Steve Hansen slams World Cup draw and says Wales' rivals have 'easy' ride
Former Wales and New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has criticised the lopsided World Cup draw that will see three of the world's top five sides crash out of the tournament before the semi-finals.
The draw for this year's tournament in France was done back in December 2020, based on the world rankings from the start of that year due to the coronavirus pandemic. As such, the seeding for this year's tournament was determined by where teams were placed just months after the last World Cup in Japan.
The result of that is Pool A and B being loaded with the teams that currently occupy the top five rankings in the world - Ireland, France, New Zealand, South Africa and Scotland. One of Scotland, South Africa and Ireland will bow out of the group stages, while the other four face each other in the quarter-finals.
SIGN UP: Get the latest exclusive stories and breaking rugby headlines sent straight to your inbox for free with our daily newsletter.
The likes of Wales, England and Australia sit on the other side of the draw - with Warren Gatland's side in particular benefitting from the early draw after a World Cup cycle spent languishing further down the rankings.
Such has been Wales' form in recent years that Hansen didn't even see fit to name the country that he coached between 2002 and 2004 as benefiting from an easier draw, let alone as a contender for the Webb Ellis trophy - with the former All Black coach instead claiming that England and Australia will have an "easy ride".
Speaking ahead of his World XV side taking on Eddie Jones' Barbarians at Twickenham this weekend, Hansen questioned why the World Cup draw was so one-sided.
"The World Cup is going to be great," he said. You've got so many good teams.
"One of the outcomes of the All Blacks being strong as they were for a while is it's driven everyone else to rise to that level. Some have gone beyond it. Isn't that exciting? You see some wonderful rugby.
"I don't get the draw, when you've got all the top five countries on one side of the draw. They've got to get a draw done, I guess. It doesn't make sense to me. There's going to be one of the top three countries in the world kicked out in the quarter-finals.
"People will berate them if they get kicked out, but they're playing one of the top two teams in the world. There's not much difference between them and someone has to lose. Heaven forbid who it's going to be."
As for who would win, Hansen - who tasted victory with the All Blacks in 2011 and 2015 - is unsure, but is confident the victors will come from one of four teams all based on the tough side of the draw.
"It's the hardest thing in the world to win because you've got to survive three weeks in a row against really good opposition," he added. "If you have a mental slip or you're five per cent off or the other team is five per cent above themselves, you're gone.
"We saw that in Japan. England played really, really well. We were probably two or three per cent below ourselves and got the result we deserved.
"If you ask me who is capable of winning, probably France, Ireland, the All Blacks and South Africa. I think one of those four will win it.
"If you're Australia or England at the moment, you're rubbing your hands, aren't you? You'll get an easy ride in there if you do things right.
"Scotland are number five in the world and they're in the pool with number one and three. Ugly old pool. They call it the pool of death. That's what they said in 2015 with Australia, England and Wales.
"Look at the World Cup and they're on the right side of the pools. They're not going to be knocking one another out.
"Like I said, five of the top teams are going to be gone (on other side of draw). So they're a big shout.
"I think England are a big shout for the same reason. They're on that side of the pool being left alone while the big boys knock each other out.
• None What the loss of Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric actually means for Wales and how Gatland will plug the gaps at World Cup
• None Wales star Cory Hill announces he is leaving Japan, triggering a race for his signature from Welsh regions and French clubs
• None The transfers Wales' four regions will target over the coming weeks to fill the gaps
• None The seismic 80 minutes that shook the Wales rugby team and raised an obvious question
• None Meet Tomi Lewis, the Welsh rugby speedster returning to Wales who Shane Williams is really excited about