THE draw for the Rugby World Cup 2019 (RWC 2019) held in Kyoto in midweek has resulted in a few clashes that should make for another exciting tournament, the first to be held in Asia since the inaugural competition in 1987.
Defending champion New Zealand, currently the world’s top ranked team, and England, the second ranked, look headed for a mouth-watering semi-final clash if both get past the quarter-finals, as is expected.
If that happens, by most accounts that would be the final fans will never get to see.
After becoming the first host to fail to qualify for the knockout phase in 2015, England went on to stay unbeaten a world record equalling 18 consecutive Tests. Coach Eddie Jones has made no secret of his intentions to unseat the All Blacks at the top and thereafter win RWC 2019.
They will not meet this year but could possibly play each other in the northern autumn of next year.
But first New Zealand must get the better of South Africa and Italy in pool play. This is the first time the arch rivals from the southern hemisphere are grouped in the same pool. At the last tournament the All Blacks narrowly beat the Springboks 20-18 in a semi-final.
The pool stage should be tougher for England, grouped with a fast improving France and possible spoilers Argentina. Most say this is another pool of death for England, having been put together with Australia and Wales in 2015.
Host Japan is in a pool with Ireland and Scotland, with whom it has played five times each and has lost all.
In 2015 Japan had to play Scotland just four days after its intense 34-32 upset against South Africa and got well beaten 45-10 but that huge boost against the Springboks gave them the confidence to overcome Samoa 26-5 and the United States 28-18. Still the three wins were not enough to take them to the next stage after previously being the whipping boys of the World Cup.
One advantage Japan has as it begins its preparations is that it will host Ireland for two Tests next month, which will give it some indications as to what it can expect in two years’ time.
The luck of the draw has also placed Australia and Wales in the same group for the second consecutive time. Australia has a head start in that it has beaten Wales in 12 consecutive Tests since 2008. Both teams though must be mindful of the presence of Georgia in the group.
Lions will not be short of formal wear, playing and training gear. With their tour of New Zealand starting about four weeks away, the Lions have been provided their training kit and formal/casual wear.
Reports from London said that it took 19 tailors to put together all that is required for the squad of 41 players and the management. In total there will be 36 items in the kit bag and 28 for formal/casual wear.
The items in the kit bag cost about 1,382 pounds sterling, making a total of about 4,000 pounds including the formal/casual wear.
The latter includes a velvet jacket costing 595 pounds, formal and casual shirts, a jumper, a scarf, evening tie, socks and a boxer.
Welsh scrumhalf Rhys Webb sounded excited at being given the cufflinks which he confessed to not owning any before.
But in the land of their host, the gloom continues over the ever growing injury list, with centre Sonny Bill Williams the latest to suffer from concussion the weekend before and rested in the Blues’ Friday home match against the Cheetahs.
Two weeks ago backrower Liam Squire suffered a broken thumb soon after team captain and fellow backrower Kieran Read had the same injury which would keep them away for about six weeks and which puts a dampener on their availability for the crucial opening Test.
There was a little smile though on the selectors’ faces when lock Patrick Tuipulotu made a successful comeback after a few weeks out injured to play against the Cheetahs.