Six Nations flavour to Ireland's group
Rugby:Forewarned being forearmed, Ireland today learned their 2015 Rugby World Cup opponents some 1018 days before a ball is kicked in anger. And the good news for Declan Kidney, or whoever is Ireland coach in three years time, is that Ireland won’t face any Rugby Championship side in the group stages.
After avoiding the likes of New Zealand and Australia, Ireland were pitted against France, Italy and qualifiers from Europe and the Americas in Pool D. Italy will fancy their chances of upsetting the status quo, but they do not have a great World Cup record. The group is likely to be completed by America or Canada and one of Georgia, Russia and Romania.
Although Ireland have nothing to fear from today’s draw, they will want to be certain of topping the pool to avoid world champions New Zealand in the quarter-finals. The All Blacks will be wary of Rugby Championship rivals Argentina, yet Tonga, Europe 1 (probably Georgia and Russia) and Africa 1 (probably Namibia) provide no threat.
Elsewhere, hosts England were handed a daunting assignment with Australia and Wales in Pool A. England, crowned 2003 world champions after they beat Australia in a gripping final, have never previously been drawn in the same World Cup group as Wales. Their last World Cup meeting was during the 2003 tournament in Brisbane, when England trailed at half-time before securing a tense quarter-final triumph.
And the last time England and Australia found themselves in the same pool was at the inaugural World Cup 25 years ago. Wales, World Cup semi-finalists last year, have paid a price for dropping to ninth in the International Rugby Board rankings following successive autumn defeats against Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
It meant they were in the third band of countries for today’s draw, increasing the prospect of a punishing group, and so it has proved. Despite their recent struggles, though, Wales will be confident they can progress to the quarter-finals, having won two Six Nations titles and Grand Slams during head coach Warren Gatland’s reign.
Scotland, whose coach Andy Robinson resigned last month following autumn losses to the All Blacks, South Africa and Tonga, have their work cut out in Pool B. South Africa, the 1995 and 2007 world champions will be favourites to take the pool, but Samoa could easily pip the Scots for second spot and a quarter-final place from a group that could also feature Japan and either America or Canada.
If the 2015 tournament follows its current seeding path, then the quarter-finals would see South Africa face England, New Zealand tackle Ireland, Australia meet Samoa and France take on Argentina.
Rugby World Cup 2015
QF1:Winner Pool B v Runner-up Pool A
QF2:Winner Pool C v Runner-up Pool D
QF3:Winner Pool A v Runner-up Pool B
QF4:Winner Pool D v Runner-up Pool C
SF1:Winner QF1 v Winner QF2
SF2:Winner QF3 v Winner QF4
Bronze Final:Loser SF1 v Loser SF2
Final:Winner SF1 v Winner SF2