The Draw for Japan
This week, the draw for the RWC 2019 takes place in Kyoto. This blog is split into two – my pre-thoughts and those post.
I’m not a fan of the early draw. It’s easy to think it’s sour grapes and cite 2015, but let’s not forget England were beneficiaries in 2003 – when the draw was made, South Africa were 2nd ranked and England were down in the second level. By the time the tournament started, England were 1st and SA were 3rd and their “seeded” draw was down the pan, having to face the strongest team in the tournament and then ended up with a QF with New Zealand. Conversely, England went onto the “easier” side of the draw by topping the pool and faced Wales then France before the final.
The draw is actually later this time than for the 2015 version by a whole 6 months. 3rd December 2012 was the date of the previous draw – we’d barely drawn breath from the 2011 version!
For anyone like me who is planning a trip, the early draw is a massive bonus – it makes it much easier to plan, snap up cheap accommodation and, possibly most importantly, start saving once you know where you need to be! It’s all great if your team plays 2 or 3 times in roughly the same area but if you end up with games in Fukuoka one week and Sapporo the next, you’re going to have to travel a bit!
Group of death or not in 2015, the potential for one in this version is maybe less. The third band, which in 2015 contained Wales, now contains Argentina. And nobody will want them.
The bands at the draw were:
1. NZ, England, Australia, Ireland
2. Scotland, France, South Africa, Wales
3. Argentina, Japan, Georgia, Italy
If you’re sitting in the top band, the toughest draw is undoubtedly being paired with South Africa and Argentina. You can say all you like about SA and their form, but you know it’s going to be physical and you’d want to avoid that too early.
On the flip side, you could get paired with Scotland and Italy. I’m not going to annoy the Scots (yet!), but of the second band, they have to be seen as the easiest target. Their first XV is excellent and they have a few decent backups, but I’m not convinced they yet have the quality in their squad to justify being ranked 5th in the world. With the young guys coming through, this might have changed by 2019 but as we sit here, pre-draw, I’d happily draw them. Italy, enough said!
Where it could get really interesting though, is bands 4 and 5. With Japan and Georgia stealing 3rd place finishes in 2015, there are no automatic qualifiers from the Pacific Islands. Assuming all goes to form, Fiji should qualify into Band 4, Samoa into Band 5 and Tonga should make it through the play-offs.
The thought of a group which reads “England, South Africa, Argentina, Fiji, Samoa/Tonga” (which I think is possible with the draw rules) is quite a scary thought. Eddie Jones might want to consider who his injury replacements are now!
Personally, this is what I would like for England – Scotland, Japan, Africa 1 (likely Namibia) and Americas 2 (likely USA or Canada). Not only is this about the easiest draw we could hope for, it also includes some of the Tier 2 nations I like watching, plus a possibly unique chance to watch Japan v England in Japan! Honestly, that’s my number 1 wish, drawing Japan. Although I’d imagine tickets would be pretty hard to come by!
And while we’re at it, pre-draw, here are my qualifier predictions:
• Oceania 1 – Fiji
• Oceania 2 – Samoa
• Americas 1 – USA
• Americas 2 – Canada
• Europe 1 – Romania
• Africa 1 – Namibia
• Play-off winner – likely play-off between Russia (don’t discount Spain and Germany!) and Tonga over 2 legs – I’m picking Tonga
• Repechage winner – now this is the confusing bit... the 4 repechage teams will be:
o Africa 2 – I’m going Kenya
o Americas 3 – Uruguay
o Loser of play-off – Russia
o Asia 1 or Oceania 4 (ridiculous this, isn’t it?) – likely Hong Kong or South Korea v Cook Islands! Let’s say HK.
o Now these lot will play a round robin at a neutral venue... This is really a farce at this point, but I’m going for Russia to top the table, just pipping Uruguay.
Mystic Pete, checking out. Enjoy the draw.