In the slightly peculiar setting of the Tate Modern, the draw for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England has been made.
After forgettable speeches by forgettable dignitaries, Boris lit up the room with a quasi-historical account of the birth of rugby union. Richie McCaw, David Pocock and Jean de Villers couldn’t help but smile at the befuddling anecdotes. All was going swimmingly.
Will Greenwood, composed as ever, introduced us to the obtusely complicated qualification system and invited various persons of note onto the stage to conduct the draw. Eight, as yet undecided, teams were drawn into ranks 4 and five of the four pools. Their presence vindicates calling this tournament a World Cup; however, they will have no baring on the overall winner. A team that cannot beat Americas 2 does not deserve to lift the trophy at all.
The draw began to hot up as the rank 3 teams were drawn. Wales to Pool A, Scotland to Pool B, Tonga to Pool C and Italy to Pool D.
And then the unthinkable happened. Just as every Englishman, not a few Welshmen and the whole of the England 2015 organising committee had said, “Not Pool A!” Out came England and into Pool A alongside Wales, to the audible shock of the room. A group of death was forming. Samoa joined Scotland, Argentina in with Tonga and Pool D began to take on a European theme with Ireland being thrown in.
Finally, the Rank 1 teams were drawn. Australia to Pool A, South Africa to Pool B, New Zealand to Pool C and France to Pool D.
Three years is a long time so any speculation on the outcome of the various pools, 40% of which are yet to be decided, is founded mostly on hypothetical teams. However, it is clear to see that England face a huge challenge in reaching the quarter-finals. Wales will recover from their current blip, and Australia have recently shown that they should never be underestimated. For the good of this tournament England have to get to at least the semi-finals in order to keep the public interested in the remaining matches.
Scotland on the other hand have been thrown a lifeline. After I wrote off their chances of even getting out of their pool last week, I am forced to reconsider. Joined by South Africa, Samoa and most likely Japan and America, Pool B represents a group that Scotland should progress from. They will still struggle to make in impact at the quarter-final stage, but at least there will be something to cheer about north of the border.
Pool C will be a walk in the park for New Zealand, who may again be under-cooked and vulnerable in the knock-out stages. Argentina should progress with them but Tonga will be eager to seize their chance if there is an upset.
Pool D is an almost exclusively European affair. France, and more so Ireland, will be very pleased with this draw. Italy’s failure on the biggest stage will most likely count against them as well.
With over 1,000 days to go, and a Mayan apocalypse to survive, all of this could change. Regardless, it is clear that Pool A is the one to watch and that there will be more than enough quality rugby to keep us entertained for a couple of months.
England 2015 RWC Pools – (Teams in brackets are my predictions)
Pool A: Australia, England, Wales, Oceania 1 (Fiji), Play-off Winner (..?)
Pool B: South Africa, Samoa, Scotland, Asia 1 (Japan), Americas 2 (USA)
Pool C: New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Europe 1 (Georgia), Africa 1 (Namibia)
Pool D: France, Ireland, Italy, America 1 (Canada), Europe 2 (Romania)
After the pool allocation the IRB annual awards were announced, with New Zealand predictably taking a clean sweep.
Team of the Year: New Zealand
Coach of the Year: Steve Hansen (New Zealand)
Player of the Year: Dan Carter (New Zealand)