Japan hope for good draw as Pumas lurk

TOKYO • Rugby World Cup organisers will be hoping for a good draw for 2019 hosts Japan while the established powers of the game will be looking to avoid Argentina when the pool draw takes place in Kyoto tomorrow.

The memories of Pool A at the last World Cup, which saw Australia and Wales progress at the expense of hosts England, must still be pretty raw in the minds of the marketing department at World Rugby.

There are high hopes for Asia's maiden hosting of the World Cup but the architects of rugby's expansion know that a bad draw for Japan could put some of the potential dividend in jeopardy.

Despite England's embarrassing exit, the global governing body reported record revenues from the 2015 tournament and it has stuck with drawing the pools two years in advance to give the organisers the best chance to sell as many tickets as possible.

World Rugby has also retained the policy of seeding based on the world rankings at a relatively arbitrary point in the calendar, rather than established pedigree or previous World Cup success.

"The format of seeding teams for the pool draw using the World Rugby rankings is a credible, succinct and proven method that reflects form, stimulates interest and is backed by our unions," World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont said.

The result, however, is a draw that has no less risk of a pool that would end the ambitions of one of the few teams that will go into the tournament with a serious chance of winning it.

Argentina's slump to ninth in the world rankings means one of the four pools could conceivably include New Zealand, South Africa, the Pumas as well as two from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

Emerging Southern Hemisphere powers Argentina, semi-finalists at two of the last three World Cups, will be the one name most of the more established contenders will want to avoid.

Few will relish seeing Japan slotted into their pool from the third band of seeds either after their stunning upset of the Springboks in England two years ago and with the prospect of home-ground advantage in 2019.

World champions New Zealand, in-form England, Australia and Ireland make up the first band of seeds, with Scotland, France, South Africa and Wales making up the second.

Georgia and Italy round out band three with Argentina and the hosts, while the identities of the remaining eight teams to make up the 20-team tournament have yet to be resolved from various regional qualifiers.

The location of the draw, Kyoto's State Guest House, is a reminder that the 2019 Rugby World Cup will be unlike any of the eight that have preceded it.

The first outside the heartland of the sport, the Sept 20 to Nov 2 tournament will be played out in 12 cities and look to establish rugby beyond doubt as a major sport in a country of 127 million people.

"The pool draw is a major milestone as we count down to Rugby World Cup 2019 and it will stimulate public awareness and accelerate interest in and attention for the main event," said tournament chief Akira Shimazu.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline 'Japan hope for good draw as Pumas lurk'. Print Edition | Subscribe