On Monday, 12 nations learnt who they would be facing at the 2023 Rugby World Cup which will be held in France.
France was a co-host in 1991 and 1999, and primary host for the first time in 2007, a tournament widely acknowledged as a roaring success.
Many of the stadiums that were used for that World Cup will be again in 2023, albeit in some cases with significant upgrades in the interim: Paris’ Stade de France, Marseilles’ Stade Vélodrome, Saint-Étienne’s Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, and Nantes’ Stade de la Beaujoire.
The 2023 Rugby World Cup will see rugby union celebrate its 200th anniversary, and according to World Rugby chair Bill Beaumont, there could be no better place than France to hold rugby’s greatest spectacle.
The 12 nations now know who they will be facing in France, so let’s take a closer look, how the draw panned out.
Pool A: New Zealand, France, Italy, Americas Qualifier 1, Africa Qualifier 1
The hosts could not have wished for a better pool. France will face the All Blacks in what should be a titanic battle, with their young side looking better than ever under coach Fabien Galthié.
They will be hoping to replicate 1999 and 2007, where France came from behind on both occasions and sent the All Blacks packing from the tournament.
Joining the hosts and the All Blacks are Italy. The Azzuri have never gone beyond the pool stage, and it is safe to assume that won’t happen this time. Their focus would be on finishing third in the pool which guarantees them automatic qualification for 2027.
Americas Qualifier 1 could well be the USA, who look set to go from strength to strength in the next few years with a domestic league now in place, and Africa Qualifier 1 may be Namibia who have never won a World Cup match.
Pool B: South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Asia/Pacific Qualifier, Europe Qualifier 2
No draw is complete without a Group of Death, and Pool B is certainly one that nobody would want to find themselves in.
The reigning world champions and two Six Nations powerhouses collide, and knowing which two will qualify from this pool will be mysterious as a game of Cluedo.
The world champion Springboks won the last tournament staged in France, but haven’t played any international rugby in 2020 due to COVID-19.
It will be interesting to see what shape they are in come the tournament in three years time under new head coach Jacques Nienaber.
Scotland and Ireland find themselves in the same pool, as they were last time in 2019. On that occasion, Ireland ran out convincing 27-3 victors. However, Ireland’s record at Rugby World Cups makes grim reading – they have never progressed beyond the quarter-final stage.
At least they don’t have to play Argentina, who have shown them the exit door both times they’ve played World Cup games in France. 2007 was the most miserable of them all, with Ireland failing to make it out of the group stage.
Scotland could well be an improved package come 2023, but questions will be raised if they can see games out.
The Asia/Pacific Qualifier could well be Samoa or Tonga, whilst Europe 2 could be an eastern rugby powerhouse like Romania or Russia.
Spain could also be a potential qualifier – they competed in the 1999, and would have in 2019 only for a player irregularity costing them the chance to play in Japan.
Pool C: Wales, Australia, Fiji, Europe Qualifier 1, Final Qualifier Winner
The three qualified teams have a habit of meeting each other at Rugby World Cups, having met each other at the 2015 and 2019 tournaments.
There were questions before the draw whether Wales should be in Band 1 due to a dismal 2020 in which they slipped to ninth in the World Rugby rankings.
But as of the 1 January 2020 cut-off, much earlier than normal due to COVID unbalancing the schedule, Wales were fourth in the world rankings hence, why they were in Band 1 and were seeded the way they were.
There could well be a case of déjà vu if the Fiji game is scheduled to be in Nantes as it was in 2007. The Pacific Islanders famously knocked the Welsh out of that tournament and cost then-Wales head coach Gareth Jenkins his job.
Australia will fancy topping the pool this time around, having beaten the All Blacks in Brisbane this year under new head coach Dave Rennie.
Europe 1 could see Georgia involved, and Uruguay have gone through as the Final Qualifier winner for the last two World Cups.
Safe to say this could be Pool D at the 2019 World Cup all over again.
Pool D: England, Japan, Argentina, Oceania Qualifier 2, Americas Qualifier 2
England have faced these two sides at Rugby World Cups before with some success.
They met Japan in the first ever tournament in 1987, winning 60-7 with an XV that featured legendary names such as Rory Underwood and Brian Moore. They have met Argentina in 1995, 2011 and 2019, winning on every occasion.
Excitingly, England coach Eddie Jones will meet his former employers, who he helped guide to rugby’s equivalent of Buster Douglas v Mike Tyson in 2015 when Japan triumphed over the Springboks.
Japan lit up their home World Cup in 2019 where they reached the quarter-finals, and will be hoping they can reproduce their magic again.
And what about Los Pumas, who under head coach Mario Ledesma secured their first win over the All Blacks this year? Ledesma was part the Pumas side that famously made it all the way to the semi-finals in 2007, so they are in good hands.
Oceania Qualifier 2 will probably be either Samoa or Tonga, with Americas 2 likely to be Canada.
Given how long time there is until the next World Cup, it will be intriguing to see how things pan out over the next few years.
What should be noted is that it will be another great World Cup to saviour. You could easily say there are many favourites to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy.
All will be known come 8 September 2023, when the 2023 Rugby World Cup kicks off.