Draw gives Ireland good opportunity to proceed but topping pool looks essential
Insomuch as one can forecast how things might be panning out in almost three years’ time, Ireland were handed a reasonably negotiable pool draw for the 2015 World Cup yesterday.
But on the fairly safe premise that New Zealand will win their pool – the reigning World champions have done so with some ease in the previous seven tournaments – then Ireland will have every incentive to win Pool D ahead of their French bêtes noires and Italy.
Pool D has a distinctly Six Nations flavour and France are undoubtedly Ireland’s bogey side. Aside from one win in the last dozen meetings, Ireland have been evicted from previous World Cups by France at the quarter-final stages in 1995 and 2003, not to mention the 25-3 pool defeat in 2007.
Against that, Ireland have won their last 17 meetings with Italy, including a 36-6 pool finale in Dunedin last year.
In any event, the pool runners-up are more than likely going to run into New Zealand in the quarter-final stages. What’s more, that is also the half of the draw featuring the Pool B winners, which most likely will be two-time winners South Africa.
By contrast, the winners of Pool D will meet the runners-up in Pool C, which form and history would indicate will be Argentina, with the winners from the Pool of Sharks, aka Pool A (featuring Australia, England, Wales and most probably Fiji along with one more) also lurking in that half of the draw.
All in all, the rewards for winning the Euro-themed Pool D could be considerable.
Sigh of relief
The draw, with Will Greenwood as MC and London mayor Boris Johnson short, to the point and entertaining, was mercifully conducted with a minimal sense of drama at the Tate Modern. When Debbie Jevans, the RWC chief executive, drew England first out of the bowl containing the second band of seeds, it pitted the hosts with Wales in Pool A (courtesy of Johnson) and the representatives from the other second band of seeds would assuredly have breathed a sigh of relief – including a five-strong Irish contingent featuring Declan Kidney and Brian O’Driscoll in the fifth row.
If nothing else too, the value of earning that second tier seeding was underlined by the draw, as otherwise Ireland would have been thrown in amongst the sharks, ie Australia, England and Fiji. The England-Australia clash will be a reprise of both the 1991 and 2003 finals, which Australia and England won in turn.
Two time winners South Africa will meet Samoa for the third World Cup in a row, but were pushed hard for a 13-6 win in Albany last year, and this already appears like an ultra physical test for the third seeded Scots, with Japan and USA possible qualifiers to complete Pool D.