Scotland and Ireland look to be facing a battle to avoid a potential a quarter-final final meeting with holders New Zealand after the Six Nations rivals were drawn together for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Kyoto.
Hosts Japan also came out of the hat to add a fresh layer of intrigue to Pool A and new Scotland coach Gregor Townsend expressed his “excitement” at the draw. The section will be completed by two qualifiers, with Romania and Tonga looking the most likely candidates at this stage.
Ireland will be a formidable test of course, but it means that Scotland have avoided the big three of New Zealand, England or Australia in the top seeds, though they will be wary of the danger posed by facing Japan on home soil.
It may be more than two years until the tournament kicks off and a testing pool stage awaits but thoughts did stray further forward as it emerged that potential quarter-final opponents would come from Pool B, which includes New Zealand and South Africa.
Assuming the All Blacks win that it would mean Scotland would have to do likewise to avoid an opponent they have never beaten at any level of the game. The Scots have lost three past quarter-finals to the three-time world champions, in 1987, 1995 and 1999, and also the 1991 third-place play-off and a 2007 pool game.
Ireland are favourites to win the group but they lost the most recent meeting between the teams in this year’s Six Nations and have never gone beyond the World Cup quarter-finals.
Townsend said: “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 are one of the best teams in the world. On the other hand, we know Ireland pretty well and have a couple more opportunities to play them before the World Cup.
“Japan made a memorable impact at the World Cup two years ago and will have tremendous support.”
Ireland coach Schmidt said: “We lost to Scotland recently so it’s a mixed bag but I think it’s incredibly exciting to draw the host nation in that the crowd, the enthusiasm and the interest in that game is going to be huge.”
England have been handed the toughest test of the home nations for the second time running as they were joined in Pool C by France and Argentina. Two years ago they failed to progress from the pool stage in their own tournament after being drawn with Wales, Australia and Fiji. Wales will face the Wallabies again in Pool D. The World Cup takes place in Japan in September 2019.
England head coach Eddie Jones said: “I’m going to visit the temples because I need to pray. I need to pray really hard!”
“You think it’s difficult, but we’re excited by it. It’s not a a tough group, it’s a good group. To win the World Cup you have to win seven games.
“We’ve got two very big games against France and Argentina so it’s great preparation for getting to the final stages. We’re looking forward to it.
“Australia showed in 2015 that the tough games helped them for the ones further ahead. Australia went past Ireland and Argentina in the knockout stage.
“My experience of the World Cup is that having two tough games is the best preparation.”