Wales coach Warren Gatland on World Cup draw: We are used to this sort of situation
WALES have been told they should have no fear after being plunged into a World Cup group of death with their nemesis Australia and hosts England.
Welsh rugby's worst fears pretty much came to pass yesterday when the draw for the global tournament in 2015 was made.
Warren Gatland's team were pitched into a brutal pool alongside neighbours England and the Wallabies, with the remaining places made up by two qualifiers, Oceania 1 (probably Fiji) and the play-off winner, possibly Uruguay.
If Wales are to escape a section where there will be grave consequences for someone, they will have to finish above a country who have beaten them six times in the past 14 months or one who suddenly see themselves as realistic prospects to win after their famous victory over New Zealand.
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But Mark Taylor, a survivor from the Wales team that gave Martin Johnson's England a hurry-up in the quarter-finals in 2003, believes Gatland's team will give a strong account of themselves.
"It is a tough draw, but I don't think there's anything to fear for Wales," said Taylor. "England and Australia will be just as concerned as we are.
"The boys showed at the last World Cup how formidable they can be when there's a full-strength side on the field.
"England may have defeated New Zealand last weekend but they are beatable. Wales have won a couple of times at Twickenham over the past four years, while England have found it hard going in Cardiff since 2005.
"Everyone knows that Australia pose us problems, but there has been nothing between the sides over the last year. If we can just get over our mental block against the southern hemisphere, we can give a big account of ourselves in this group."
Taylor believes confidence will be the key if Wales are to ruin English hopes in their own tournament or shock the Wallabies. "In 2003, everything turned for us in the space of one match against New Zealand," he added.
"We played some dazzling rugby against the All Blacks and all of a sudden we had self-belief and could have knocked out England in the last eight had our game-management been a bit better.
"It's been a difficult autumn, but Wales have the players. What they need is momentum and to start believing in themselves."
Facing England at Twickenham will be a daunting task but, with the prospect of hosting Australia at the Millennium Stadium yet to be confirmed, Wales head coach Warren Gatland is bullish about his side's chances.
"It's a tough group but it's going to be a tough group for Australia and England as well.
"The last three games against Australia we've lost right on full time, and on the last four or five occasions against England it's been pretty tight. We know each other pretty well.
"There's a lot of rugby to be played before 2015 and it should be incredibly exciting."
Wales are no strangers to difficult groups. They qualified from a pool which included South Africa and Samoa at last year's World Cup, and their captain Sam Warburton is confident they can do the same in 2015.
"We had a group of death in the last World Cup so we are used to the situation," he said.
"It's a fascinating pool. Wales against Australia has always been a good game.
"As for England versus Wales, there is enough rivalry there without it being the World Cup.
"From the players' point of view we are guaranteed to play in front of a packed house against England which is really exciting."
This will be the first time Wales and England will ever have met in the pool stages of a World Cup. Previous tournament meetings include England's 28-17 quarter-final win in 2003 and that 16-3 victory for Wales in the 1987 quarter-finals.
"It is definitely a pretty tough pool," said England head coach Stuart Lancaster.
"To win the World Cup you have to win big games and I have got a huge amount of respect for what Wales have done recently.
"We know their squad pretty well, it is a young side and a lot of them will still be around in 2015. Australia have just beaten us and if you look at the age and profile of their squad, they have got some young lads as well. We will look forward to it."
Pool A: Australia, England, Wales, Oceania 1, Play-off. Pool B: South Africa, Samoa, Scotland, Asia 1, Americas 2. Pool C: New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Europe 1, Africa 1. Pool D: France, Ireland, Italy, Americas 1, Europe 2.