Top four seeding helps Ireland’s hopes in World Cup draw
There is no guarantee a place in ‘group of death’ with Argentina will be avoided
Bill Beaumont, chairman of World Rugby with JR2019 dignitaries during the traditional opening of the sake barrel during the pre Rugby World Cup reception in Kyoto, Japan. Photograph: Dave Rogers/World Rugby/Gettys)
Ireland have never reached the semi-finals of a World Cup in eight previous attempts but for the first time in history they will go into today’s draw for the 2019 World Cup pool stages in Japan as one of the top four seeds.
Based on current World Rugby Rankings, Ireland join New Zealand, England and Australia in this category. If nothing else therefore, as well as England and Australia, Ireland will avoid the almighty All Blacks in the group stages when the latter begin their quest for a third successive William Webb Ellis trophy, a fate no-one else can be guaranteed.
Not that this ensures avoiding the so-called ‘group of death/hell/pool of sharks’ (dilute to taste). For starters, Ireland will be drawn in a group with one of the four band two countries, namely Scotland, France, South Africa or Wales.
Although Scotland beat Ireland in Murrayfield this year, and won the countries’ only previous World Cup meeting at the same venue in 1991, Ireland do have a 14-4 win-loss record since the advent of the Six Nations.
While Ireland beat France in the pool decider in Cardiff at the last World Cup, and have won four of the last five meetings, the French have a 3-1 win-loss record in World Cups.
Ireland broke new ground with last summer’s win in the first Test in Cape Town, which augmented the November 2014 win in the Aviva, and have won five of the last nine clashes. They’ll also meet again in Dublin next November but have never met in a World Cup.
The bookies would probably make yet another Ireland-Wales game a scratch game here and now, Wales having won the most recent meeting in Cardiff, and their victory in the 2011 quarter-finals in Wellington also gives them a 2-1 lead in World Cup clashes.
But the key to avoiding the ‘group of death’ looks fairly obvious, as whichever pool draws Argentina is pretty much assured of that label.
Thus, no less than all others from the top two bands, Ireland will assuredly hope to avoid meeting Argentina in the pool stages, not least as the Pumas lead Ireland three-one in four previous World Cup meetings.
The hosts Japan, Georgia and Italy all seem eminently preferable pool rivals, not only to Ireland, but anyone else. Conceivably, for example, New Zealand and or Australia could be drawn with South Africa and Argentina, which would be one way of avoiding the Southern Hemisphere semi-final carve-up of the last World Cup.
These 12 countries have already qualified for the 2019 tournament by dint of being one of the top three teams from each of the four pools at the 2015 World Cup, and have have been seeded into three bands based on where they currently sit on the World Rugby Rankings. So it is that Italy, despite slipping to 15th in the world, are seeded in the third band for today’s draw.
Danger lurks too amongst the remaining eight countries who have still to qualify. The fourth band will most likely feature both Fiji and Samoa, along with, most likely, Romania and the winner of the Americas’ play-off, ie either Canada or the USA.
The losers of that play-off, along with Tonga, the winners of the Africas’ qualifying route, which is usually Namibia, ought ultimately be amongst those in the fifth band.
The draw will be held at 9am Irish time in the Kyoto State Guest House, making it the first time it would be held outside the UK and Ireland. The 32-man World Rugby Council will also meet to decide on the issue of player eligibility ruling, and specifically the vexed three-year eligibility ruling.
Former Argentina scrumhalf Agustin Pichot, now vice-chairman of World Rugby, has been an outspoken critic of the residency qualification rules, which he wants to change from three to five years. In this he is supported by the chairman Bill Beaumont.
There will be 48 votes to be cast, with the tier one countries having three votes each, tier two countries having two each and the regional associations one each. France, England and South Africa are believed to support the proposal as, assuredly, will the regional associations.
However, for any potential change to come into effect, a 75 per cent majority is required.
How does it work?
There will be four pools of five teams drawn, one from each of the five bands for each pool.
Twelve teams directly qualified by virtue of their finish at the 2015 World Cup. Eight teams are not yet known.
The seedings and bands were based on the world rankings at the end of the Six Nations.
1. New Zealand
7. South Africa
Highest ranked team from Pacific Nations Cup 2016 and 2017 (Fiji, Samoa or Tonga)
Highest-ranked team, excluding Georgia, from the Rugby Europe Championship
Winner of United States/Canada playoff
Second-highest ranked team from Pacific Nations Cup 2016 and 2017 (Fiji, Samoa or Tonga)
Winner of the Rugby Africa Championship
Loser of United States/Canada playoff plays top-ranked South American team after Argentina
Third-placed team from Oceania (Fiji, Samoa or Tonga) plays second highest-ranked team, excluding Georgia, from the Rugby Europe Championship.
Four teams from around the world who have lost out in other categories play in round-robin format.
Where can I watch the draw?
We will be live blogging the draw on irishtimes/sport.com.
The Rugby World Cup draw will be broadcast live via World Rugby’s suite of digital and social media platforms (www.rugbyworldcup.com and @rugbyworldcup Twitter and Facebook), starting at 9am.
The draw will also be live on eir Sport.