Eddie Jones’ team will have to do it the hard way if they are to win the Rugby World Cup in two years time. They have the pool no one wanted following today’s draw in Kyoto, Japan, and will have to navigate their way through the group of hell with France and Argentina their opponents in Pool C.
Jones will argue a tough pool is a positive thing. There’s no danger of them going into the knockout stages, if they make it, half-cooked. France are improving by the Six Nations under Guy Noves while Argentina — as Ireland found out in 2015 — are World Cup animals. They always peak for the quadrennial gathering.
The other two teams are to be confirmed, but are likely to be Samoa or Tonga and either the USA or Canada. Squad rotation, adaptation and versatility will be key. It is far from straightforward.
For hosts Japan, they will look at Ireland and Scotland in their pool and will harbour some hope of a spot in the knockouts. Likewise Scotland and Ireland will both be extremely confident of qualifying. That will be an arm-wrestle of a pool.
Australia and Wales meet again having played each other in the pool stages in 2015. Warren Gatland will be pleased with the pool as will Michael Cheika but both will be wary of the Oceanic representative in the pool which could well be Fiji. Wales know full well of their ability to upset the apple cart.
And then there are the All Blacks. No one wanted them and South Africa, so often a team in the top seeds, have paid the price for a dismal 2016. That pool battle will be titanic with Conor O’Shea’s Italy heading to Japan hoping to replicate last November’s win over the Boks.
The journey to Japan 2019 starts here but expect plenty more twists and turns before the pools get some clarity. Much will change over the next two years.