Rugby’s leading nations will be hoping for a big slice of luck at Wednesday’s 2019 World Cup draw, where seedings stacked with dangerous teams could throw up more than one ‘Pool of Death’.
More than two years before the tournament in Japan, the draw ceremony in historic Kyoto could go a long way to deciding who will lift the trophy in Yokohama on November 2, 2019.
England fell victim to a nightmare scenario at the last World Cup, where the hosts failed to reach the knock-out stages after being drawn against Wales, Australia, Fiji and Uruguay.
This time around, for the tournament’s first edition in Asia, New Zealand, England, Australia and Ireland make up the top seeds to be divided among the four pools of five.
The second band of seeds is Scotland, Wales, South Africa and France, while the third contains dangerous floaters in Argentina, the 2015 semi-finalists, Georgia, Italy and hosts Japan.
Another eight teams from Oceania, Europe, the Americas and Africa will be added after qualifying, with 10th-ranked Fiji, Tonga and Samoa among the leading contenders.
It raises the possibility of New Zealand, the two-time defending champions, South Africa, Argentina and Samoa all landing in the same pool, along with a host of other treacherous combinations.
A strong showing by Japan is considered crucial for attendances and atmosphere as the World Cup arrives, for the first time, in a country where rugby isn’t a mainstream sport.
But the Brave Blossoms, who stunned South Africa at the last World Cup, are bullish, with winger Akihito Yamada saying he hoped to draw England and their ex-Japan coach Eddie Jones.
– ‘First game will be key’ –
“I’d like to get Eddie’s team, England. I want him to see Japan’s new style of rugby after four years,” insisted Yamada.
Captain Shota Horie said: “All the teams will be strong so I don’t have any real preferred opposition. The first game will be key so we will prepare for that as if our lives depend on it.”
Steve Hansen’s New Zealand are striving to complete a hat-trick of World Cup victories, while England, up to second in the rankings under Jones, are dreaming of ending the All Blacks’ dominance.
South Africa, Australia, Wales and France are likely to be revamped and revitalised by 2019, while Argentina and Japan will look to build on their successes of 2015.
Rugby is striving to make inroads into Asia, including China, where World Rugby announced a $100 million investment from Alisports, an offshoot of e-commerce giant Alibaba, last year.
Participation in Asia has almost doubled since 2009 to more than 500,000 players, according to the governing body, which hopes to have one million new players in the region by 2019.
The World Cup will be played in 12 stadiums across Japan, with 75 percent of the population living within an hour’s drive from a match venue, organisers say.
Seedings for Wednesday’s draw
Band One: New Zealand, England, Australia, Ireland
Band Two: Scotland, Wales, South Africa, France
Band Three: Argentina, Japan, Georgia, Italy
Band Four: Oceania 1, Americas 1, Europe 1, Africa 1
Band Five: Oceania 2, Americas 2, Winner of play-off between Europe 2 and Oceania 3, Repechage Winner
– Agence France-Presse