Giteau backs England to finish on top of Pool A

Matt Giteau

Australian “utility-back” Matt Giteau says that Rugby World Cup hosts England
are the favourites to finish on top of Pool A and ahead of Australia.

Thirty-two-year-old Giteau spent the last four years as an international rugby
exile but is now back in the Wallabies squad and will be playing in his third
World Cup.

Giteau missed out on the 2011 Rugby World Cup but in the meantime he has been
winning European Rugby Cup titles and a Top 14 title with his French Club Toulon.

Australia are now pooled with England and Wales in Pool A and one of the three
who are all in world rugby’s top five rankings but one of the three will miss
out on the quarter finals.

“You’d have to say England are the favourites in that group. At
Twickenham, their record speaks for itself, ” Giteau told the Independent.

“That’s where they play some great rugby. They’ve got a good
record against Wales and Australia at Twickenham.”

“The styles they showed in the Six Nations, both England and Wales, the
variety to their game that no one expected. They gave players like Jonathan
Joseph and George Ford an opportunity and they’ve come on in leaps and
bounds. They’re players Australia haven’t really had an opportunity
to play against.”

“Imagine a World Cup final there at Twickenham, the home of rugby, to
win a World Cup at home. I was close in 2003, but we lost to Jonny.” Giteau
told the Independent.

“I only say that because he always tells me he won it single-handedly.”

Giteau said that Australia had also kept a close eye on Wales during the Six
Nations and the manner in which they improved through the tournament was not
missed by the Wallabies.

“To see Wales, the way they built throughout the Six Nations, that was
scary for Australia. You can see them getting better and better going into the
World Cup.”

“Looking at the Six Nations, how close it was, the style of rugby that
they played, and that was through the winter… when you play them in dry conditions
they’re going to be even better.”

Australia also head into the Rugby World Cup with some form as they won their
first Rugby Championship title in four years and Giteau says that they are are
not far behind England.

“But on the flipside, Australia hasn’t been beaten comprehensively
by England in a long time, so you only need change one or two things and the
result could go the other way.”

Australia and England played each other last year but new coach Michael Cheika
had only been in charge for a number of weeks

“Look at Cheika’s history as a coach,” says Giteau.

“When he came in to Leinster he put in his structures and his plays, the
players become confident, and then the second year he starts to win trophies.”

“Then he did the same in Super Rugby. The Waratahs [whom Cheika took over
in 2013] weren’t that good, then in the second year they won the competition.”

“Hopefully that trend will continue with the Wallabies. It’s just
about the players getting used to how he wants them to play.

“I don’t think the players and the coach are getting too bogged
down in where they stand in the world. We’re a good team. We’ll
be competitive at the World Cup. We certainly have a team that can win it.”

Giteau also pointed out that England and Wales have such impressive stadiums
that thier home advantage could count against them in the coming World Cup.

“The problem that England have, and Wales are very similar, is that their
stadiums are so great to play in, they have such a great atmosphere that…
it’s not that you don’t fear it, but you look forward to playing
there, and that can work against them.

“If players look forward to playing you, then they forget they’re
in someone else’s home ground. With the stadium, the atmosphere, the ‘Swing
Low’ and all that, yeah it’s intimidating, but it’s enjoyable
too, because it’s so spectacular. When you walk into Twickenham, and you
walk out on that little red rug, you can’t not be excited.”

Australia will play England and Wales at Twickenham and Fiji at the Millennium
Stadium and luckily Giteau has won a club title at both venues in recent years.

“I’ve got some great memories of the Millennium Stadium, you know,
the Heineken Cup [Giteau and Toulon won the final there in 2014]. For me that’s
the best stadium in the world to play in, and one that I really look forward
to. I’ve had some success there as an international too.

“Twickenham, it’s been more of a mixed bag. They’re both
tough, but I’d say Twickenham is more intimidating. If you’re winning,
neither crowd is intimidating. If you’re losing, and you start hearing
‘Swing Low’, you know you’re not playing that well and England
are starting to dominate you a little bit.”

When Giteau faced England in his first world cup they had a settled team with
arguably only scrumhalf being the position that was not settled as Kieran Bracken
and Matt Dawson battling each other for selection. The current England squad
is much less of a complete item with uncertainty over the best players and combinations
in certain positions due to injuries and disciplinary problems.

“You can’t do anything about injuries,” Giteau says, “but
it looks to me that the coach is settled on his nine and 10, his hooker, the
No 8 and the captain. All your core positions. Once they’re chosen, the
team can gel quite well, and England have been settled on those for quite a
while.

“Remember that the weather here dictates how the game is going to be
played. It’s a Test match and you’ve just got to win it. While at
times it might not be the most entertaining, side-to-side, end-to-end game of
rugby, the elements within that game are still impressive. The scrummaging,
the set-piece, that will always be a huge focus for the northern hemisphere
team and they continue to dominate.”

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