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Ex-England international hails 'genuine shift in balance of power'

By PA
(Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

Lawrence Dallaglio believes the gap with the southern hemisphere has never been narrower to offer European nations hope a year out from the 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.

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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.

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“It’s hard to win the World Cup, especially away from home. I thought that England would have done it again by now,” said BT Sport pundit Dallaglio. “There have been nine World Cups and eight of them have been won by the southern hemisphere, so either they are 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 has the southern hemisphere been as close as they are now. Very recently the top four in the world rankings were from the northern hemisphere. There has been a genuine shift in the balance of power, but the proof is in the pudding.

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“France, Ireland and possibly England have got as good a chance as they have had in any previous year. If you get your run right, you can win a World Cup. They have all got a chance and it’s exciting. As South Africa showed in 2019 when they lost to New Zealand in the opening game, you have only got to win six games. If you time your run right…”

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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. “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 semi-final 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.”

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