Tuesday
August 22, 2017

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe present as Argentina draw England and France

Friday, May 12, 2017

Pumas given tough draw for 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan

By Frankie Deges / Rugby column
The way in which the game of rugby has changed since the Rugby World Cup was first played in 1987 is certainly a success story. New Zealand won the inaugural Webb Ellis Cup at home; in the ensuing tournaments, the game has grown bigger and bigger, never stalling.

Rugby is currently enjoying record numbers of participation and fans and the plan is to have one million new players — to join the 8.5 million already enjoying the game — in Asia before the next Rugby World Cup kicks off in September, 2019.

Japan will host what promises to be another superb tournament off the field and feelings about the first RWC to be played in Asia began to hot up on Wednesday as the draw to decide the four pools of five teams took place in Kyoto. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in attendance to watch the draw and offered the nation’s support for the tournament.

The pools will be the following:

Pool A: Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Europe 1, Play-off winner

Pool B: New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Africa 1, Play-off winner

Pool C: England, France, Argentina, Americas 1, Oceania 2

Pool D: Australia, Wales, Georgia, Oceania 1, Americas 2

One of the positive outcomes of the above-mentioned growth is that the standard of rugby has risen beyond recognition and more nations are challenging the world order. The possibility of actually winning the Rugby World Cup is still a possibliity for a very small group — only four countries have won it — but there are no longer any easy games, at least not among the top three teams in each pool.

With more than 800 days to kick-off — Japan will be involved in the opening game as host nation — the match schedule will be finalised in association with all stakeholders and announced later this year, providing teams with ample time to maximise their planning and preparation.

Argentina, in a pool that includes a World Cup winner in England and three-time finalist France, will need to be at their very best if they are to advance to quarter-finals. Pool of death or not, today it seems the hardest of the four to predict which teams will advance to the last eight.

Coach Daniel Hourcade was in Japan for the draw and acknowledged that by being ninth in the World Rugby Rankings their fate had already been sealed, they would fall into a tough pool. “Had we been in the top eight, we would have still had a 75 percent chance of having a similar pool,” he said. “We will be playing England three times this year and France three times next year, so we will go into the tournament knowing what to expect. Every team will get better leading up to the tournament and we have to keep it up.”

With eight teams still to qualify, it is only clear where the teams playing in Pool C will come from. The winner of “Americas 1” will be the winner of the series between the USA Eagles and Canada, which will be played in June and July.

The representative from Oceania 2 will be the second-best team from the Pacific Islands tournament involving Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. The process to determine the two qualifiers concludes in July; currently Fiji leads and Samoa is second.

The draw was a key milestone for a tournament that is already making waves. It can’t come fast enough!

@frankiedeges

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