The draw for the France 2023 Rugby World Cup took place this afternoon and offered up some mouthwatering yet inevitable fixtures.
As with everything in 2020, COVID played its part, even here. As I logged on to the live YouTube feed of the draw, I was not met by a pristine studio in Sydney or London or Tokyo, but rather the living room of the host, somewhere in Stockholm. A unique, auspicious start. The auditorium where the draw would take place, however, was reminiscent of a pre-virus world, as some typically French celebrities – an actor, architect, designer, ballerina, and chef – emerged to pair the teams.
We can only hope that COVID will be a distant memory once the first ball is kicked in France in just under three years time. I was lucky enough to be in Japan to soak up the experience of fans from 20 countries descending on one unique nation. The idea of a World Cup without fans packed into stadiums is a thought that doesn’t bear thinking about.
The draw is as follows
Asia Pacific 1
Final Qualifier Winner
It has become a running gag on rugby twitter that the same old teams will end up playing each other at this world cup, just like they did in Japan 2019, and England 2015, and so on. And so it came to pass. Just as they did four years ago in Japan, Ireland will meet Scotland, New Zealand will meet Italy, England will meet Argentina, and Wales, Australia and Fiji occupying the same Pool is a carbon copy of the last tournament.
This trio being drawn together further compounds the problem, because all three were paired together in 2015 as well. That the same three teams finding themselves in the same Pool, at three concurrent World Cups. Worse still, the three teams found themselves drawn together in 2007, the last time France hosted. How lonely Pool D must have felt in 2011 when Wales and Fiji were drawn together, but without Australia.
Many fans joke that this kind of overlap is a conspiracy – and a few of the more eccentric among us may even believe that to be true. But the fact is, that with such as small pool of countries playing the sport at a high level, this kind of crossover is inevitable. The same 10 teams have always dominated the rugby landscape and unless the sport makes some drastic changes at the highest level, those same 10 teams will continue to dominate.
But don’t hold your breath. France‘s selection as host nation for this tournament over more progressive choices, such as Ireland, suggests that World Rugby has no real desire to expand the sport. Japan hosted the tournament last year and the game there has grown exponentially since. Surely other emerging nations, such as Argentina, Italy, Russia or the USA – who all have the necessary facilities – warrant a shot at hosting a lot more than France. Nothing against them, but the French have hosted in 2007, have reached several World Cup finals, and have an incredibly strong domestic league – how much more can the game grow?
Ireland have been drawn with the reigning, defending World Champions, South Africa; our nearest neighbours, Scotland; Asia Pacific 1, which is likely to be Samoa or Tonga, with Japan having qualified automatically; and Europe 2, likely to be Russia, Romania or Georgia.
South Africa are a knockout rugby team, so a pool game may present our best hope of beating the champions. Ireland will fancy their chances of pipping Scotland to a place in the quarter finals, but that has always proven to be our limit. Our likely opponents in the last eight are ominous to say the least: host nation, France, or perennial World Cup favourites, and our quarter final conquerors last time out, New Zealand.
Tickets go on sale in March 2021