order.
Ireland claimed a historic series victory in New Zealand, England toppled Australia on their July tour and a depleted Wales pushed reigning champions South Africa close over three Tests.
France, meanwhile, completed the Grand Slam earlier this year and are favourites to seize the Springboks’ crown.
“It’s hard to win the World Cup, especially away from home,” former England captain Dallaglio told the PA news agency.
“I thought that England would have done it again by now.
“There have been nine World Cups and eight of them have been won by the Southern Hemisphere, so either they’re just better than us or we shoot ourselves in the foot a little bit. It’s probably a mixture of the two.
“But having said that, at no point since 1987 when New Zealand won the first one have the Southern Hemisphere been as close as they are now.
“France, Ireland and possibly England have got as good a chance as they’ve had in any previous year. If you get your run right, you can win a World Cup. They’ve all got a chance and it’s exciting.”
Japan staged a uniquely brilliant World Cup three years ago and while Dallaglio is backing France to also be a success, he insists their national side may struggle beneath the weight of expectation.
“I think France will give it a good go of putting the tournament on in their own way,” the England great said.
“But whether the host nation can win a World Cup when all their players are up on billboards around the country … that creates a bit of pressure.
“They wobbled against us in 2007 when they lost the semifinal in their own country. It’s tough and it brings its own pressure, but they seem to have coped pretty well with it so far.”