Kiss: England among New Zealand’s greatest World Cup threats
London Irish head coach Les Kiss has backed England to be among the top challengers at this autumn’s World Cup, but insists New Zealand are still the team to beat.
The former Ireland and South Africa assistant is busy preparing his side for their impending return to Gallagher Premiership Rugby after promotion last season but admits he will have one eye on the action in Japan.
A 47-26 thrashing at the hands of Australia in early August had suggested the All Blacks’ era of dominance was dwindling, but a 36-0 reverse seven days later convinced Kiss they are favourites for a fourth world crown.
And despite England losing out to Wales in this year’s Six Nations Championship, he is confident Eddie Jones’ men have shown enough in their warm-up fixtures to be considered one of the defending champions’ biggest threats.
“It’s hard to pick, but I think New Zealand just have what it takes,” said the 54-year-old. “After that, I think it’s going to be really close and we’ll just have to see how it goes.
“But England play the type of rugby you need to do well at a World Cup, and they have threats across the park.
“They’ve made a few surprise selections in their squad – with the likes of Lewis Ludlam and Ruaridh McConnochie – which is pretty exciting.
“They’ve got a really strong back row and I think Tom Curry could become one of the players of the tournament – he’s that good.
“When you put him alongside the likes of Billy Vunipola and Sam Underhill, you certainly have a chance and I think they could be key to their success.”
Besides the 2003 champions, Kiss believes Warren Gatland has the ability to lead this year’s Grand Slam winners Wales to their first title, and that old employers Ireland will have their say.
“I think Gatland is one of the best coaches ever, just because of the way he manages to pull a team together,” he said.
“Wales tend to have a few things up their sleeve and it will be interesting to see how they progress.
“I spent a lot of years involved with the Irish setup and I certainly think they’ll play their part.
“They’ve been handed a good pool [alongside Scotland, Japan, Russia and Samoa], so I expect them to get through pretty comfortably and then anything can happen in knockout rugby.”
While Kiss expects good things from the Northern Hemisphere frontrunners, the Australian is less sure how Michael Cheika’s side will fare, as well as Rugby Championship holders South Africa.
He said: “I wouldn’t write Australia off – they hadn’t been doing great but they’re a team who can put a run of six games together and win a cup. Their win over New Zealand showed just how good they can be.
“The Springboks had a bit of a drop off after the initial buzz when Rassie Erasmus was first appointed, but they’re firing again now.
“I think they might be a bit scarier than people think. We’ll just have to sit and wait.”