Wales coach Warren Gatland has blasted World Cup chiefs for creating a “group of hell” that claimed England as the tournament’s first big casualty.
The draw put Australia, England and Wales into Pool A which became known as the ‘Pool of Death’ because only two teams out of the heavyweights would reach the last eight.
As shockwaves from England’s elimination spread, Gatland said it was “ridiculous” that the group phrase draw was made three years ago.
“We knew how tough this group was going to be right from the start, and not just with England, Australia and ourselves, because Fiji are a tough proposition as well,” Gatland said Sunday.
“I think if Fiji had been in a couple of other groups, they would have qualified for the quarter-finals as well. It has been not just the group of death, but the group of hell, basically, for all of us.”
England became the first host World Cup hosts to exit the tournament before the knockout phase after Saturday’s 33-13 defeat by Australia at Twickenham. They also lost 28-25 to Wales.
Stuart Lancaster, the England coach, is now under intense pressure over the humiliation.
But Gatland suggested Lancaster had been the victim of a premature draw.
“Everyone is making a thing about the first home country to hold a World Cup to miss out on the quarter-finals, but the stupid thing, as we all know, is why was the World Cup draw done three years ago?,” said Gatland.
“That’s just ridiculous as far as I am concerned. If they had followed the football model, then we wouldn’t be in this position.”
Australia’s victory meant Wales qualified for the last eight as well and Gatland, who watched the Wallabies win on Saturday, said: “I turned around and said to my wife that what happens in the next 20 minutes changes people’s lives, whether it is ours or people involved with England.”
Lancaster was appointed England coach following their quarter-final exit from the 2011 World Cup. They have since finished second in Europe’s Six Nations contest four years in a row.
Gatland said he sympathised with Lancaster.
“For what he has done when he took over the job, in terms of the discipline he has instilled in that side and how his players conduct themselves, I have a huge amount of respect for what he has done.”
Wales return to Twickenham on Saturday to play Australia in a match that will decide the pool winners. Top place could provide an easier quarter-final against the Pool B runners-up, currently Scotland, rather than likely winners South Africa.
The Wallabies have won their last 10 Tests against Wales but Gatland said the way in which his injury-hit side had reached the last eight was a warning to those who had written them off.
“There was always that belief in the squad that we were good enough to qualify. Not that anyone believed us, but we kept telling people how hard we worked,” Gatland added.
“We kept saying we have been through some pain, and we have coped brilliantly with the injuries that we have been dealt with.
“A lot of people have written us off, and we have demonstrated that character when we are under pressure.”