Head coach Gregor Townsend has expressed “excitement” after Scotland were drawn with Ireland and hosts Japan in Pool A for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The draw was made in Kyoto this morning and saw Scotland placed with their top seed Six Nations rivals and the host nation, who they faced in the pool stage of the last tournament in England two years ago, beating the Brave Blossoms in Gloucester.
Scotland will be facing Ireland in a World Cup for only the second time. The Celtic nations’ only previous encounter in the global tournament came in the pool stage of the 1991 event, when Scotland won 24-15 at Murrayfield on their way to the semi-finals.
Pool A will be made up of two qualifiers, one from Europe, potentially Romania, and the other a cross-continental play-off winner.
Townsend said: “The first reaction is one of excitement that we know which pool we’ll be in. The Rugby World Cup now comes in to sharper focus for everyone and it looks, from the draw today, like it’s going to be another great tournament.
“It’s a new venue for the World Cup and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of interest in our Pool draw, especially when we get there, because we’re taking on the host country.
“The 2015 World Cup was a great tournament with some brilliant rugby played and I’m sure the next one in Japan will be even better.”
Townsend, who has just succeeded Vern Cotter and named his first Scotland squad for the upcoming summer tour on Monday, added: “Ireland have been one of the most competitive and most-improved sides over the past few years and a lot of that is to do with their quality of players and the influence of head coach Joe Schmidt.
“They have shown real consistency over the past two or three years. They are one of the best teams in the world. Whichever side we drew from the top band was always going to be very tough.
“On the other hand, we know Ireland pretty well and have a couple more opportunities to play them before the World Cup, while we also know a lot about their players through the Guinness PRO12.
“Japan obviously made a memorable impact at the World Cup two years ago, beating South Africa, and will have tremendous support going into the tournament.
“They’ll be targeting getting out of the Pool and I’m sure that we’ll see them play close to their best in every game.
“We know how dangerous they can be, having played them in the World Cup and on tour last year. The majority of our players who will feature in the next World Cup have already had that first contact with them and the style of rugby they aspire to play. It’s likely they’re going to continue to improve over the next few years.
“Playing the hosts makes it a bigger challenge but one we will relish. It’s pretty much guaranteed that we’ll play them in front of a sell-out crowd. That will be great motivation for our players.”
In the other pools, there will be heavyweight battle between New Zealand and South Africa in Pool B. England will face old rivals France in a tough Pool C that also includes Argentina and Wales are drawn with Australia in Pool D.
It is yet another testing draw for Six Nations winners and 2003 world champions England, who failed to get out of a ‘group of death’ as hosts two years ago when they faced Australia and Wales.
Responding to the draw England coach Eddie Jones said: “It’s all very exciting, we have two Tests against Argentina in June so we can practice a little bit.
“France are really improving over the last two years and certainly a dangerous team.
“It’s massively exciting, a unique country and unique culture. Rugby is on the up in Japan and everyone is looking forward to playing here.”
2019 RUGBY WORLD CUP DRAW
Ireland; SCOTLAND; Japan; Europe 1; Play-off Winner
New Zealand; South Africa; Italy ; Africa 1; Repechage Winners
England; France; Argentina; Americas 1; Oceania 2
Australia; Wales ; Georgia; Oceania 1; Americas 2