I’m terribly excited for the 2019 World Cup in Japan – and having seen Wednesday’s draw, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales should all be confident of reaching at least the quarter-finals.
England have the ability and mindset to emerge from what is a tough pool, Scotland’s match with Ireland could decide top spot in their group, while Wales will expect to go through – although Georgia will be determined to pull off an upset.
The level of competition in the sport is getting closer and closer across the world – we saw that improvement in the Six Nations this year.
However, the quality of the Rugby Championship is a bit lower at the moment – New Zealand excepted – because South Africa are struggling and Australia have their problems.
So with the northern hemisphere sides being much closer to the southern hemisphere teams now, Japan 2019 could be when a team from the north regains the World Cup.
‘Jones’ England have a different mindset’
Pool CEnglandFranceArgentinaAmericas 1Oceania 2
It’s old fashioned to call it a “Pool of Death”, so let’s just call it what it is – it’s a group that nobody would want.
I can imagine all the coaches, even New Zealand’s Steve Hansen, thinking, “I don’t want that hard a group,” but England head coach Eddie Jones, France’s Guy Noves and their Argentina counterpart Daniel Hourcade have got it.
Argentina can be unpredictable – they will be strong but I’m not sure about their age profile. In years gone by it has tended to be quite high and they haven’t got a lot of resources or strength in depth.
Understrength England face Argentina in two Tests in June but Jones’ tourists are massive underdogs and I don’t expect them to win as they will have 15 players away with the British and Irish Lions. With 15 of your best players out you should not be able to go to Argentina and beat a full-strength Pumas.
France have improved but they are typically not great away from home. However, they are traditionally good in World Cup tournaments so it’s a tough one for England.
But Jones’ team has got a different mindset to Stuart Lancaster’s side, which went out in the pool stages in 2015. The current team have won a Grand Slam and a Six Nations Championship and many of them have won three consecutive Tests against Australia away from home. They have an identity as winners.
He says they have to be ready to beat anyone but you would prefer a comfortable route to the quarter-final. You want a good sweat and some competition but don’t want to be beaten.
If I was playing I would have liked an easy group before what is going to be a hard quarter-final, whoever you play. Every side in the top eight can beat one another on the day.
‘Scotland will believe they can beat Ireland’
Pool AIrelandScotlandJapanEurope 1Play-off winner (Europe 2 v Oceania 3)
Ireland and Scotland know each other so well. Scotland beat Ireland at Murrayfield in the Six Nations this year by scoring three tries so they will have no problem believing they can win that game.
But both sides will know they can get through to the quarter-finals, while Scotland saw off Japan when they played in 2015.
Japan could be a bit better at home than they were under Eddie Jones in England, when they stunned South Africa in the group stages. But we don’t know much about their new boss Jamie Joseph and we know that Jones is a special coach.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt is a master tactician but we don’t know much about incoming Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend at international level.
Townsend will want to build on the side that won three home games in the Six Nations but improve on those poor away performances.
He’ll have 20 games or so, including two more Six Nations tournaments, before the World Cup to get those poor performances out of the window and build a team strong enough to get through.
‘Parallels between Wales and Australia’
Pool DAustraliaWalesGeorgiaOceania 1Americas 2
Georgia are a tough emerging side who have been banging on the door of the Six Nations for a while, wanting to be recognised.
They have an opportunity in the next two seasons to boost their team and build themselves so they can prove a point against Wales.
Wales should have been in their prime in 2015 but they were injury ravaged and conceded a soft try to lose the quarter-final to South Africa.
In 2011 they were a young squad that got to the semi-finals. In 2019 a lot of those key players will all be over 30 years old – not past their sell-by date, but the squad needs some new players coming through.
There are still some question marks over whether Warren Gatland wants to continue with Wales after the Lions tour, but he has a great record as a coach and if he’s still there, his and the players’ experience will see them through the group.
Australia were in a similar position to Wales in 2011 and 2015. Rugby union is facing difficult times in Australia so it will be interesting to see how they do in 2019.
They are always good in World Cups, whether they are coming in with poor or good form, but we’ll see if they can still be successful with all the challenges they face domestically.
‘All Blacks will ease through with South Africa in huge decline’
Pool BNew ZealandSouth AfricaItalyAfrica 1Repechage winner
Holders New Zealand have got a nice work-out leading into a quarter-final.
Two-time champions South Africa are nowhere near the force they once were – they are in huge decline. There are over 350 South African players playing outside their country and I don’t see them challenging unless a quick storm of talent starts appearing in the next two years.
Although Italy beat South Africa in November they won’t spring a surprise in the World Cup – they were appalling in the Six Nations.
Head coach Conor O’Shea has the opportunity to improve but I’m not sure they have enough time. A lot of players learn by rote so that things eventually become automatically – that’s difficult to do in a short space of time unless you have the natural talent.
But Sergio Parisse has been Italy’s best player for over a decade now and they need someone new of his calibre to come through.