England coach Stuart Lancaster believes that as many as eight teams are capable of winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
As the build-up to the global showpiece intensifies, Lancaster visited host city Newcastle on New Year’s Eve to officially unveil a World Cup 2015 sign on the Tyne Bridge.
The England coach reckons New Zealand remain the favourites but insists that this year’s tournament is wide open.
“Every team is going to strive to win – if that’s not your ambition, then there’s something wrong,” he said.
“I think the real strength of this World Cup in 2015 is the vast number of teams that can potentially win it.
“Obviously New Zealand are number one in the world and quite rightly so, but if you look across the board there are six, seven or eight teams that have the potential to win. That’s what makes it such an exciting tournament this time round.
As Lancaster’s coaching staff ponders who to select for the upcoming Six nations, two players have been hogging the headlines as Rugby League recruit Sam Burgess finds his feet in the 15-man game and hooker Dylan Hartley serves the fifth suspension of his career.
Burgess has been tipped to be involved for England Saxons against the Irish Wolfhounds on January 30.
“We have two more Premiership games and two rounds of Europe to go before we name the squads,” said Lancaster.
“[Burgess] has made a tremendous start in the sport. Everyone’s expectations are probably too high in terms of expecting someone to learn the game straight away.
“But from what I have seen – I watched him the other night when he played for the A team, and I think he is doing really well. We need to give him time and make a decision near the time.
“We would certainly see him and trust Bath in terms of what they are doing with him, the way they are developing him. I have a meeting set up with [Bath coach] Mike Ford soon.
“Sam is learning the game, so we will see.”
Lancaster said he would also be meeting Hartley to discuss the 28-year-old Northampton forward’s latest disciplinary troubles.
“I have not spoken to Dylan. I did not want to do anything until the disciplinary process was followed through, and obviously he has a ban to serve,” said the coach.
“He knows as much as anyone the importance of on-field discipline. He will have been disappointed in himself to put himself in that position. I will have a conversation with him.”