Wed, 09 Mar 2005

From: Reuters

England vs Springboks gives familiar feel to World Cup

Mitch Phillips, Reuters/London

In the 2003 rugby World Cup, England's pool stage clash with South Africa was widely seen as key to the destination of the Webb Ellis Trophy -- and the same fixture could have a similar impact in 2007.

The fixtures for the 2007 edition based in France were released on Monday and revealed a remarkably similar path for several of the leading nations.

Holders England and South Africa are together in Pool A, where the winners will meet the runners-up of Pool B, likely to be Wales, in the quarterfinals.

Pool A's runners-up must face the Pool B winners, probably Australia, before a likely semifinal against expected Pool C winners New Zealand.

Two years ago England and South Africa faced the same early meeting.

After warming up against Georgia and Uruguay respectively, they went head to head in Perth where England emerged 25-6 winners to gain revenge for the Springboks' victory in the 1999 quarterfinals.

England then survived a scare against Samoa, who could again grace their pool as the top Oceania qualifier, before beating Wales in the quarterfinals and France in the semis while South Africa fell to New Zealand in the last eight.

France in a balmy Paris fall represent a different proposition than in the mud of Sydney in 2003, and resurgent Wales will be itching for revenge for their narrow quarterfinal defeat in Brisbane in 2003.

Looking at the draw two years ahead is never an exact science but with Wales rampant in the Six Nations they would fancy their chances against Australia in their Pool B game at their own Millennium Stadium.

However, the Wallabies have won the teams' last nine meetings. France are the main host nation but would probably find themselves playing a quarterfinal in Cardiff if they lose to Ireland in Pool D.

Under the vote-swapping deals that secured Wales the 1999 World Cup, they have been given hosting rights to three pool games and a quarterfinal -- though not one they can feature in. Ireland and France meet in the Six Nations this weekend and will clash again in Paris in September 2007.

"We have to win all our games to finish first in our pool and of course to beat Argentina in the opening game so we will be playing our quarterfinal at home," France manager Joe Maso said on Monday.

"It means we have to find a good rhythm from the start."

Argentina are not yet confirmed as France's opponents for the opening match of the tournament at the Stade de France on September 7 but will in all probability top the Americas qualifying group.

They also played hosts Australia in the first game of the 2003 World Cup.