Ireland pitted against two of the globe’s top seven in Rugby World Cup draw

Andy Farrell ‘super-excited’ for group which includes champion Springboks and Scotland

The rival head coaches of the 2023 World Cup Pool B protagonists, Ireland, Scotland and South Africa, have given their reaction to the draw which, as Gregor Townsend has pointed out, pits three countries currently ranked in the world's top seven against each other.

Add in the presence of New Zealand and France in Pool A, and it means five of the countries currently ranked in the world’s top seven are in the same half of the draw, although admittedly, plenty could change between now and then.

“There’s an excitement now when you see the draw and you think ahead to Paris in two years’ time and a wonderful tournament and then there’s a reality of who you’re going to play against,” said Townsend.

“I believe on current world rankings Ireland are ranked fifth, South Africa are ranked first and we’re ranked seventh. So, all three teams are in the top eight in the world which means it’s going to be very competitive.”


Jacques Nienaber, the Springboks head coach who was their defence coach at last year's World Cup-winning campaign under Rassie Erasmus said: "I must say I'm really excited. If you look at the pool I think we would really have to be on top of our game just to get out of the pool.

“There’s no two ways about it, it’s funny to think that either South Africa, Scotland or Ireland might not make it into the play-off stages. It’s going to be a tough pool, but looking forward to it very much.”

Andy Farrell said: "There's nothing better than a Rugby World Cup draw to get the juices flowing, so I'm super-excited. I suppose if Jacques is saying they'll have to play some good rugby to get out of the group then I'm sure me and Gregor are thinking the same as well."

Nienaber and Erasmus have retained Felix Jones as a European-based consultant in their coaching ranks through to the next World Cup and Nienaber said: "He'll be massive. We took a stance a couple of years ago with such a big part of our squad playing abroad, it was a strategic decision for us to appoint Felix.

“I have coached there for two years, I worked closely with Andy (Farrell) when I was doing the defence of Munster and he was doing the defence with Ireland so we had a good working relationship in terms of making the Ireland squad better. Ja, Felix will play a massive role for us servicing our players abroad.”

Familiarity between the coaches and players of the three countries will be further enhanced by the advent of the four South African super rugby franchises to an expanded Pro16.

“Hopefully, for us, we want to play against the best as much as we can,” said Farrell, in welcoming the expansion. “We want our players to be able to do that. For the big teams, the big provinces in South Africa to join the Pro14, I know there was talk of a Pro16 etc, is the way that we would like to see it going.”

Nienaber was equally enthusiastic.

“Having coached there before, it would be very good for us. I was unbelievably surprised when we started coaching in the Pro12. It’s one of the fiercest competitions in all facets - the set-piece, breakdown, skill level. It would be a big step for our franchises, Super Rugby is a little bit different. It would be a big step up with the tactics, the weather, and the different playing surfaces, different referees from different countries that you have to manage.

“I think it’s probably, and I’m not talking down any other competitions, but I think it’s very close to Test match rugby. I’m super excited for our players to join a Pro16 or Pro14. It will be phenomenal.”

There was, needless to say, a reluctance to look too far ahead to the World Cup knockout phases, where in all probability either New Zealand or France will await the two countries to progress from Pool B in the knock-out stages.

“There’s always different ramifications at a World Cup, so we won’t get ahead of ourselves,” said Farrell. “But if we’re fortunate to get a chance to play France and having an opportunity to play against the hosts is always great, like we found in Japan. Italy, we know them pretty well. New Zealand, we’ll probably get to play them once hopefully or maybe twice in the next couple of autumn windows.

Noting that the fourth ranked country in the pool is also likely to feature Tonga or Samoa, Nienaber ventured: “It will not be the right thing to start focusing on quarter-finals and knock-out rugby.

“You will have to be really clued up and on top of your game just to get out of the pool. From our position, we will focus massively on the next three years. You will need a proper squad with good experience to get out of that pool so we will focus on that and then focus on the pool as it is.”

“We’re super-excited the World Cup is in France. Speaking to a lot of our players who are currently playing in France, they love it there, they love the people, they love the support, they love the conditions.

“So I’m very excited to go to France and from my personal perspective, have a glass of wine and the food, so very much looking forward to that.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times